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[MUNICH] Mercedes-Benz is building pickups with nubuck-leather seats and oak trim, in a bet that double-cab trucks will reel in wealthy parents and sailboat owners the same way off-road SUVs did a few decades ago.
In late 2017, the luxury-car maker will start selling mid-size pickups, smaller than Ford Motor Co's F-150 that's popular in the US, with seats for five people.
Mercedes presented two near-production stylings of the X-Class in Stockholm this week, one with a brash metallic-green paint job featuring an electric winch at the front and the other a less rugged version designed for city driving.
"With the Mercedes-Benz pickup, we will close one of the last gaps in our portfolio," Daimler chief executive officer Dieter Zetsche said on Tuesday in a statement.
Expanding into pickups shows how far Mercedes parent Daimler AG is prepared to go in pursuit of sales volumes as competition among luxury-car makers intensifies, even though attempts by rivals including General Motors Co to win customers with upscale models haven't always been successful.
It's also the latest bid by the world's biggest maker of commercial vehicles to repurpose models for a broader audience, after it revamped its Vito small goods transporter into the V-Class family car.
Mercedes is set to unseat BMW as the world's biggest seller of premium vehicles this year, as it boosts volumes with sporty SUVs that appeal to younger buyers. The company is betting that global demand for mid-sized pickups will expand by nearly 40 per cent to 2025 to 2.8 million units globally.
"Doing a premium pickup is an interesting experiment for Mercedes," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
"Thirty years ago, no one would have thought that SUVs could become as popular as they are today. Pickups could go in a similar direction."
Mercedes said key markets for the cars are South America, Europe, South Africa and Australia, where the segment already makes up 14 per cent of total auto sales. Entering the US could be on the cards too, said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes' vans unit.
X-Class vehicles will be "competitively priced", connect to the Internet and feature a range of driver assistance features, Mercedes said.
Plans for the model started in 2012, and cars will be produced in plants in Barcelona and Cordoba, Argentina, as part of Daimler's strategic tie-up with the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Sharing production capacity and key elements like engines with partner Renault-Nissan is helping to reduce costs and accelerate bringing the product to market, said Mr Mornhinweg. Nissan already produces the mid-size Navara pickup.
"The Mercedes-Benz pickup will bridge the gap between commercial and private use," the company said in the statement.
The target audience for the cars is "families with an active lifestyle", "cattle ranchers in Argentina" and "successful adventurers", it said.