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Mercedes takes soft touch to first G-Class redo since 1979

Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche reiterated that all Mercedes will eventually be electrified, but for specifics: "Stay tuned."

[MUNICH] In the first revamp of the G-Class since the rugged sport utility vehicle's introduction nearly four decades ago, Mercedes-Benz took the approach that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  There's a special "G" mode for offroad driving and a large flat screen. But aside from such flourishes, the styling is still dominated by flat steel surfaces and a utilitarian interior, the car's still got a brawny gasoline engine, and it's still mainly hand-built in Graz, Austria.  The US$124,000 model also spews out more than double the carbon-dioxide that other Mercedes cars emit, making it an uncomfortable outlier amid the brand's push to make vehicles more environmentally friendly. There's no specific plans to change that, with Mercedes not committing to a timeframe for any pure-electric or hybrid variant. That suggests the strategy behind the revamp was focused on maintaining the G-Class's role as a cash cow to pay for investments in electric cars.

"The G-Class is obviously a money maker for them and it's an icon, so at this juncture it makes complete sense" to give it a makeover, said Tim Urquhart, a London-based analyst with IHS Automotive.

When Mercedes developed the G-Class in the late 1970s, its boxy design and all-terrain capabilities were envisioned for soldiers and explorers. It largely stayed in that niche until the SUV boom brought it more into the mainstream as its commanding presence and throwback styling made it popular with celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Kim Kardashian and Megan Fox. Sales have surged over the past decade.  "It's a very successful model that's driven lots of profits," said Peter Fuss, a partner at consulting firm EY. "Everyone in the industry needs to earn the billions necessary to invest in new technology." "The G-Class is the granddad of all SUVs," said Gunnar Guethenke, the model's chief. "With its robustness, reliability and solidity, it stands for the values of Mercedes-Benz." The company invited former California governor and action-movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the unveiling at the Michigan Theater in Detroit to share his fondness for the G-Wagen, which he said was developed in his hometown of Graz. Citing his reputation as an environmentalist, Mr Schwarzenegger pushed Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche to recommit to offering an electric version of the G-Class, like his own customized SUV.

"Does this G-Wagen eventually come out as an electric G-Wagen?" Mr Schwarzenegger asked.

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Mr Zetsche reiterated that all Mercedes will eventually be electrified, but for specifics: "Stay tuned."


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