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Mercedes targets quad-bike loving wealthy with luxury pickup
[JOHANNESBURG] Mercedes-Benz, reeling from a massive recall over concerns about diesel emissions, is stretching its refined image with its first ever pickup truck, betting that upscale car buyers are ready for an open-bed hauler with leather seats, oak trim and Autobahn handling.
The X-Class, priced starting at 37,300 euros (S$58,879.6) in Germany, will reach dealerships in the brand's home country starting in November and then be rolled out to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in 2018 and Latin America the following year.
The Mercedes model will be available initially with two diesel options as well as a gasoline engine. The top-of-the-line V6 diesel will be available as of mid-2018.
Mercedes is targeting the mid-sized pickup at wealthy clients who like quad biking and sailing. Taking on a new segment far removed from opulent models like the S-Class sedan shows how far the world's biggest maker of luxury vehicles is prepared to go to capture new sales.
For now, it plans to stay clear of the US's competitive truck market, dominated by utilitarian vehicles like Ford Motor's US$27,100 F-150. The X-Class gives Mercedes an offering that rivals BMW and Audi are unlikely to match any time soon.
"With the X-Class, we will open this segment to new customer groups," chief executive officer Dieter Zetsche said in a statement.
"Our pickup convinces as a workhorse just as much as a family and lifestyle vehicle.''
Daimler anticipates that demand for mid-sized trucks will grow by 43 per cent over the next decade to about 3.2 million vehicles.
While that might be attractive, moving into new segments can be a risk, especially for a brand that trades on its image for elegance and performance.
Luxury pickups also have little track record of success, as General Motors and Ford found when sales for the Cadillac Escalade EXT and Lincoln Blackwood failed to take off.
The vehicle, which cost "a high three-digit million euro sum" to develop, will be produced as part of Stuttgart-based Daimler's cooperation with the Renault-Nissan alliance.
Vehicles for Europe will be assembled at a Nissan Motor plant in Barcelona, while models for Latin America will be built at a Renault SA factory in Cordoba, Argentina.
"The X-Class is the first genuine pickup with convincing passenger-car characteristics," said Volker Mornhinweg, head of the Mercedes vans unit, which developed the model.
"As a result, the X-Class pushes the boundaries of the classic pickup."
The model won't be offered any time soon in the US because of the dominance of the competing local full-size pickups, "whereas the mid-size has more appeal globally," Mr Mornhinweg said at a presentation of the X-Class outside Cape Town that featured the model's handling of curves, vertical climbs and rocky water hazards.
Mercedes also said it isn't targeting sales in China because of pricing and customers' use of pickups there as workhorses.