Mercedes investigating options for X-Class
Mercedes-Benz is considering options for its fledgling X-Class after the car maker sent executives from Germany to better understand the competitive ute market in Australia.
With less than two months before the arrival of its V6-powered dual-cab ute, that will take on the Volkswagen Amarok V6 and other top-tier rivals, the brand says it’s gauging what it needs to do to win down under.
Options on the table include the potential to wind up its in-house 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine to out-muscle the Amarok’s capabilities and also accessorising the ute to the tune of something like the Toyota Hilux Rugged.
The move will further bolster sales of its first style-side ute – based on the Nissan Navara - that have so far been relatively flat, though within the expectations of the brand according to managing director of Mercedes’ local commercial division, Diane Tarr.
“We put our numbers around a particular mix and obviously we don’t share that,” Tarr told Drive.
“In our planning, we always realised the V6 would be a more popular transmission and engine for us.”
Volkswagen openly says it expects Amarok V6 sales to account for around 80 per cent of the ute’s sales at the end of 2018, up from about 70 per cent with the introduction of its near $50,000 plus on-road costs Core V6 model this month. The X-Class X350d V6 will be priced from $73,270 going up to $79,415 in top-level trim, being the most expensive vehicle in the segment.
“We are happy and comfortable where we are at the moment, knowing that we have launched our four-cylinder into the market and it will soon be followed by the V6,” says Tarr.
“In terms of our model mix it was always going to be the higher volume variant for us.”
“It’s [the X-Class V6] been very popular and the dealers are very excited to have the V6 in their showrooms and there has been a lot of interest for it. We’ve got enough [stock in December] to realise our pre-orders,” Tarr said without detailing numbers.
Sales for the X-Class, which has been in showrooms for six months, peaked when it launched at 329 units for the month of April, according to VFACTS. It has since settled to selling around 100 models per month that is far less than most 4x4 utes in the segment, led by the Toyota Hilux (3338), Ford Ranger (2870) and held up further down by the Volkswagen Amarok which is pushing near 1000 units a month.
The arrival of the V6 is sure to bolster sales but the 900-unit-a-month deficit to Volkswagen will be a red flag to executives in Germany.
“A product like X-Class in a market like Australia is hugely important by the size of the market. A lot of our head product guys came over, visited and researched - extensive research - and spent many weeks here just to get a feel for the ute market," Tarr said.
“As recent as last week we had four quite senior colleagues over to get another understanding around the market, what’s happening, what have we seen, what are we feeling, what do we need to do?
“In terms of that continuation of understanding the segment and this market for us, it is a key interest from them and support. We’re an important market for the X-Class ute,” said Tarr.
Tarr avoided saying the brand would get in a power war with Volkswagen which has just pumped up its Amarok V6 to produce 10kW (on overboost) and 30Nm higher output than the incoming Mercedes V6, but did say that as “part of the product lifecycle we always consider what is happening in the market,” and that the visiting executives are interested in Australia’s penchant for tricked-up utes.
“The more recent [impression from the German team] is the scale of individualisation on vehicles and how customers spend a fair amount of money on a ute and still really want to dress them up and accessorise them. That’s really quite interesting for them," she added.
“We are always assessing the market and always thinking ok; What is the trend? What do we need to do?
“I think generally most ute customers want to come in and change something on the vehicle.”
Better yet, we’d see a V8-powered machine, as first reported by Drive earlier this year, though Tarr says that “at this stage absolutely [an AMG model] is not on the cards.”
The new Mercedes-Benz X-Class X350d V6 is on schedule to arrive in December with deliveries commencing shortly after.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…