As winged swine soared over the frozen tundra of Hell itself, Mercedes-Benz last week confirmed that yes, it would be building a premium ute.
It won’t be a pure-bred Benz, though.
The result of Mercedes’ on-going technology sharing arrangement with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Mercedes-Benz’s as-yet-unnamed ute will be built around the rugged ladder-framed skeleton of the NP300 Nissan Navara.
The bodywork will, of course, be distinctively Mercedes, don’t expect any lazy badge-engineering with this one. Though it will be pitched at tradies, Mercedes wouldn’t attach its three-pointed star to something that doesn’t look premium.
It's not going to be a full-size pickup either, with Mercedes commercial van boss Volker Mornhinweg telling Car and Driver that, "we’re not going to develop a fat cowboy truck for North America."
But what of the competition?
Imitation is rife in the world of luxury, with Audi and Benz prepping fastback SUVs to counter BMW’s X6 and X4, BMW venturing into the world of FWD hatches to fight the A3 and A-Class, and Mercedes currently brewing plans for an Audi TT-style coupe of its own.
So if a Mercedes ute proves popular enough, will it kick off a wave of copycat products from its rivals in the luxury segment?
Short answer: it’s not likely.
Unlike BMW, Jaguar, Audi, Lexus and Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz has a long and proud history of building commercial vehicles, ranging in size from the ubiquitous Vito to the all-terrain Unimog (below) and the Actros truck.
A tradie-sized ute would just be a natural extension of its commercial vehicle range.
That said, the platform-sharing deal that enables Mercedes to develop a pickup could be copied by rival manufacturers to do the same.
Will any of the above happen, though?
We’re not willing to bet on it, let’s put it that way. None of the above luxury marques have expressed any desire to enter the commercial vehicle space as yet.
But some will always dare to dream, and one of those people is graphic artist Theophilus Chin.
His take on an Audi ute (above) blends a Commodore-like turret with the body of Audi’s Prologue Allroad Concept, creating something less truck-like than Benz’s offroad ute.
His Infiniti-badged version of the NP300 Navara (top) is a lot more plausible, but with Infiniti currently concentrating on broadening its passenger car range we’re not holding our breath for a production version to eventuate.
It looks like Mercedes-Benz will enjoy a monopoly on the luxury ute niche for a while yet, though who knows?
The potential for more luxury-badged high-riding utlities is definitely there, but it will all hinge on how much overlap there is between the luxury car buying and ute driving demographics.
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