For any automobile manufacturer deciding on a model name is nowhere near as simple as it might seem, and choosing the identity of what could become a pivotal new model only increases the pressure to get it right the first time.
History is littered with examples of cars that failed the name-game, from the Chevrolet Nova which basically translates to ‘doesn’t go’ in Spanish to the Mitsubishi Pajero which is also Spanish for, well… Maybe you should google it when you’re not at work.
But if you’re a manufacturer like Mercedes-Benz the task of naming a new model becomes much easier, all you have to do is decide which letter to use, right? Well, no actually. That convention might work for Mercedes passenger cars, but not for commercial vehicles.
Last week Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles unveiled its first ever medium pickup, the X-Class, to the world but unlike the rest of the MBCV range the X-Class confusingly subscribes to the passenger car naming convention, not the commercial vehicle one.
For instance, if you walk into a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Australia and want to buy a van your choices include the Vito or the Sprinter, overseas you can also add the Citan to that list (a small van based on the Renault Kangoo) whose name is a portmanteau of ‘city’ and ‘van’.
If you’re into more heavy metal the truck range includes names like Actros, Econic, and Zetros as well as the part truck, part industrial all-terrain scrambler, the Unimog which is actually an acronym for the UNIversal MOtor Gear, but in German, meaning you have to sound angry when you say it.
There’s exceptions to the rules of course, like the V-Class, which is a super-plush people-mover version of the Vito van but even it used to wear the Viano name up until 2014.
Mercedes-Benz has even tried to iron out the complexities of its range, introducing a new naming convention that sees sedans and wagons stick to single-letter designations, like the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class.
Coupes in the range get a C-prefix with L as a linking letter and a model designation after that - but only if its a coupe with four-doors so a four-door A-Class coupe is really a CLA, but the four-door E-Class coupe becomes the CLS because of its near-flagship status.
Mercedes used to use CL on its biggest coupe, but that car became the S-Class coupe in its current generation making the whole strategy even more confusing.
G is used to denote go-anywhere ability, so along with the iconic 4x4 G-Class the E-Class comparable GLE takes over from the old ML and the longer wheelbase version becomes the GLS, while smaller SUVs wear GLC and GLA badges, but the GLC and GLE coupe's don't gain a CL designation at all. Still with me? Great!
But if the X-Class is available with 4x4 and high-riding suspension shouldn’t it be a GL-something too? Like GLX maybe, or even GLN, to celebrate its Nissan origins? Apparently not, but handily Volker Mornhinweg, the head of Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles was on hand at the X-Class reveal to help sort things out, with an appropriate amount of hubris.
“We had an open discussion within ourselves, and it has something to do with the overall positioning of the product,” Mr Mornhinweg explained.
“I think we have competency to do both: Commercial and private names, like Vito and V-Class, but from the positioning perspective it might be more reasonable just to make it also different in comparison to our competitors, to position the car more on the lifestyle end.”
“We said, after the success of the V-Class, it might be a good opportunity even to lift it more at a positioning level to more premium, more lifestyle kind of thing, to take the name ‘class’. Then when we thought about which kind of letter we should take we thought ‘what the hell, X is available’ and then we though X is a perfect fit to take the rough and tough commercial to some extent, and also take the more refined premium lifestyle thing from the other side and make this kind of a cross, an intersection, and then we were convinced X-Class, which is a strong name I think, it might be the right thing.”
And there you have it, the official explanation as to why the X-Class is the X-Class, because someone deep within the bowels of Mercedes-Benz’ marketing department decided ‘what the hell, and the seemingly never-before intersected claims of ruggedness and luxury were harmoniously joined by the mystic powers of the letter X - just like they have been for every prestige SUV BMW built thus far… Whoops.
Rest assured though there’s more to the Mercedes-Benz plan: Just like the X on pirate treasure maps from days of yore, there’s almost certainly riches beyond compare underneath this X, with the brand forecasting global growth of the medium pickup segment of 46 percent over the next 10 years and seemingly no other ‘premium pickup’ competitors to keep cashed-up tradies out of Mercedes-Benz showrooms.