X-Class marks the spot for NZ buyers
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Mercedes-Benz NZ launches premium ute in 2018 and buyers are already queuing
When Mercedes-Benz Vans revealed its X-Class premium ute to the global media in Sweden last November, the impact Downunder was nearly instantaneous.
The X-Class is a collaboration with Renault-Nissan and goes into production later this year before going on sale in New Zealand in 2018.
Mercedes-Benz dealers in New Zealand were excited by the product and now the X-Class has also been on show at the Geneva motor show, Kiwis are clamouring for the premium ute.
The favourable response has led to Mercedes-Benz NZ having an "expression of interest" form on its website.
Mercedes-Benz NZ general manger, Ben Giffin, told Driven the website's expressions of interest "exceeded expectations, given how far away the product is".
"A number of dealers have already taken deposits, and most interest seems to be in the high spec V6, which is likely to be unrivalled for power and luxury and refinement," said Giffin.
"Our dealers got to see the X-Class Concept at our annual dealer meeting, and it underlined how important and exciting this product is to New Zealand.
"We plan on taking some X-Class related information to Fieldays this year to gauge local market reaction even further."
Mercedes-Benz Van's model line-up for the X-Class will include a V6 petrol, four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, manual and automatic transmissions plus two-wheel, four-wheel low-range and 4Matic.
The X-Class has a ladder-type frame that will take a payload of more than 1100kg and has a towing capacity of up to 3500kg. It will have driver assistance systems based on cameras, radars and ultrasound sensors.
Although price and specification details have yet to be announced, Mercedes-Benz NZ will probably focus on a top-of-the-line model such as the V6 diesel with 4Matic.
The X-Class ute will be competing in the New Zealand market with high-spec models such as the Ranger Wildtrak, the Toyota Hilux SR5, Holden's Colorado Z71 and fellow European brand Volkswagen's Amarok.
Driven and Australian media spoke with X-Class boss, Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, at the Geneva motor show:
Are you surprised by the global reception of the X-Class?
We were convinced our product is well done. We are going to step in into that new segment, and therefore the feedback, which we got from possible customers in the different regions, was really satisfying.
We caught up with you last year regarding X-Class at the reveal. What has changed since then in terms of your thinking, and what have you learned about the market? Has anything changed with your plans for the vehicle?
Nope, nothing at all. Because I think we had done a very crisp and rock solid market research in the past and therefore there was now no surprise. If we made something wrong or got some negative feedback, that might happen. But it didn't happen and, therefore, we had nothing to change.
Does that mean you are still not doing an AMG version?
As we explained in Stockholm, so far we have no plans about that. We will see over time. But so far nothing has been decided.
So you're not redoing engineering work on the engine?
No, for this segment I think we have the right approach. And this is also the feedback we got, but you journalists always ask that question about an AMG, same with the V-Class van.
With the imminent arrival of the new inline six-cylinder engine, is that planned for the X-Class at some point?
So far no because we will start with the V6 as I think we already announced in Stockholm; for the time being we will go for the V6.
Why not put the latest engine in there?
We cannot make a schedule change related to the powertrain development; therefore we launch our products from the market perspective. At the time when we decided we would go for the pickup segment, there was a sample of opportunities which we have and we took "this one and this one and this one".
Will the X-Class go into the US? Or maybe your vehicle is a little bit too small for the US?
That's also a frequently asked question. The guys in the US, they are more or less the founders of the full-size pickup, no question. But full-size pickups is a different segment. We are going for the medium size because, for us, it was important that we go for global products. Because as you know the full-size is 93-94 per cent of market share.
What about the plans to bring the development prototype to Australia [for local testing]?
A few of them will be over there, because this is what we do always. In the regions there are different climate conditions, for example. We have test tracks where we make more or less the basic or base set-up and the base durability, checks and tests, and test rigs and whatever. That's what we are doing in Germany at the moment.
But when they're at a certain level of maturity, we then test the products in the different regions - in Australia, South Africa, and Latin America - to figure out if there's something that we do not check out in our test tracks. It makes sense to use the product before the customers are doing it in their environment.
Will there be any differences for the Australasian-delivered vehicles? Or does one vehicle setup go to every single country?
There are differences, but not in general. There are some tweaks when it comes to the setup of the dampers, for example, or height of the pickup. There are differences, yes.
Cosmetically, from what we saw [in Geneva] is much going to change or it's almost ready to roll?
Some parts will be changed but not that much. To some extent we have to fulfil the regulations in the different countries, that has to be done for sure. But the proportion -- especially the stuff in the middle -- is more or less as it is. And also the interior is more or less as it will be.
In this model cycle is there an opportunity to put the E-Class dashboard? The double wide screen? Do you think the market is there yet? Because I think maybe not today, but in five years, the market could be there, people looking for this.
Yeah, that's right. This is what we see, too, that in the future there will be also an opportunity to put that into these kinds of utes. It's a question if the customer has the willingness to pay for that level, maybe it is a little bit too upscale. Because you say luxury, we say premium. There is a bit of a fine line, but there is a kind of a difference.
There is talk about where you're going to put the ute physically. The dealerships, commercial dealerships and also the passenger dealerships all want it. Are you finding that you are having to span both passenger and commercial in your markets?
Yep, more or less, because that opens up opportunities. When we have the chance to step into both networks, we can increase the point of sales tremendously and therefore we do it there. Some customers are used to going to the commercial side of our business; a lot are used to going to the passenger car dealerships. For us, it's great we can do both.