Mercedes Won’t Offer Its X-class Mid-Size Pickup in America

March 9, 2017
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The Mercedes-Benz X-class pickup is bound for production soon, but it won’t be offered on the U.S. market, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the Geneva auto show. Why not? Because it will be a mid-size pickup, but, Zetsche explained, the best business case (think profit margin) in the U.S. market is made with full-size trucks. Pickups sell in huge numbers in the United States, but the trucks that make the money are enormous by global standards.

The X-class looks impressively large on the Geneva show floor, yet it would be dwarfed by the gigantic offerings of the traditional players in America. That’s because it is based on the Navara, Nissan’s lower-level pickup truck, which is a more recent product that we expect will soon replace the older model still sold in the U.S. as the Frontier. The X-class will be a five-seat vehicle that will be built at Nissan/Renault factories for virtually every other market in the world. A Renault-badged version also is in the works.

Customers outside the U.S. can expect to get a mid-size truck that is somewhat removed from its humble Nissan origins. The X-class will be a “premium truck,” Zetsche emphasized, in line with the Mercedes brand’s passenger-car offerings and not with its vans and trucks, which are among the value leaders in their respective segments. The Mercedes-badged truck has its own suspension and range of powertrain offerings, topped by a four-by-four model with a turbo-diesel V-6.

The toughest competitor for the X-class in its home market will be the Volkswagen Amarok, a mid-size truck that is not offered in the U.S., either. It is powered by an Audi-sourced TDI 3.0-liter V-6 engine and built to such high specifications that VW has thus far said it is unable to offer in the U.S. market at a competitive price.

Zetsche’s reading of the U.S. market is surely informed by his years at the helm of Chrysler in the early 2000s, back when Daimler owned the American company. During his time, profits on full-size pickups accounted for a huge part of the business, but the mid-size Dakota was fading.

Today, fresh mid-size entries from General Motors (the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon), Honda, and (soon) Ford are reviving sales in the segment, but the Germans are clearly not convinced that Americans will pay for a premium mid-size pickup when the full-size alternative is available for roughly the same money, or less, than the price Mercedes would need to ask on an imported truck. Zetsche said the decision could be reconsidered if circumstances change in the future, but for now the X-class is a non-starter in America.

Zetsche did not mention, although it’s surely a factor in this decision, that the truck’s prospects faded with the Trump administration’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal. The TPP included a plan to cancel America’s 25 percent “chicken tax” on imported trucks, a tariff that has been in place since 1963.

Mercedes-Benz-X-class-concept-REEL

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