The automotive media seems to be falling all over itself in anticipation of Mercedes-Benz entering the mid-size pickup truck global marketplace. The new X-Class pickup will be offered on a shared platform with the next-generation Nissan NP300/Navara and Renault Alaskan. It will be made in Spain starting next year, then Argentina in 2018, according to Automotive News (subscription required).
Many of these excited auto writers are familiar with the Mercedes-Benz brand stance and product positioning in the U.S. — being a strong player in the luxury performance sedan and SUV segments means premium prices and high quality standards. Why wouldn't they love the idea of a premium-priced, high-quality mid-size pickup?
The problem is that the market for something like this in the U.S. is ridiculously small. The mainstream and luxury pickup truck marketplace is very different from the mainstream and luxury sedan marketplace. Being profitable with low-volume sports sedans is easy; being profitable with expensive mid-size and half-ton pickups is hard — unless you make thousands of them.
To counter this observation about very different segments — one that Mercedes seems to understand better than the folks covering the industry — the automaker is showing two X-Class concepts to cater (pander?) to every truckmaker's two most desirable segments: high-end luxury buyers and adventure-ready outdoor enthusiasts (who also have gobs of cash to spend on aftermarket accessories).
We have to admit that these concepts look interesting. But we don't think these are vehicles the typically conservative Mercedes would bring to the U.S. market, especially with increased competition, rising incentive wars and a predicted sluggish economy for the next several years.
Our guess is that Mercedes-Benz will take the same tactic we've seen with its mid-size Metris and full-size Sprinter commercial vans: It will likely come to market with a safety-tech-packed, basically appointed work truck offering substantial towing and payload numbers, then follow that credibility builder with two more models — one with more options aimed at personal-use customers and another more economical version to better cater to price-conscious fleet buyers. But none of this will happen until the next-generation Nissan Frontier (also based on this new platform) has a year or two in the U.S. market to strengthen its own position.
What does it all mean? Basically, what we have here are a few cool pickup concepts that will make the auto show rounds but won't see the back end of a production plant until at least 2030. Of course, that doesn't mean we wouldn't see a Mercedes-AMG X-Class 6x6 make an appearance in "Jurassic Park 6: Zombie Dinos" and go on sale for a few Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts with $250,000 in their pocket.