Mercedes-Benz' Mid-Size X-Class Has U.S. Potential


We have to give Mercedes-Benz credit. At a time when it could overpromise, a la Tesla, or come to market with a new product no one is asking for, a la Hyundai, Mercedes has a methodical plan for introducing its new mid-size pickup truck to the world.

According to Automotive News (subscription required), the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class mid-size pickup, which is a joint venture with Renault-Nissan, will give the automaker entree into the global work-truck markets of South America, Australia and Africa after its European launch.

Scheduled to go on sale in Europe later in November and to the rest of the world throughout 2018 and into early 2019, the slow rollout of the X-Class could bode well for the pickup's arrival in the U.S. By allowing it to slowly enter the demanding world of global commercial fleets, Mercedes is likely to build credibility in large global industries such as construction, mining, agriculture and energy, as well as with small businesses. But there will be significant challenges.

While a shared platform helps all partners save money, how the vehicle performs in comparison to the other major players in the class will be key. The global Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Volkswagen Amarok and others are competitively priced. Here in the U.S., the mid-size pickup market — admittedly a more personal-use demographic — is price-sensitive, and Mercedes is perceived as a premium brand here. That could work against the X-Class. We've seen that scenario play out as Mercedes tried to enter the commercial van market with the mid-size Metris. After two years on the market, the Metris sells about 500 units a month — not quite the success MB hoped for. The U.S. commercial van market is similar to the U.S. mid-size pickup market: small, price-sensitive and relatively few competitors.

The X-Class shares many of the parts of the current-generation global Nissan Navara mid-size pickup, which will eventually become the next-generation Nissan Frontier that's expected to be offered in North America in less than two years. That's long before the X-Class could show up here. By sharing engineering and development costs with a partner, MB gets a global product to market in much less time than if it went it alone. Mercedes has a longtime partnership with Renault-Nissan, so the X-Class includes MB upgrades, including the option of MB's turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 engine.

It's encouraging to see MB step into this segment at a methodical pace, working to build its commercial vehicle credibility first. We like the fact Mercedes isn't rushing to market to try to cash in on the growing mid-size pickup market. We're guessing patience will eventually win out and the X-Class will join U.S. pickup offerings. Now we wish both  and  would take note. Both automakers have made statements about diving into the deep end of the U.S. pickup truck market with much less reflection and thought.

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