We don’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, exactly what Mercedes-Benz USA has planned for the brand’s new pickup truck, the X-Class.
Importing the Nissan Navara-based Benz pickup seems doubtful. The Chicken Tax, a 25-percent tariff on imported light trucks, would bring a $43,000 X-Class’s price up to $54,000. Moreover, premium brand pickup trucks — Lincoln Blackwood and Mark LT; Cadillac Escalade EXT — have faltered in the past. The X-Class is also set to be almost entirely dependent on diesel engines, and Mercedes-Benz would almost invariably need a gas powerplant to function in North America, both from cost and emissions standpoints. Plus, Mercedes-Benz’s X-Class would be competing for a slice of a slice of America’s pickup truck pie. America’s pickup truck sector is huge, but 84 percent of it is devoted to full-size, not midsize, pickup trucks.
However, if — and it’s a big if — Mercedes-Benz either determines that importing the X-Class to the United States is viable or decides to build the X-Class in the NAFTA zone, the words of Volker Mornhinweg, Mercedes-Benz Vans’ executive vice president, might just come back to haunt the three-pointed star.
“Our clear target was excellent refinement,” Mornhinweg told AutoCar at the X-Class’s July 18 launch. “This is more a lifestyle oriented pick-up. It’s not a basic workhorse.”
Gasp. Even if a pickup truck will never be used for workhorse purposes, you must convince me it is an eminently capable pickup, first and foremost.
Thing is, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class could easily be labelled, on paper, as a workhorse. Its capabilities are in keeping with other midsize efforts. It’ll tow 7,700 pounds and accept a payload of nearly 2,300 pounds. All four corners are coil-sprung. The standard suspension (outside Europe) offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance; the X-Class can wade into water 23.6 inches deep.
The X-Class can be more than one thing, as Mercedes-Benz is keen to point out in the company’s official documents. Mercedes-Benz says the X-Class, “unites the typical traits of a pickup – robustness, functionality, strength and off-road capabilities – with the classical characteristics of a real Mercedes – design, comfort, driving dynamics and safety.”
Mercedes-Benz even points to the most basic X-Class, the Pure, as a truck for “classic robust use.” Not just classic, not just robust, but classic robust. The company release uses the word tough five times and the word robust five times, throws in a couple mentions of rugged, and makes 15 comments regarding off-road.
But as soon as executives, even a former boss of hallowed AMG such as Volker Mornhinweg, go on the record suggesting that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is “lifestyle oriented,” an eyebrow is raised.
“Lifestyle, huh? Really now, lifestyle? This truck is not a workhorse? You’re saying it can’t work? Refinement is the number one goal? Don’t you mean to say that being loaded with one ton of cement blocks, dropped from high above by a front end loader, while bouncing around uncontrollably on a work site, is your number one goal?”
Of course, the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is a capable truck, undoubtedly comparable to the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado and Nissan Frontier that lead America’s midsize truck market. But you still can’t be overheard saying it’s not intended to be a workhorse.
My neighbor uses a Ford F-250 every day to tow a horse trailer or a bale elevator. He commutes in a Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD loaded with plumbing and HVAC equipment. A massive percentage of America’s truck owners don’t do that. They don’t tow ridiculously heavy loads, the trucks aren’t absolutely required for work, they don’t off-road, they might not even get dirty, and they certainly don’t ford two-foot-deep streams. Yet America’s truck owners want trucks that can do those things, if need be. America’s truck owners want trucks that advertise their ability; that wear their capability patches on their shoulders.
Perhaps many of the 7,500 pickup trucks sold in America today won’t ever see a dirt road or a construction site. Maybe the rear end of many of those pickup trucks will never back up to a trailer hitch. The four-wheel-drive switch may never be turned. A tonneau cover will turn the bed into a trunk, a trunk that will be loaded with bicycles and paddleboards. The back seat will carry children and groceries. The dog that sits up front will be a Bichon Frise, not a Boxer.
But Mercedes-Benz just can’t tell us that’s the way it’s going to be. And now that Mercedes-Benz has, well, we find ourselves needing a truck that can carry one pickup truck in its bed while towing another up a hill of boulders.
[Images: Daimler AG]
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.