Commercial Logic

Mercedes-Benz contemplates euthanising the X-Class. Good.

(c) caradvice.com.au

If the current febrile automotive and geopolitical climate is any reliable indicator, there may well after all be limits to growth. Certainly, the premium heyday within the auto sector appears to be hitting the buffers with both BMW and Mercedes recently issuing profit warnings.

The situation at BMW is such that it appears its CEO has been ‘encouraged’ to step down, while his newly installed Sindelfingen counterpart must now enact the kind of swinging cuts his predecessor craftily avoided having to carry out. For Mercedes however, the situation is more serious still, as an emissions-related probe seems likely to see the carmaker facing €billions in fines and compensation – a matter which may well prevent the erstwhile CEO from ascending to the chairmanship of Daimler’s supervisory board.

Further collateral damage from this newfound state of affairs is the likely end of the German big three carmakers’ unfettered niche-filling, as the costs of failure, coupled to impending regulatory impositions are likely to fundamentally change the rules of engagement.

A further casualty as reported earlier this week by Automotive News is one which, rather than eliciting tea and sympathy from the massed cohorts of auto-aficionados, is more likely to cue hysterical mirth: The Mercedes X-Class pickup is reportedly to be axed owing to poor sales.

Built at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, part of Daimler’s collaboration with Renault-Nissan, the X-Class is built on the Nissan Navara/Renault Alaskan platform, body and mechanicals – a matter which has been all too obvious, even to the uninitiated. Optimistic pricing hardly aided its cause, even with the ubiquitous bells and whistles M-B interior.

But notwithstanding the unconvincing appearance and skin-deep nature of its Sensual Purity makeover, the model was also hit by a number of embarrassing recall notices, including one where a detached footwell lamp could potentially foul the brake pedal. Earlier in the year, management reportedly abandoned the introduction of the X-Class into the South American market, whereas unsurprisingly, there was never any intention to offer the model in the US – as it would undoubtedly have been laughed out of court.

Sales have been derisory. First introduced in 2017, X-Class deliveries last year in Europe, Australia and South Africa amounted to a mere 16,700 units, so while it will hardly rival the first generation Smart Car as Sindelfingen’s biggest loss-maker, it’s unlikely that Mercedes have made a euro-cent on the programme.

It’s equally unlikely that anyone (three-pointed star zealots apart), will shed any tears for the cynically conceived and executed Mercedes pickup. The marketers responsible for this “tangible experience of modern beauty” are probably keeping a low profile, because the X-Class will probably go down as hubris, writ large.

So as we vainly attempt to supress our collective schadenfreude, I invite you to revisit this entertaining (if lengthy) piece from 2016, when fellow DTW’s R. Herriott gave the X-Class the welcome it so richly deserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Commercial Logic”

  1. Thank you, Eóin, for sharing this very welcome news. Schadenfreude is an ugly emotion, but it’s precisely how I feel on reading this. Isn’t it strange that the English language has no equivalent word for this?

    Thank you also for pointing us to Richard’s excellent 2016 piece on the X-Class concept. For a couple of years in my City career, I assumed responsibility for writing press releases for a dot-com start-up, our PR consultants proving staggeringly inept in this regard. The X-Class press release is unintentionally hillarious in that it breaks just about every accepted rule for this genre; no clear USP (the “killer punch”) far too long, repetitive, and memorable for all the wrong reasons. That said, you have to feel some sympathy for the poor sap who had to write it. They’re trying to distract the reader from the reality that this is a Nissan pick-up with a new front end, inappropriately chintzy interior and a big price hike, and the tone comes across as somewhat desperate. What sort of hubris must have infected the M-B marketing seniors who signed off on this?

    While the death of the X-Class will go unmourned (and largely unnoticed: I’ve never seen one) it might just herald the start of a wider retreat from the proliferation of “niche” models that M-B and BMW have introduced over the past few years.

  2. I mind neither the Nissan Navarra nor the Renault Kangoo – the X-class and Citan are something altogether different though.

    Imagine Stuttgart Sindelfingen in the mid-’80s, where Mercedes boss, Werner Breitschwerdt, is welcoming Renault president, Georges Besse, for lunch (Hällischer Krustenbraten), at the end of which the Frenchman suggests to the German that the Renault Express would make for a fine addition to the Mercedes-Benz range. Would Breitschwerdt have had him escorted outside with immediate effect? Or would both of them have burst into hearty laughter, followed by some fine digéstif to celebrate the fine joke?

    1. Actually, it might not have been that preposterous a suggestion, had it been positioned as an honest addition to M-B’s commercial vehicle range. M-B light commercial vehicles compete head-on with Ford, Renault, Opel, VW etc. Commercial customers (apart from the odd posh plumber*) have little or no interest in the perceived “premiumness” of the badge. They’re driven by monthly leasing costs and reliability. Joint ventures in LCVs are common and the choice between a Renault Master, Nissan NV400 and Opel Movano is largely made, not on brand loyalty, but on the deal on offer.

      The offensive thing about the X-Class is not that it’s a rebadged Nissan, like the Renault Alaskan, but that it’s disguised to look like something much more premium, with prices to match. The buying public may be dumb, but clearly, not that dumb.

      * If a plumber turned up at my house in an X-Class, I’d definitely want to get a second quote for the job.

  3. I disagree with all the arguments here. Vehicles like the X class make a lot more business sense than something like the Audi A2.

    One can argue about the aesthetics, but the X class did not have the tooling and development costs of a completely new platform. Audi lost ~10,000 euros per vehicle on the A2.

    The A2 is in the realm of the Edsel, which cost ford approx $250 million in losses on production of 120,000 cars. Converted to current dollars, that is about $13,000 US dollars per vehicle.

    Whatever one can say against the X class, they did not lose $13K per vehicle for DB !

    1. Even so, the X-class was heavily advertised (at least here in Germany), which cost money.

      The most definitely didn’t lose as much money as Audi did with the A2, but I’d bet my own cash that the car didn’t break even either. Unlike the Audi, which has since become a revered model, the X-class is unlikely to do much for MB’s image in the long term though.

    2. Hi Angel, I don’t think anyone said M-B actually lost money on the X-Class. The only mention of money was by Eóin, who opined that M-B was unlikely to have made any money on the project. Potentially, M-B might have made a great deal of money, given the big mark-up over the Navara and Alaskan, but sales were very poor because, presumably, the market wasn’t fooled, so any profits would hardly have covered the tooling-up costs for the unique front wings, bonnet and interior, together with the costs of marketing, dealer support etc.

      The X-Class would have made a lot more sense had it been pitched as a working vehicle rather than a lifestyle accessory and sold by M-B’s commercial vehicles division at a price comparable to its peers.

  4. From http://www.topspeed.com, published yesterday:

    “The X-Class is among the worst selling trucks in Europe: Mercedes-Benz captured only 4.5 percent of European pickup truck sales in 2018, below the Nissan Navara, the truck that the X-Class is based on. The Navara scored 16 percent. Mercedes sold fewer examples than the Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi L200, Volkswagen Amarok and Isuzu D-Max. Only two trucks ended the year below the X-Class, the Fiat Fullback (3.3 percent) and the Renault Alaskan (1.5 percent).”

    (I think the Alaskan is a bigger seller in the South American market.)

    1. The Fullback is soon to be no more – the announcement was made at the end of April, poor sales and emissions compliance given as the reasons for the coup de grace.

      In my neighbourhood it’s a common sight, probably more so than the L200. Giving the Fiat Professional network a pick-up to sell, with the outlay confined to badging and an advertising campaign seemed a sound enough business prospect.

      The European pick-up market seems unfathomable to those manufacturers who think they can effect a US or Australian-style transformation. The Hi-Luxes, D-Maxes, Navaras, L200s and Rangers are mostly put to hard work, which is the way it should be. We should regret the disappearance of the honest little pick-ups like the Caddy/Felicia, Proton Jumbuck, and Subaru Brumby. The nearest we have now are Brazilian Fiat Stradas in some Southern European countries.

      For some reason, a certain type of German favours personally imported full-size American pick-ups, Titan and Tundra included. Is there a German word equivalent to ‘oaf’? The nearest I can find is “Lümmel”, which is pleasingly close to the Irish ‘Lummox’.

  5. I’m staggered the X has been on sale three years. I’d bet two at the most. I’ve only ever seen three; two polished to within an inch of their lives and the last one actually had seen some farmyard action being battered, bruised and mainly straw covered. As indeed such pick ups should be. It won’t be missed, nor the Fiat Footballer.

    1. Hi Andrew, actually, you’re right: the concept was shown in 2016 but the production model wasn’t launched until 2017, so only two years on the market. Does that make the most short-lived Mercedes-Benz in the past fifty years? If so, then deservedly the case.

      Regarding the Fullback, at least Fiat had the sense to limit the exterior changes to the underlying Mitsubishi L200 to a new grille and front bumper, with no sheet-metal alterations.

      Interestingly, Fiat has a completely unrelated pick-up on sale in South-American markets. The fiat Toto is apparently based on the undrpinnings of the Jeep Renegade. Its quite a slick looking thing:

  6. It’s amazing what FCA have done with that old Corsa / Punto platform. The Toro’s wheelbase is 2990mm, only 10mm shorter than the L200. It’s 300mm shorter than the Mitsubishi, but marginally wider.

    An impressive effort, but I suspect too much would be lost in translation for it to have relevance beyond South America.

    1. Yes, of course, Toro not Toto. Google autocorrect must be a fan of 80’s soft rock…

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