Mercedes-Benz Outlines a Luxury Pickup for Europe, South America
Talks with Japan’s Nissan to jointly develop truck said to be at an advanced stage
With a tug, Volker Mornhinweg pulled a covering off a life-size clay model of the pickup truck that Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz intends to enter the global market for midsize haulers.
Before him stands a sporty double-cab vehicle with the tapered lines typical of Mercedes-Benz sedans and sport-utility vehicles. But this vehicle has a loading space big enough for any craftsmen’s tools or gear for an outdoorsy family’s weekend outing.
“Years ago, SUVs used to be, well, rough,” Mr. Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said in an interview. “Then they became prettier. Now, we see the same trend in pickup trucks. We see opportunities to enter this market as the first premium brand.”
Mercedes plans to build the truck in cooperation with Nissan Motors Co., using the basic framework of Nissan’s Navara and using Nissan factories to produce the vehicle, two people familiar with the situation said.
The talks, which are at an advanced stage, involve using the basic architecture of Nissan’s Navara pickup truck for the new vehicle that Mercedes is planning and producing the new truck in Nissan factories, two people who requested anonymity told The Wall Street Journal. Nissan was not immediately available for comment.
“The details are still being worked out,” one of the people said.
Mercedes would use the Navara framework, but would provide “everything with which the customer comes in contact,” the person added. That would include the powertrains, the interior, the design and other elements.
Mercdes declined to disclose any details of production plans, a specific launch date or pricing, but said it is making preparations to produce the vehicle “in large numbers” in various regions of the world within the next five years.
The truck will carry a payload of about one metric ton and come with four- or six-cylinder engines. Mercedes is targeting Latin America, South Africa, Australia, and Europe for its debut. It says there are no plans for a U.S. launch.
Global sales of such midsize trucks were 2.34 million vehicles last year, according to IHSAutomotive, a research group. The market is growing, but it isn’t booming. Sales are expected to rise to 2.83 million by 2020, says IHS.
Mercedes is counting less on growth in the market, than on demand for trucks with greater luxury and comfort from existing buyers.
“We call it rough luxury,” said Kai Sieber, director of design, brands & operations at Mercedes Vans.
The cab sports two rows of seats, easily fitting a family of four or a builder’s crew, and will contain many of the same interior components and features typical of Mercedes-Benz’s cars and vans. There will be a luxury version with leather interior and chrome furnishings. And there will be a more robust version with a washable interior for the workhorse.
MercedesMe, the company’s infotainment system, will be onboard, officials said.
Mr. Mornhinweg dismissed speculation that Mercedes also is planning to launch a full-size truck in the U.S. market against such popular trucks as Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 and General Motors Co.’s Silverado and Chrysler’s Ram.
“The full-size segment is too specific for the U.S. It’s not a global market,” he said. “And it’s dominated by the Big Three. It makes no sense to go there.”
The market for midsize trucks in the U.S. could be a niche, especially since those are vehicles that manufacturers can sell in other global markets.
Mercedes hasn’t decided yet whether to take its coming pickup onto U.S. roads, where the midsize market is dominated by Toyota Motor Corp.’s Tacoma, GM’s Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon and Nissan Motor Co.’s Frontier, which cost about $21,000 and up in the U.S.
But foreign manufacturers are watching with interest the recent growth in U.S. pickup truck sales, including growing demand for midsize trucks.
“Auto makers continue to study the option—especially those that see the U.S. makers benefiting from an uptick in U.S. pickup sales,” said Stephanie Brinley, an IHS analyst.