Pickup trucks are the most popular (and among the most profitable) vehicles sold in the United States. It’s a rich segment of the market, but it’s also a segment where foreign manufacturers haven’t been able to find any traction. Ford, Chevrolet/GMC and Ram have formidable brand loyalty, which they’ve earned and kept by producing fantastic vehicles. Those companies pour tremendous effort and resources into their pickups to make sure they’re capable of dispatching all competitors. Those profits are too vital not to.
Those profits (and the potential for more of them) have been causing the pickup market to evolve. Once-utilitarian trucks are morphing into genuine luxury vehicles., with companies touting their high-end leather trim and open-pore wood. High-output powertrains are pushing performance boundaries. (Who’d have thought an F-150 could ever do 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds?) Trucks are becoming tricked-out formidable off-roaders. Top trims can have price tags surpassing $70,000.
Those rising prices open up an opportunity for new competitors to jump into the pickup truck space. Most manufacturers would sink while trying to swim with Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler in the mass market. But at the high-end level, domestic manufacturers are pushing beyond their traditional depths. There may be room at the for a luxury competitor to swoop in at the top of the market and offer, shall we say, the “Mercedes-Benz” of trucks. And the best candidate may be Mercedes itself.
After all, Mercedes already has a versatile, capable platform to build a truck on: the G-Class. The G-Class offers everything the top end of the truck market is trying to do but better and in one complete package; it just has a roof all the way to its rear instead of a bed. Luxury? A Mercedes hallmark from the humble A-Class upward. Performance? Mercedes can match or surpass every truck engine with its twin-turbo V8s. Off-roading? The G-Class has legendary off-road proficiency; it’s just visible only on those rare occasions when owners let them leave the pavement.
The G-Class platform has spawned trucks before — ones that were much more involved than modifying an SUV into a regular pickup. Mercedes-AMG built a limited run (and manifestly insane) 6×6 off-roading truck from the previous generation G-Class earlier this decade. Mercedes also has made more utilitarian G-Class versions, like Australia’s pared-down flatbed “G-Class Professional.” If a G-Class cabriolet can exist, it’s not that much of a stretch to make the modifications needed for a pickup.
Now, Mercedes has said it’s exiting the truck game just two years after debuting the X-Class pickup. But that failure does not disprove the viability of a Mercedes truck. The X-Class was a rebadged Nissan pickup with a wimpy engine intended for markets outside North America. It did not show what Mercedes could do with a truck if it went for the true high-end market — and how American buyers would react.
It may be a conceptual hurdle for Big Three truck buyers to embrace Mercedes. But Mercedes-Benz’s brand cachet may attract luxury buyers not otherwise interested in trucks. If we judge the idea in comparison to other respected off-roaders, there should be interest in a G-Wagen truck effort. Jeep Wrangler buyers have embraced the Gladiator. Ears perk up at the mere mention of a new Defender-based pickup or Land Cruiser-based options available in other countries.
I don’t expect Mercedes to actually attempt making this ultimate high-performance lux truck. Bean counters would no doubt be reticent to sanction anything risky, given the present instability in the automotive market. But a pared-down G-Wagen with a bed would be natural, awesome — and, notably, something Mercedes-Benz’s rivals like BMW can’t compete with, however cool that specially-engineered X7 one-off was.
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