Officially entering dealerships this week, the X-Class is available in 13 four-cylinder diesel-powered variants at launch – priced between $45,450 and $64,500 plus on-road costs, with options and accessories taking it much higher – and will be bolstered by a V6 diesel engine that is attracting significant buyer interest ahead of its arrival late this year.
The company received more than 9000 expressions of interest and an unspecified but “substantial amount” of pre-orders ahead of launch and is confident the X-Class will win significant sales from buyers who are new to the brand, as well as those who are existing owners of other Mercedes passenger and commercial vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz Vans Aust/NZ X-Class product manager Scott Williams cited VFACTS industry figures that show not only that 17.4 per cent of the market last year were utes but that dual cabs alone accounted for no fewer than 157,768 units, or 76 per cent of all sales across the sector (207,615).
Figures obtained by GoAuto show that just 86,066 dual cabs were sold in 2011, rising sharply to 110,780 in 2013, to 126,468 units in 2013 and remaining steady over the next couple of years until the boom recommenced in 2016 with more than 140,000 sold.
These stats are for diesel-powered models only and include 1.5-tonne options.
Last year’s result of almost 160K dual cabs signified an 83 per cent increase over the six-year period – and Mercedes is now ready for a piece of the action and to grow the market further.
“We believe that sort of volume will provide us with the potential for utes to be nearly as much as vans in our overall Mercedes-Benz portfolio,” Mr Williams said.
Mercedes-Benz Vans sold 5421 vehicles last year, with more than 4143 of these made up of the Sprinter (2903) and Vito (1240) vans and the balance spread across the Sprinter bus (305), Valente and V-Class people-movers (923) and the Marco Polo campervan (50).
Mercedes-Benz Vans Aust/NZ managing director Diane Tarr told GoAuto that the opportunity for X-Class to become the brand’s biggest-selling model was obvious considering the size of the twin-cab segment versus large vans, which were at 17,478 units last year.
“You can do the sums, and our intention is to grow that opportunity for us,” she said.
“If you look at the market, there is so much more opportunity (with utes) – it spreads between that workhorse into dual use and into private – so I think by the sheer opportunities of the customer base it is naturally an opportunity to sell more.
“We are also mindful that we have responsibility for our core range, too, so we will certainly not take our foot off the gas for the rest of our product. But we certainly hold high expectations – great expectations – for our X-Class.”
Ms Tarr would not put a figure on the potential sales of the V6 variant, but said there was “strong interest” on both the six- and four-cylinder variants.
“Yes, there is that traditional, typical Australian desire for V6s that we know is current in the market and is always going to be exciting to the market, but we certainly see that there is going to be an opportunity for both (four-cylinder and V6),” she said.
Mr Williams said Mercedes was particularly well placed to capitalise on booming sales of high-series utes in Australia – as evidenced by Ford’s success with its flagship Ranger Wildtrak.
“There’s a number of reasons that are driving that, one of which is that utes are very well treated concessionally in terms of taxation,” he said.
“We have rising incomes, we have high disposable incomes from the tradies side of the world – they are quite comfortable in spending up to $80,000 on the road for a high-grade ute and Wildtrak has exploited that tremendously, and they are all being sold with the Tech Pack.
“So they want the high grade that looks good, but they also want the safety features as well.”
He added that strong interest in X-Class was coming from both rural and metropolitan regions, with prospective buyers typically owners of mid-size utes from other brands, people who currently own SUVs or passenger cars and have an interest in a ute as a second vehicle, and existing Mercedes customers looking to put another Benz in the garage.
The company has also identified three main types of customers represented in the segment: landowners/small-businesspeople (farmers/agricultural sector workers, generally self-employed and living in or near provincial cities); independent operators/adventurers (typically single men/tradies who need a ute for work and with off-road ability to transport trailbikes/jetskis etc on the weekend); and families (using the vehicle as a mum’s taxi and for milder weekend recreational pursuits, akin to SUV buyers in terms of valuing safety features, comfort, functionality).
By Terry Martin