OPINION: How the X-Class missed its mark

News of Mercedes-Benz’s intended decision to cease production on the X-Class hit the internet like a tsunami. Barely two years after the bakkie’s release onto global showroom floors it’s facing the axe and very possibly discontinuation.

This was not what Mercedes-Benz had in mind when they brought the bakkie to market, because they’ve done their homework and probed the public with regards to interest in this product. Their first bakkie.

Since 2012 Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, teased global audiences with sketches and images of its upcoming bakkie and everyone was in a tizz about it. Here you have Mercedes-Benz, one of the world’s leading premium automakers, ready to take the plunge and take that leap of faith by bringing something robust and ‘hardcore’ to the market. Think G-Wagon, but on a much more affordable scale (in the Mercedes-Benz hierarchy).

Sadly, the bakkie’s pricing in its segment was completely off and was it only one of the reasons it failed spectacularly.


An inferior product?

Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Renault are in a partnership and is there ample of part-sharing going on between them. In terms of bakkies, both the X-Class and Renault Alaskan (possibly arriving in SA in 2021) use the Nissan Navara’s architecture as the base for their offerings. The Navara’s five-link coil suspension on the rear axle, the frame on which it’s built, and engine and gearboxes have all been carried over to the other two.

In the X-Class’ case, Mercedes-Benz said that they’ve ‘touched’ every part of the Navara before using it in the X-Class and could it mean anything. Did they ‘touch’ it and then just approve its usage? Did they roll their fingers over every part to give the assurance that they ‘touched’ it? It could mean anything, but the fact that the X-Class’ key fob is just a rebadged Navara product says a lot.

Already the X-Class had to face strenuous criticism because one expects ‘Nothing but the Best’ from a Mercedes-Benz. The X-Class was not the best, and its R150 000 premium over the Navara did it no favours. Both utilise Nissan’s turbocharged 2.3-litre diesel engine mated with the six-speed manual gearbox, but the X-Class is some way down on power: 120kW/403Nm vs. 140kW/450Nm .

What it boils down to is that in the Navara you’re paying R3498/kW versus R5351/kW in the X-Class. More money for less power? It was never going to slide, and consumers inadvertently made sure Mercedes-Benz knew it. Given how strong Merc’s other vehicles are selling globally, including the V-Class, it’s a shame that the X-Class missed the mark in so many regards.


Any sales figures?

It’s difficult to gauge the X-Class’ sales because Mercedes-Benz does not release individual sales figures for their products. Instead, an overall total is sent to Naamsa for processing and is only the grand total for each month published. Globally it’s the same story and does Daimler only release the collective sales total for its products.

In 2018, the X-Class sold more than 14 000 units globally. But what seems like a reasonable figure is actually a vehicle hiding in Merc’s darkest corner. The V-Class, Mercedes-Benz’s van, set a global sales figure of 62 699 units last year. The S-Class, a leader in luxury driving, sold 77 927 units in 2018 – this for a car retailing from R1.7-million! The E-Class sold more than 355 000 units and the C-Class about 397 000, according to Daimler’s official website.

Mercedes’ SUVs registered 820 721 units across all segments.

From a business perspective, the X-Class is nowhere near these figures and is it reason enough for Merc to cut it off completely. The X-Class is sold in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe; to mention a few.


Can something be saved?

Interestingly, something can be done to save the X-Class, but it’s doubtful that Mercedes-Benz will spend further money on Research and Development to progress the bakkie. Two of the simplest acts would be to 1) decrease the price, and 2) bring the interior in line with MB’s SUVs (at least). And add cup holders!

The X-Class could have been a massive success for Mercedes-Benz. And given how popular the bakkie market is globally, it was the right decision to have gotten on the bandwagon. They just played the wrong notes. The X-Class was marketed as the world’s first premium bakkie, and everything Daimler did was to promote that. But consumers quite literally didn’t buy into it and now, not even 24 months into production, calls are made for the X-Class to possibly be axed.

It’s not a premature death, but rather a poorly executed marketing strategy that would have yielded great success.