The anchor braai topic of discussion this autumn will be a new bakkie: Mercedes-Benz’s X-Class.
The world’s original car company, which specialises in delivering luxury vehicles to discerning owners, was never expected to ever market a double-cab and yet your local Mercedes dealer will now very happily take an order for new X-Class.
In 2017 Mercedes sold more cars than ever before, so why the expansion into bakkies, risking the brand’s luxury legacy and potentially confusing its loyal following? The logic is very simple, as a bakkie is the word’s best-selling vehicle.
Americans buy so many of Ford’s F-150 bakkies that its sales dwarf anything else available and in emerging markets, bakkies are boundlessly popular too. South Africa’s an excellent example, Toyota’s Hilux has been the most popular vehicle here for years.
Although Mercedes won’t initially market X-Class in America, identifying key launch markets as Australia, Latin America, Russia and South Africa, there’s no doubt that the profit horizon will eventually make America a destination too.
The bakkie business has become incredibly profitable as more ‘car-like’ cabin features and comfort levels have resulted in ballooning prices, with many owners justifying their double-cabs as a family vehicle.
With the engineering R&D, manufacturing costs and customer expectations relatively simple compared to any SUV or other luxury car, bakkie are true profit ponies and it’s no surprise that as double-cabs have edged towards, and beyond, the R600,000 price ceiling, Mercedes couldn’t resist.
Barriers to entry are low, too. The issues challenging all automotive brands, electrification and autonomous driving ability, are of no concern to bakkie owners, thereby removing a huge portion of medium term development risk and associated R&D costs for bakkie manufacturers.
The X250d automatic peaks at R818 340 and with an X350d could very well become the first million Rand bakkie to go on sale locally.
The pricing is hugely ambitious, at times 20% or more than comparable Japanese double-cab rivals, which have dominated South Africa’s bakkie market for decades. You could buy a competing double-cab and have enough change buy an entry-level hatchback as a second family car, both new, for the price of Mercedes-Benz’s lead X250d auto 4x4.
Explaining the pricing is a position that Mercedes believes it delivers a new level of refinement and comfort to the bakkie market with all the unique appeal of infallible German engineering, hence such very premium pricing.
The problem is that bakkie customers might not be bothered about whether X-Class could ever drive itself or run on batteries, but they’re hugely demanding of how much it can haul, and for how long.
Generous towing capacity should silence the doubters, but whereas most Mercedes-Benz cars are priced within a single digit percentage margin of a rival such as BMW, double-digit percentage differences between X-Class and its bakkie rivals could simply reinforce traditional South African double-cab loyalties.