My how times have changed. I can remember when a ute was a tool of the trade, a necessity to get the job done. In some cases, a sensible choice for the man of the house in a two car family, a clever purchase that ensured load carrying ability if domestic chores required it.
As most car enthusiasts know, the ute is now a lifestyle vehicle. A car that can undertake so many tasks, you'd be crazy not to have one in the driveway.
In Australia, the humble ute is now big business. It’s no longer a purchase based on need, it’s increasingly based on want. Evidence supports this statement, last year over 190,000 utes were sold in Australia, with the Toyota HiLux being the nation’s best-selling car.
It’s not just an issue of quantity, Australian buyers are after quality. Manufacturers are moving more expensive utes, models with long specification sheets. At various points in 2016, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak was in demand, so to the upmarket versions of the Volkswagen Amarok. Toyota also reported very strong sales of its top-of-the-range SR5 HiLux.
The price ceiling of the premium end of the ute market continues to move upward. Recently, Volkswagen moved the bar higher with the introduction of its V6 Amarok range. The Amarok V6 Ultimate costs $67,990 plus on-roads. A remarkable figure, and one indicative of our expensive tastes.
This week, in the motherland, Mercedes-Benz U.K. began taking orders for the X-Class, the German brand’s new ute. A vehicle that has the potential to give new meaning to the term, Toorak tractor.
Mercedes-Benz trumpets itself as the “first premium manufacturer of a pickup.” Probably a reasonable assertion, it’s difficult to gauge how much more premium the ute market can go. Local pricing is yet to be released, which leads to the question of where Mercedes will aim, how high is too high? Generally, when the word premium comes out, so do premium prices.
Keeping in mind, it’s in the brand’s interests to create a buzz about a new model - Mercedes has reported interest is high. Inevitably, so will the price. With a wide range of available engine choices and the work of AMG, the ceiling will move upward again.
Who will the buyer of this ute be? Cashed up tradies, the Joneses, or wealthy dads looking for bragging rights over the neighbours? The X-Class is a car that is sure to start many Car Conversations.
The market is already competitive and filled with highly featured, capable utes that tick all the boxes. Sensible buyers have plenty to pick from. The X-Class is a choice for those that desire badge credibility. Exclusivity is no longer an accurate descriptor of Mercedes-Benz, but the three-pointed star still retains credibility in the eyes of many enthusiasts.
Mercedes-Benz has a long history of producing commercial vehicles and with an ever growing portfolio, in reality, the X-Class was only ever a matter of when, not if.
The X-Class will most likely be a winner. Premium manufacturers - and I use the term premium instead of prestige – are doing well in Australia. Porsche and Maserati are enjoying enormous growth. The desire to be different influences purchasing decisions, especially for those with the a high level of disposable income.
In many ways, the X-Class is an unnecessary car, but one that can find a niche in the new car market. I for one will be eager to see Mercedes deliver a ute that offers considerably more than what other brands currently do. Price should be commensurate to performance, design and features. It will be disappointing if it doesn’t and relies on the cache of the badge.
I’m looking forward to having a Car Conversation with an X-Class buyer, hopefully, it won't end up being a case of a fool and his money, are soon parted.
Let’s start a Car Conversation, what do you think of the X-Class? Does it make any sense at all?