Mercedes-Benz will soon cease production of its double-cab bakkie.
Rumours predicting the end of Mercedes-Benz’s X-Class might be closer to becoming fact. Although Mercedes-Benz has remained defiant in the face of weak global sales of its double-cab bakkie, powerful market forces might finally have overwhelmed the project.
X-Class sales have been very poor, since its launch, and the trend is worsening. In 2018 only 16 700 X-Class bakkies were delivered to customers. Last year Mercedes-Benz sold even less, with 15 800 units produced.
The reality of declining X-Class sales has forced a sobering of attitude amongst Mercedes-Benz’s product planners. With the company facing profit pressure going into 2020, after a sharp income drop in 2019, there is no margin for supporting a failing product line.
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An increasingly unworkable partnership
Further complicating the sustainability of the X-Class project is its joint-venture dynamic with Nissan. Sharing a platform and production facility with the Japanese brand has inadvertently exposed Mercedes-Benz to all the issues currently at play with Nissan, which has been trending in 2020 news searches for all the wrong reasons.
As enormous restructuring pressure builds across Nissan’s global production facilities and within its core business strategy, the viability of Mercedes-Benz’s X-Class has become untenable.
When quizzed about the X-Class and its future lifecycle, Mercedes-Benz has always defended its status as a ‘niche’ product. But now it seems that the reasoning and justification for continued X-Class production has come to an end.
X-Class ends without the benefit of a facelift
Mercedes-Benz is under massive pressure to save costs. It must deploy significant resources to engineer a future range of electric vehicles, which requires substantial investment. Remaining committed to a failed product such as X-Class, which is not achieving sales targets, is simply not acceptable.
To this end, Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that X-Class production is due to end by this May. Nissan’s Barcelona factory, where it is built alongside Navara, has not been commissioned to continue assembly of the Germany double-cab beyond Q2 2019.
It is a rare instance for any car company to cull a model which is still so young in its lifecycle, but X-Class won’t even get to see a mid-life facelift or technology upgrade. Rarer still, for a brand as old and powerful as Mercedes, to have made a mistake in its product planning and execution.
Image: Sean Parker
Although weak demand was primarily the reason for X-Class failing (due to its overly ambitious pricing), the operational issues afflicting both Mercedes-Benz and Nissan no doubt hastened this decision. Automotive industry joint-ventures are fraught with tension and when a collaborative product is failing, this tension increases.
Nissan has huge management and operational issues to deal with in 2020, with waves of retrenchments scheduled for its global assembly plants. Mercedes has structural problems of its own to solve, having suffered through a challenging 2019.
X-Class was an uncomfortable drag on Mercedes-Benz’s normally confident commercial vehicle division, which posted a R33-billion loss in 2019.