Published September 17, 2013
| Road & Track
Daimler officials admitted to killing off two planned Mercedes-Benz pickups on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Planned to be on the market before the end of 2016, sources have admitted that Benz would have rebadged a full-sized pickup off the Nissan Titan and a midsizer off the next Nissan Frontier. Inspired by Volkswagen’s successes with its Amarok, Daimler negotiated with Nissan to use its truck architectures, complete with chassis, all-wheel-drive systems and suspension systems, though the latter would have received Mercedes-specific tuning.
Benz was to have gone its own way with regard to interior materials and design, though the sheetmetal changes would have been limited to the nose and the badge on the tailgate, our sources inform us. Benz engineers had already begun work at bringing the Nissans’ NVH levels closer to its own expectations.
The pickups were to be Daimler’s most complete transfers from its alliance with Renault-Nissan, but the dramatic expansion fell foul of Benz’s demands for a wide range of engine variants, which Nissan didn’t feel it could engineer the cars to accept. Mercedes-Benz sources said that the two-pickup program would only have worked if it had been allowed to tailor the engines for market demands.
Daimler also added complications by insisting on pre-engineering its version of the lighter Frontier-based pickup for potential hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants, neither of which were in Nissan’s original plans.
Its not all bad news for the world’s well-heeled tool twirlers, though, because Nissan sources admitted that Benz’s idea for semi-premium pickups is almost certain to be picked up by its in-house premium brand, Infiniti.
One Infiniti official we spoke to on condition on anonymity told us: “We know about their pickup, but as long as they price it more enthusiastically than ours, we don’t think it will impact our plans.”
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Aimed directly at silver-tailed tradesmen, the Mercedes-Benz pickups were to have been sold through the brand’s light commercial division and would have carried short-cab, extended-cab, crew-cab and chassis-cab variants.
The pickups were among Daimler’s planned shortcuts to achieve its target of doubling its sales to two million vehicles annually by 2020. Daimler isn’t abandoning that target with the culling of the pickups, though, with sources pointing to 12 all-new models in the pipeline.
While the full-sized pickup was expected to be predominantly a North American player, the smaller truck would have worked best in the Australian, South American and Asian markets.
Rumors of a Mercedes-Benz pickup have circulated quietly within the automotive industry for years, but its development repeatedly saw difficulties and delays. Daimler had initial negotiations with VW to produce a Mercedes-Benz version of the Volkswagen Amarok, but the talks never gathered momentum.
But the commercial vehicle side of the deal between Benz and Renault-Nissan has also had its difficulties. The three-star score for the Renault Kangoo-based Citan compact commercial van was Daimler’s worst European NCAP result in 16 years. It created enormous friction between the alliance partners, made more acute by the original Kangoo’s four-star rating. Benz was forced to fit the Citan with curtain airbags and the result impacted the development of projects such as the pickup, with Daimler pushing for more early engineering input in chassis development.
There have been other friction sources, too, with Renault caught in the middle of Daimler’s ongoing fight with the French government over the German company’s refusal to use a new, environmentally friendlier air-conditioning refrigerant. The France banned sales of affected Mercedes-Benz vehicles and encouraged the rest of the EU’s member states to follow suit. While Daimler won the subsequent court case, the French government’s ownership stake in Renault placed the automaker in an invidious position.
While there have been mis-steps, there have been other successes. Infiniti’s Q30 concept car from the Frankfurt Motor Show is based on the same architecture found beneath the Mercedes-Benz A- and B-classes, while next year’s all-new two- and four-door Smarts will share their architecture with Renault’s delayed Twingo.