Saturday, 19 November 2016
German-branded pick-ups facing ‘hostile’ US market?
A recent survey by market research organisation Edmunds.com indicated an unusually high degree of brand loyalty among North American buyers of pick-up trucks, writes Alan Bunting.The survey suggests a certain amount of ‘bravery’ by Volkswagen AG; its Amarok 1-tonne capacity pick-up is due for launch in the US next year.
There the Amarok will have to compete with well-established models from the so-called ‘Big Three’ North American manufacturers, namely Ford, General Motors and what is now Fiat-Chrysler, as well as with those from Japanese makers, viz Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
VW’s plans for the Amarok’s US introduction are likely to have been delayed by the diesel emissions scandal which is costing the company huge amounts for compensation and vehicle rectification, to say nothing of its brand image in the eyes of prospective North American buyers.
Admittedly, in the 1-tonne segment of the US and Canadian pick-up market, gasoline rather than diesel engines are the norm and the Amarok launch look certain to major on gasoline power. There VW has 2.8-, 3- and 3.2-litre V6 units, installed till now in the group’s passenger cars. Though not so far offered in the Amarok elsewhere, they could well be listed for North America to satisfy its acknowledged demand for ‘naked horsepower’.
In order to achieve conquest sales from established US pick-up market contenders, as well as having to overcome the aforementioned brand loyalty factor, VW will be up against a patriotism issue, which Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent election must inevitably have strengthened.
Volkswagen is an undeniably German brand. And even if an Amarok assembly plant was to be set up on US soil, the perception of a foreign brand would remain.
Alright, Japanese pick-up makers were able to enter the market several decades ago, in healthier economic times, when buyers were arguably more willing to try something new. Demonstrable quality and reliability won through.
Mercedes-Benz, VW’s main global rival, which is only now showing some interest in the pick-up business, some five years after the Amarok’s tentative first appearance, is approaching the North American market with extreme caution, saying it has “no plans” to offer its newly-unveiled X-class vehicle in the foreseeable future. But the words “no plans” have been heard before, only to come to nothing.
“No plans” could be for those brand loyalty and patriotism reasons. It could also be because the X-class is nothing more or less than a rebadged version of Nissan’s latest NP300 Navara pick-up – the subject of a joint-venture agreement between Daimler AG and Nissan-Renault Alliance – a model developed for mainstream sale by Nissan in North America.
In the North American heavy truck market Daimler has, over the course of two decades, become clear market leader. But, significantly, it has achieved that leadership under the long-established American marque Freightliner rather than Mercedes-Benz. It has sometimes been argued that its trucks would have sold less successfully under the parent company’s obviously German brand name.
Applying the same rationale, many of its US and Canadian dealers now sell Mercedes Sprinter vans badged as Freightliners. It seems possible that, in North America, Daimler could, in due course, offer the X-class pick-up – or maybe an eventual sole-venture replacement – as a Freightliner model.