Expect Mercedes-Benz to use the Snow Farm testing ground near Wanaka for winter trials of the new light truck it is developing to challenge Down Under commercial segment leaders like the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.The carmaker has confirmed it will test prototypes in Australia and New Zealand before the production model breaks cover around 2018. The pick-up will be the first of its kind from a premium carmaker. The Snow Farm (at top) is usually first choice among many of the world’s carmakers seeking to test upcoming vehicles all year round. When it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, they do winter trials at the Snow Farm, the only such facility in the Southern Hemisphere. Hot-weather trials are often done in Australia. Mercedes-Benz Australia has been involved in the planning of the new workhorse. It will be a product of the company’s Vans division, whose Australia/NZ managing director Diane Tarr said: “We have been working on this project for a number of years and Australia and New Zealand have been an integral part of the programme from the very beginning. “We will be conducting product testing over the next couple of years and we are excited that we will be
able to offer customers looking for a vehicle that offers a high level of utility and, at the same time, has the comfort, safety and design of a Mercedes-Benz passenger car.” Initial sales will focus on Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and Latin America, countries in which sales of such vehicles continue to grow. Europe will be targeted but not the United States, where bigger pick-ups like the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram rule. Registrations of working utes like the Hilux and Ranger in New Zealand last year totaled more than 24,000, or roughly 20 per cent of overall new vehicle registrations. The sales were in part fueled by the Christchurch rebuild, an ever-expanding Auckland and Hamilton, and an overall buoyant rural economy. There are no actual pictures of the Mercedes-Benz ute, only an official sketch showing what it could look like, with its front-end styling cues from the current Benz family. Nor is there any information about the mechanicals and underpinnings, or whether it will be based on an existing Mercedes-Benz Vans platform or an all-new one. Mercedes-Benz has obviously tracked the relative success of the Volkswagen Amarok in the markets in which it will aim its new pick-up. Amarok has been built in Argentina since 2009 and Germany since 2011. Last year Amarok accounted for 778 sales in NZ. It finished 10th on the ute sales list, behind leaders Ranger (6330), Hilux (5774) and Holden Colorado (2948).