The mighty Mercedes-Benz G-Class is an iconic off-road vehicle steeped in history. We chat to Klaus Hartman, market manager and product management for Mercedes-Benz G-Class about how G-Class can survive in the green 21st century.Cars.co.za: Given the world-wide trend of downsizing and focusing on eco efficiency, will the Mercedes-Benz G-Class be forced to change its ways? Could there be a plug-in hybrid diesel, better aerodynamics, or will the Gelandewagen carry on proudly as a dedicated vehicle that’s designed to work hard and not save the environment?
KH: Our customers see the G-Class as a top of the range product and the majority are requesting V8 or even V12 engines. While we are fulfilling this demand we also work hard on keeping the G-Class young and up to date regarding safety, technology and performance. The newest models are significantly more efficient than previous models and this will continue in the next model years. If you are taking the G350 d for instance, which we are selling in South Africa, we are happy that our newest engines stays below 10 litres of consumption (per 100km). We are constantly evaluating new technologies, but will also ensure that the Geländewagen keeps its dominant performance off-road.
Cars.co.za: The G-Class is a strong and capable vehicle, but it comes at a price. Will there be a cheaper version that opens up a new market? If we look at how the A45 AMG opened a younger market for performance products, is there a possibility of a cheaper G-Class that is more affordable?
KH: G-Class generally targets the top of the SUV segment. Mercedes-Benz has great SUVs in a lower price segment and we are not planning to cannibalise other models. Our customers appreciate a car that is almost entirely hand-crafted and of premium quality.
Cars.co.za: How in-depth is the G-Class customisation programme? If someone wanted to equip their vehicle with extra ground clearance or make it even tougher, can this be done? Or should someone just go straight to the Professional range?
KH: Our factory in Graz is generally very flexible. This is why we are able to offer new models and lines. However, due to the high complexity in our production line where military and luxury vehicles of all types are built on the same line, we currently cannot fulfil every individual customer’s requirements.
Cars.co.za Your factory in Graz, Austria uses no robots (aside from the mechanised leather cutting machine) and the G-Class is one of the very few vehicles that is hand built. Is there a particular reason for this?
KH: In this regard you can compare us to other luxury goods, e.g. watches. Hand-crafted products represent luxury more than anything else. Our customer knows what to expect and we give it to them. Additionally, the durability of the G-Class in the off-road capability could not be achieved by a higher degree of atomisation.
Cars.co.za: The 6x6 production has come to an end. Would you ever reopen the order books for this outrageous vehicle or do you have something else which is as extreme and capable?
KH: We have no plans to relaunch the 6x6. The successor of the 6x6 is the 4x4² - we expect this car to be at least as emotional and attractive as the 6x6.
Read Five Cool Things About The Mercedes-Benz G-Class here and check out our first drive of the all-new G-Class here.