Car Culture: Tie-ups of auto rivals can be blissful
Full-blown marriages between major automakers — think the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger — sometimes end in tears, but properly managed, ‘dating-style’ alliances can yield interesting new vehicles and expand choices for consumers.
The latter appears to be the case for the blossoming tie-up between Renault-Nissan and Daimler. Both companies have been on a roll lately, with Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand globally enjoying the strongest first quarter sales in the company’s history, while Nissan in the U.S. has seen sales surge, especially with its crossover vehicles.
Part of Mercedes’ success is based on demand for its excellent new C-class sedan, which took a well deserved win as the 2015 World Car of the Year recently. Mercedes also scooped up the World Car jury’s awards for World Luxury Car, with the S-Class coupe and for World Performance Car, with the AMG GT sports car.
For Nissan, the focus on crossover vehicles in the U.S. has served the company well. “We are very well positioned in the crossover market,” says Pierre Loing, Nissan vice president of product planning. Loing points to the brand’s crossover family of Juke, Rogue, Murano and Pathfinder models comfortably covering the $21,000 to $45,000 price band.
Strong U.S. consumer demand for the Rogue in particular has led to extra production coming to America from Nissan’s French partner Renault’s Korean Samsung operation, itself another example of a successful alliance.
Nissan is also launching a new full-size pickup in the U.S. market to replace the slow-selling, 12-year-old current model. “With the new Titan we can only do better, and at the moment low gas prices make the market even more favorable for full-size pickup trucks,” adds Loing. “With the old Titan, we covered about half of the truck market, with the new model we intend to cover 90 percent of the segment, including some unique elements in the category such as the Cummins V-8 diesel.”
On the subject of pickups, the alliance between Daimler and Renault-Nissan has progressed to involve joint production of a mid-size one-ton truck. This will be based on the new Nissan NP300 truck, which is produced in Mexico. Mercedes will engineer its own version and target the fast-growing segment for personal and commercial use mid-size trucks. “Mercedes-Benz is the fastest growing premium brand in the world,” says Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler. “Entering the rapidly growing segment of mid-size pickups is an important step in continuing our global growth path. Thanks to our well-established partnership with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, we are able to drastically reduce the time and cost to enter this key segment.”
Daimler says the Mercedes-badged mid-size truck will not be sold in the U.S., but that decision may change as American consumers’ demand for luxurious, upscale pickups continues to grow. Recently the mid-size truck sector expanded significantly in the U.S., with General Motors’ introduction of its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models.
As well as the new pickup project, the Daimler Renault-Nissan alliance is already enhancing upmarket sedan models for both Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury offshoot. Renault is supplying a 1.6-liter diesel engine for the C-Class, while Mercedes is making its 2.0-liter gas engine available for Infiniti. The latter engine is being produced at a Nissan factory in Tennessee for both Infiniti and the C-class sedan, itself made in Alabama.
As can be seen, the latest style alliances between automakers led to a complex web of new product development and component sharing. But this trend is good news for U.S. buyers, who will see a broader array of new cars and trucks in the future, a lineup that might even include a pickup with a Mercedes badge.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org