How much longer can the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen exist in a world that is facing ever-tightening regulations for safety and emissions? Forever, perhaps…
CarAdvice spoke with Mercedes-Benz’s vice-president of product for SUVs and sports cars, Wolf-Dieter Kurz, at the recent launch of the new GLE SUV and GLE Coupe, and he suggested the big hardcore off-roader will be sold until there’s no-one left who is willing to buy it.
“It will survive as long as we find customers for that vehicle,” he said – and it’s important to note that customers aren’t just members of the public for the G-Wagen, as it’s contracted to many defence and police force fleets around the world.
Kurz knows, however, that things aren’t going to get easier for the G-Wagen, which has been on sale for 36 years. Indeed, he is fully aware of the challenges the car faces, given he has seen Land Rover make its decision to axe the iconic Defender after 67 years.
“I’m always glad once a competitor leaves the market,” he said with a chuckle, before going on to explain that no such move will be made to end the life of the G.
“We are also working on the vehicle – we kept it fresh and updated the last 36 years and this will continue,” he said, making it clear that the brand is hard at work to ensure it will meet ever-tightening emissions regulations, which is the chief reason the Defender is set to be put out to pasture. The final Defender models will be built at the Solihull plant in the UK in December 2015.
Other tightening regulations include those in the field of safety, and pedestrian protection is one area that has seen controversy given it can drop a car's overall rating if the car doesn't perform well enough in the event of an impact with a pedestrian.
It could be argued that it doesn't make the car less safe - it just makes it more unsafe to walk in front of. Nevertheless car makers are paying attention, with many adopting higher bonnet lines and taller grilles that are essentially design to stop the pedestrian that has theoretically been struck from caving the bonnet in enough to hit the engine underneath with their head.
It's a big deal, because pedestrian deaths make up a significant wedge of all road fatalities: in Europe, the figure is about 14.0 per cent according to Euro NCAP, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US also states a 14.0 per cent figure. Australian figures from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport put the local figure close to that, too, at 13.3 per cent.
A report from Car Magazine in late 2014 claimed the G-Wagen will see a significant update ahead of 2016, when the laws get tighter around pedestrian protection. It'll essentially be re-skinned, according to the story, which states that the width of the updated model will increase by 100mm to 1860mm.
Kurz didn't make any direct reference to that apparently imminent update, though he made it clear that there was something in the works.
“The G will continue, also past the pedestrian protection and what have you,” he said.