Not their finest hour: Mercedes-Benz R-Class

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at Mercedes-Benz R-Class
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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February 27, 2017
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Automobile sales history has shown that except for a handful of niches, crossing over two or more segments to create a new one hasn't generally been successful. One such failure is Mercedes-Benz's attempt at merging three classes; a minivan, an SUV and an estate, into one package called the R-Class.

Keen to capitalise on the huge demand in America for massive utility vehicles, Mercedes-Benz launched the R-Class in 2005 positioning it as a "sports cruiser". A ridiculous AMG-fettled R 63 was introduced in 2006 with a 6.2-litre V8 under its bonnet. Obviously, despite the crazy amounts of power, buyers couldn't see a sports cruiser in a hulking car that was larger than the flagship GL SUV, with an overall length of over 5,000mm. The R 63 was discontinued after just a year.

Then the Stuttgart carmaker tried pushing it as a "family tourer". That didn't work either. Potential customers couldn't see anything but a large minivan, albeit a luxurious one, in the R-Class. And while the typical minivan had sliding rear doors, this Merc had regular ones, making it less appealing even as a minivan. Many believe that if Mercedes had not pretended it was offering something original and different from the rest, and simply introduced it as a regular MPV with sliding doors, it would have succeeded.

And to make things worse, it was initially pricier than the more capable and better-looking GL. Naturally, sales figures were dismal, and kept sliding with every passing year. In 2012, the R-Class was withdrawn from the US market, with most of the Rs produced going to China. And starting this year, Mercedes moved the R-Class away from its Alabama plant and outsourced it to AM General, who used to make Hummers for GM. Perhaps, that's the first step in the MPV meeting the same fate as the Hummer.