GRAZ, Austria - DaimlerChrysler may enter the super-luxury sport-utility market when it replaces the aging Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen in five years.
'We have to see whether there will be sufficient demand for such an exclusive vehicle above the M class in five years, when the present M class ends its model life cycle,' said Gerhard Fritz, who is responsible for the development of the Gelaendewagen, M-class and the E-class four-wheel-drive models.
'The replacement model could expand into an upmarket, super-luxury sport-utility with ultimate off-road abilities, like the present G class.'
BMW reportedly is developing a higher priced vehicle that will replace the current model.
In the United States, such brands as Lexus, Lincoln and Cadillac have launched premium sport-utilities.
Fritz is working on a common platform for the future M class and Gelaendewagen, which originally was conceived as a highly durable off-road military vehicle. It is unlikely DaimlerChrysler will develop another vehicle for purely military use.
'There is no money in such vehicles any more,' said Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler management board member in charge of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles.
Despite their differences, the G class and the M class have similar dimensions, and both have a sturdy box section frame for their chassis. Despite the launch of the less expensive and more comfortable M class in 1997, demand for the Gelaendewagen is increasing. Production at Magna-Steyr-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik in Graz, Austria, is projected to rise from 4,500 in 1998 to 5,000 this year.
It is also a highly profitable vehicle. Because little new investment is needed to update the Gelaendewagen, it shows the highest return on capital investment of any vehicle in the DaimlerChrysler group, said Hubbert.
Of the 140,000 Gelaendewagen vehicles made during the past two decades in Graz, 80 percent are still in use.
The G class is still widely used by European, South American and Middle Eastern armies - although 75 percent of vehicles produced now go to private, civilian buyers.