Perhaps synergistic minds think alike. It would be one explanation for the simultaneous creation of two sports tourers: thePacifica and Mercedes GST (for Grand Sports Tourer) Vision. The concepts were created by two separate units of DaimlerChrysler AG and began, officials swear, as separate ideas a couple of years ago.
The idea men and design studios were an ocean apart when they started sketching early drawings of a tall wagon: an alternative to a large car that kept the ride, but provided the space and flexibility of a third row of seating and threw in all-wheel drive.
TheGroup started working on its project, dubbed CS, two years ago, and designers were still sketching away blithely six months later when Mercedes-Benz engineers started penciling a luxury car for the U.S. that attempted to put three rows of seating into a car-like ride, taking the M-Class SUV in a new direction.
It wasn't until the parent company formed an Executive Automotive Council that the chocolate met the peanut butter. One of the first acts of the EAC was to bring the product development gurus together. They met in a room plastered with drawings of concepts and works in progress. And the truth was suddenly obvious: Both sides were working on similar projects, but from different directions.
It was decision time.
“We figured out, some time ago, that independently, both sides were thinking in the same direction conceptually,” says Chrysler Group President and CEO Dieter Zetsche. “And then we discussed whether this would be something good or bad. Whether it would mean that we potentially would uproot each other in the marketplace or the other way around: whether we would be able to reinforce the creation of a new segment by positioning it from two sides of two brands in about the same time range. And we came to the conclusion that the latter one clearly would be the case.”
“Therefore we decided to go into these new segments, which we feel we can create with two different concepts: one from the Mercedes side and one from the Chrysler side,” says Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler AG board member in charge of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and Smart.
What better way to create a new segment than with two vehicles of similar dimensions, but distinctly styled and priced, sharing less than 5% of their components, but with profits from both feeding the same parent company.
Zetsche defines a sports tourer as offering the space and flexibility traditionally found in a minivan or large SUV, but with car-like behavior and elegant automotive design. Chrysler's Pacifica assumes the volume role within the segment, with American heritage design and a sticker starting about $25,000. The Mercedes GST will be higher-end and priced accordingly, says Hubbert.
Both men say they are responding to a growing demand for this type of vehicle, a demand that is taking root in Europe and spreading.
And both say they need these offshoots.
GST is key to Hubbert's growth plan for the Mercedes nameplate. “We don't have a full-fledged line of sport/utilities. We are not in the real minivan business.” For customers who want space, comfort and 4-wheel-drive, “we tried to put all those capabilities into one concept and put it into a shape that also offers some new ideas for the Mercedes face, for Mercedes design in the years to come.”
Hubbert says, “it offers an opportunity for additional volume,” beyond 1.1 million sales in the traditional Mercedes segments.
This also was an opportunity to expand the M-Class platform, says Hubbert, confirming the GST will go into production at the Vance, AL, facility in 2004 when expansion there is complete. It will share a platform with the next-generation M-Class, whose lineup already is being expanded to include a larger sibling with a third row of seats and unibody construction, as opposed to the current body-on-frame.
Hubbert admits that once the two sides started collaborating, the direction “was very much driven by our (Chrysler Group) colleagues, who recognized the potentially high demand for this kind of vehicle in the U.S.”
It was also, Zetsche says, a good way to bring the new unified car maker to life by introducing two brands in a new segment.
And the Chrysler Group is counting on Pacifica — which begins production in January 2003 at the minivan plant in Windsor, Ont. — to recover market share in a new segment, the way past segment-busters served up success.
Focus groups for Pacifica scored better than any product to date, including PT Cruiser, says Wolfgang Bernhard, Chrysler Group chief operating officer, pleased that they had trouble labeling the vehicle or identifying competition for it.
“Pacifica is one early example of this direction we are going for,” says Zetsche. “There are many more products in our heads or already in the pipeline to serve the purpose of coming up with 1 million of additional units sales per year in the 5- to 10-year time frame.”
Richard O. Shaum, head of product development, quality and passenger car operations, says there will be CS derivatives before 2006.
If spouses, over time, unwittingly think alike, perhaps we should be looking for GST offspring as well, and bearing stronger family resemblance.