We’re in the mid-nineties, still far ahead with the advancement of electric cars, and most four-wheelers come out of the classic categories. There are small city cars, compact, premium sedans, but there are still two-door coupes, sports cars, almost every manufacturer has such a layered model, from Fiat to Peugeot to Toyota.
However, the wind of change is already being felt and a process has begun, at the end of which a whole new segment is being born. This is when SUVs, which push the traditional construction method into the background in almost all size classes, are launched.
The first swallow is thanks to Mercedes. In 1996, only the robust, real off-road vehicle, the G-Class, was offered by the Germans in the German offering, but the AAV (All Activity Vehicle) concept unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show changed the situation.
The AAV was much more modern, embodied in the nineties with lots of soft, puffy arches, nowhere in a sharp, square design. Back then, it was refreshing and a new style, and was successfully embedded in the first-generation ML series, which is actually a series-mature version of the AAV, with a more serious interior and a somewhat subdued exterior.
Doomed to success
Serious development work was behind the introduction of the AAV, the production was not accidentally planned in the United States, which was then the strongest SUV market. The supplier structure was redesigned, complete systems were ordered from component manufacturers instead of individual components, and these companies were also involved in the development.
The design was absolutely determined by the surveyed market needs, with the AAV, i.e. the later M-Class, being born first, based on feedback from dealers, designers, industry participants and, most of all, customer feedback.
A case study of this process has also been prepared and is still used as an educational material (available here the document).
The ML is thus a shining example of the need for SUV mania in a market that was already well assessed by Mercedes in the 1990s, and it was no accident that they set out in that direction. The rest, after history, after the American market, recreational cars have become more and more popular in Europe, and the competition did not sit idly by, two years after the introduction of the Mercedes M-Class, the BMW X5 arrived in 1999 and the Volkswagen Tuareg, and Volvo XC90, and so on.
By 2019, the world’s SUV stock has doubled, from 35 million to 200 million.
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