Isn‘t weird that SUV‘s are basically lifted limousines nowadays? They slowly drive around in completely clean urban environments, not even thinking about their ancestors which used to go hunting, farming, fishing and just enjoying places where roads simply don‘t exist. Mercedes-Benz, of course, is a famous luxury-car manufacturer, but do you know where and when did it start manufacturing luxury SUV‘s? They are celebrating their 20th year anniversary this May.

“AAVision” was a near-production concept, introduced in 1996. Image credit: Daimler

You‘ve heard of Mercedes-Benz SUV’s – and you’ve definitely heard of the famous G-Wagon (G-Class). But the truth is that the G-Wagon has only recently become a luxury car, still retaining the looks of a rugged off-roader. When it first came out in 1979 it was more of a military, farming and hunting vehicle that could go anywhere. There were not that many luxury SUV’s on the market up until recently and now everyone is making them.

Mercedes-Benz recognized this market opportunity back in the early 1990’s. The first details of the incoming concept were revealed in 1993 and three years later the “AAVision” concept car was revealed at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. But at the same time, a different process, equally important to this story, was taking place.

It took seven years till the idea was developed into a working car. Image credit: Daimler

When Mercedes-Benz saw the need for a car that can carry its passengers comfortably on the road as well as on rough terrain, it decided to manufacture it in a new plant. It being an SUV, it was decided that the manufacturing would take place in the US. The decision to build a new plant was revealed in 1993, its construction started in 1995 and in 1997 a new factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was ready to be opened.

Official introduction of the new factory was held on 21st of May 1997 and at the same time the new M-Class was revealed. It was far superior than the closest competition as it had fully independent suspension and made do without conventional differential locks, instead using an improved version of the Electronic Traction System. It was an instant hit. In fact, it was so popular that Mercedes had to manufacture a share of the M-Class production at the Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG plant in Graz, Austria.

The M-Class offered the brand’ signature comfort and impressive off-road ability. Image credit: Daimler

Since then, the SUV range of Mercedes-Benz has grown significantly. The plant in Tuscaloosa was also constantly being improved and now it is twice as big as it was in the very beginning. The second generation of the M-Class was just a continuation of its big success story. It was of unibody construction, it featured improved handling, comfort and off-road ability. The third generation, introduced in 2011, is fresh, modern, full of safety tech and much more efficient. Since its facelift in 2015 it is no longer called M-Class. Now it is named GLE, to emphasize its belonging to the E-Class family.

The M-Class and current Mercedes-Benz luxury SUV’s were built in Tuscaloosa. Image credit: Daimler

Mercedes-Benz currently has five SUV’s in its range – G-Class, GLA, GLC, GLE and GLS. They are very desirable, especially bonkers AMG models. So this success story has not ended and it really should not, since SUV‘s are enjoying increasing popularity.

The Mercedes-Benz GLE is a direct successor to the brand’s first luxury SUV. Image credit: Daimler


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