With the AAVision, Mercedes-Benz opened a new chapter in the successful ongoing product offensive in January 1996: the brand presented the concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. 25 years ago, it pointed in the direction that the M-Class series vehicle (W 163) would take a good year later. In May 1997, the M-Class marked the brand's successful start in the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment. The model family has been called GLE since autumn 2015. That locates the successful SUV in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Since the M-Class was launched in 1997, more than two million customers have chosen the off-roader. This makes the GLE the best-selling SUV in the history of Mercedes-Benz.
Another off-road vehicle from the brand!
When the AAVision was presented 25 years ago, Mercedes-Benz was in the middle of a product offensive: new model series broaden the range of the brand even further. These include, for example, the A-Class (W 168, 1997) and the compact SLK roadster (R 170, 1996). With this growing portfolio, the brand is laying the foundation for a successful start into the new millennium.
The G-Class is the veteran of off-road vehicles and a constant at Mercedes-Benz. It has been built since 1979. But at the beginning of the 1990s, the Stuttgart-based brand recognized the potential for a further segment of off-road vehicles: that of comfortable, sportier vehicles for leisure and everyday use with greater technical proximity to passenger cars. In 1993 the cornerstones of the vehicle concept are laid down. And three years later, the near-series AAVision study is at the NAIAS in Detroit. The name of the concept vehicle refers to the segment of "All Activity Vehicles" (AAV), for which the name "Sport Utility Vehicles" was coined in North America during the 1980s. The SUV vehicle category has been enjoying worldwide success since the 1990s.
The European premiere of the AAVision takes place two months after the NAIAS at the Geneva Motor Show. There, the vehicle designation "M-Class" will be presented for the first time, under which the new model will be included in the Mercedes-Benz passenger car family. Work is concentrated on the new vehicle, and one year after the world premiere of the AAVision in Detroit in January 1997, the public was given a first glimpse into the technology of the M-Class. Central components will be presented: the chassis, the drive train with intelligent all-wheel drive and the newly developed 3,2-liter V6 engine.
Premiere of the M-Class
In May 1997 the Mercedes-Benz M-Class of the W 163 series was in the limelight of the world. The off-road recreational vehicle combines the best of passenger and off-road vehicles: all-wheel drive, high ground clearance and generous space are important strengths of classic off-road vehicles. In addition, there is excellent driving comfort even at high speeds on the road, great variability of the interior and a harmonious design.
In particular, the complex chassis of the M-Class makes the new level of comfort possible. In contrast to many competitors, it offers independent suspension on the front and rear axles. The permanent all-wheel drive also differs from conventional solutions: the M-Class dispenses with conventional differential locks and instead uses a further developed variant of the ETS electronic traction system. If a wheel spins on a slippery surface, ETS brakes this wheel until a specified speed difference is reached. This increases the drive torque on the wheels with good road grip. Independent suspension and ETS together optimize the driving safety and driving stability of the M-Class on the road as well as off-road.
Production in the USA
The M-Class celebrates its premiere in the new Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (USA). The decision to found the location was made in 1993. It is the brand's first production plant for a new passenger car outside Germany and the first production location in the United States of America. Construction of the plant begins in 1995. Production of the M-Class - initially exclusively of the ML 320 model - started in February 1997. The later model range extends to the top model ML 55 AMG 255 kW (347 hp).
With the sporty, comfortable M-Class, Mercedes-Benz is at the forefront of the global success story of the SUV. The demand for the new series is correspondingly high. From 1999 to 2002, in addition to production in Tuscaloosa, the W 163 was therefore also built at the Graz plant of Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG - at the place where the G-Class has always been built.
The Tuscaloosa location is constantly being expanded over time. Today the Mercedes-Benz plant produces the SUV series GLE, GLE Coupé and GLS for the world market and the C-Class sedan for the North American market. With the location of the factory, Mercedes-Benz Cars made a decisive contribution to the development of Alabama as a location for the automotive and supplier industry. Through the Mercedes-Benz plant, automotive suppliers, other OEMs and other supporting companies have settled in the state. Today Mercedes-Benz US International (MBUSI) is the second largest automobile exporter in the USA. Since the start of production, the Tuscaloosa plant has produced more than 3,2 million vehicles.
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AAVision in January 1996: the first Mercedes-Benz SUV!
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