Here’s something you probably didn’t realize: The Mercedes-Benz R-Class, noted vehicle that I consider a minivan but you all insisted is actually some sort of SUV-wagon hybrid, is currently still in production. Yes, right now. Yes, Mercedes-Benz is making brand-new R-Class models. No, you cannot purchase one.
The basic gist of this story is this: The R-Class is still in production, but only for the Chinese market. And they build it in Indiana. The whole story is a little more interesting.
Here’s what happened. Back in the mid-2000s, Mercedes-Benz decided to create a minivan (I mean a "Grand Sports Tourer"), and they debuted the R-Class globally for the 2006 model year. They sold a long-wheelbase version in North America, and they sold short- and long-wheelbase versions in Europe and Asia. Sensing the U.S. would probably be the largest market for the R-Class, they built it in Alabama alongside the M-Class and the then-upcoming GL-Class. Seems simple enough.
Well, we all know what happened next: The R-Class was a big failure, and nobody wanted it, so they decided to make an AMG version.
No, I’m just kidding. But, indeed, the R-Class didn’t do very well here in North America, and it didn’t really do very well in Europe, either. They facelifted it for the 2011 model year, which initially had a pretty positive impact on sales — but it wasn’t enough to keep it going, and Mercedes-Benz killed the R-Class in North America and in Europe after 2012. By this time, the GL-Class had taken off considerably, so it didn’t make much sense to keep the R-Class around anyway.
As it turned out, the Chinese market — which places an emphasis on large vehicles that can be driven by chauffeurs — appreciated the R-Class to the point where Mercedes-Benz decided to keep selling it there. But capacity was short at Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant, causing the automaker to look for another solution beginning in 2014. That solution was … AM General.
Yes, that’s right: AM General, manufacturer of the fabled Humvee, took over R-Class production after the minivan thing was cancelled in the United States. And since the R-Class is still a success in China, they’re still manufacturing it there. I didn’t believe this, at first, but my friend Drew proved to me that it was true: German company Mercedes-Benz is using a factory in Indiana to produce a luxury minivan for China that was a flop in North America. Globalization on the highest level.
I’m not sure how much longer this production run is planned, but it doesn’t appear Mercedes-Benz has lined up a successor to the R-Class — meaning it likely won’t continue after the current model is cancelled. Nonetheless, yes, the R-Class is still on sale as a brand-new car — more than a decade after it came out in the United States. You just can’t buy one. Even though it’s built here. Find a Mercedes-Benz R-Class for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.