The Nissan-Mercedes 370Z Rumor is Wrong
The latest rumor out of Japan’s ever-imaginative automotive media has occasional partners Nissan and Mercedes-Benz pulling a Toyota–BMW: replacing the aging 370Z and Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class with a new shared vehicle the same way the BMW Z4 is being replaced with a car that will also be known as the Toyota Supra. It’s a nice idea, especially for Z-car fans, but it’s not happening.
It’s not all wishful thinking, though. According to our sources, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan really did talk about it, but the talks never went anywhere. As I reported in our May issue, the Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class roadster is being put out to pasture, and without it, there’s no deal with Nissan for a new 370Z. For what it’s worth, Mercedes-Benz also talked to the French side of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance about a tie-up but got no further with their geographical neighbors than they did with the guys on the other side of the planet.
The problem is simple math: The convertible segment is shrinking fast, and it was never big to begin with. We’ve heard it from executives and engineers at companies around the world. Even uber-profitable Porsche is wringing its hands over the future of the 718 Boxster and Cayman. Neither Toyota nor BMW could independently justify the cost of an all-new roadster that’s barely going to register on the sales charts each month, and neither can Nissan or Mercedes-Benz. None of these companies are hurting for resources, but they have shareholders to answer to.
Nissan’s planning boss said as much to Automotive News back in January. “The Z is a difficult market,” Philippe Klein said. “It is rather shrinking worldwide.”
It’s not like they didn’t try to make a go of it, either. Our sources at Mercedes say the company has looked into twinning the SLC with the SL and putting both cars on a new aluminum-intensive platform developed by AMG, but it didn’t pencil. Instead, the SLC dies and the SL gets paired with the next-generation AMG GT. The GT, being the spiritual successor of the original 300SL anyway at this point, will remain the sports car while the SL grows a bit to fit a pair of semi-usable rear seats. Becoming a 2+2 will help the SL slot between the smaller, sportier GT and the larger, more luxurious S-Class Coupe/Convertible.
As for Nissan, Klein promised Automotive News the Z isn’t dead, but he indicated it will be a long time before we see an all-new one. Further, he suggested “for the mid-term” the car would be kept alive, but that’s it. Even his comments on the car’s long-term prospects weren’t reassuring, with lots of “ifs” and “hows” and “whats.”
“For the long term, there are other considerations,” he said. “If we do a complete new vehicle, what should it be to keep the passion alive? And we’re working very seriously on this—how we can keep the Z alive and refreshing, and what would be the next generation?”