Availability Hampers Redesigned Sprinter Sales
Sales of the newly redesigned Dodge Sprinter van, popular in the RV industry as a platform for Class B and C motorhomes, have fallen substantially from 2006, primarily because parent company DaimlerChrysler AG isn’t exporting enough of them to the states, according to USA Today.
“If we get could more over here, we could sell them,” said Chrysler Group spokesman Bryan Zvibleman.
Dodge sold 6,438 of the Mercedes-Benz-built vans during the first six months of the year, down 38% from the same period last year, Chrysler reported. And a good percentage of those went to commercial converters.
DaimlerChrysler in February introduced the first new version of the German-built Sprinter since it debuted in North America in 2001. The new Sprinter features either gas or diesel engines and is higher and wider with a more hefty GVWR than its predecessor.
No other automaker offers a similar van as big and fuel-thrifty as the Sprinter in the U.S.
With components built in Germany by Mercedes-Benz and assembled in Charleston, S.C., the Sprinter has stand-up headroom and is bigger than most Ford E-Series vans, the new name for the Econoline series. Sprinter’s diesel engine gets up to 25 miles a gallon, a fact that’s not lost on today’s fuel-conscious consumers.
“There’s nothing else like it in the marketplace,” said Dodge brand spokesman Randy Jones.
Since DaimlerChrysler started importing Sprinter in 2001, the vehicle has remained so popular that it never sells at a discount, the company noted. While it is showing up as a utility van for plumbers and florists, Chrysler also counts UPS, FedEx and DHL among its Sprinter customers.
About a dozen Class B manufacturers convert Sprinters into motorhomes and Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries Inc. and Gulf Stream Coach Corp., Nappanee, Ind., build Class C’s on a special version of the Sprinter chassis.
And the RV industry could make more. The problem is availability. Chrysler Group, DaimlerChrysler’s American unit, says it can’t get enough of the redesigned 2007 model, which starts at $30,950.
With Chrysler unable to supply the market, other automakers are taking a look at the Sprinter’s niche. Nissan has set up a commercial-vehicles unit. “We see that segment offering a lot of opportunity,” said Nissan Vice President Simon Sproule. He won’t say when Nissan’s lineup might arrive, but it will be “sooner rather than later,” according to USA Today.
Also clouding the Sprinter’s future is the pending breakup of DaimlerChrysler. When the German Mercedes unit and American Chrysler unit have to stand alone, it’s unclear whether vehicles like Sprinter will still be sold under the Dodge name. Jones says there’s no fretting. “Until we’re told differently, it’s the status quo.”