Walk the aisles of any RV show and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans are a regular sight as a stylish, fuel-efficient chassis option for Class B and C motorhomes in the Great West, Roadtrek, Fleetwood and Airstream displays, among others.
They’re also under Winnebago’s diminutive Winnebago Via and Itasca Reyo Class A, and spokesmen for Mercedes-Benz USA LLC (MBUSA), a division of Daimler-Benz AG, predict that show-goers will see even more of them in the future.
First offered in Europe in 1995 to replace the dated Mercedes-Benz T1 van, the Sprinter has been dual-branded in the U.S. since 2001. It was initially sold through Daimler’s Freightliner truck dealers and from 2003 through 2009 by DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge retailers until the two companies separated.
Now, in addition to 61 Freightliner retailers, some 123 MBUSA dealers have been handling the Sprinter since 2010 in passenger, cargo and RV applications. “It’s a select dealer network,” says Claus Tritt, general manager of commercial vans for MBUSA. “Our network plan going forward is to end up in 2012 with 220 (dealers) or so.”
And while Sprinters in five models are popular among business fleets, Mercedes sees motorhome sales growth in this post-recessionary era due to its shorter 19- to 24-foot length, less costly operations and fuel-efficient BlueTEC V-6 clean diesel engine. That engine gets 24.9 mpg, reports Dan Barile, a product and technology PR specialist for Mercedes who attended the Louisville Show. And these, adds Tritt, are among the reasons why U.S. Sprinter sales to the RV market are currently up 16%.
“That is absolutely correct,” noted Tritt. “I think also that an RV at the end of the day is a toy and not necessarily something you need in your day-to-day life and people are generally a lot more cautious in spending for things like this these days. If they actually buy a car, for instance, it should not only be economical, but also fit their needs size-wise. We’ve got a lot of empty nesters.
“The days where you and your four kids and two dogs would go on vacation are gone,” maintained Tritt, a 25-year Mercedes veteran who previously worked for Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. “Most of the time, it’s a couple and a pet. There’s a natural trend, which we see in the overall RV industry, for downsizing, which has to do with economics as well. You don’t need a big diesel pusher if it’s only you and your wife. A small Class B or Class C more than does the job. It’s more versatile than a Class A pusher.”
Indeed, Tritt, based out of MBUSA’s Montvale, N.J., headquarters, sees Mercedes continuing to hold on to an 80% share of the Class B market and a 10% slice of the Class C sector as the U.S. economy emerges from the global economic recession. And he feels the Mercedes reputation for quality will figure into the equation.
“I think people are more cautious about how they are going to spend their money, especially that segment not looking for the size, but the right size,” he added. “People are looking for fuel economy. They are not looking for the next gas station. But if the economy stabilizes and we put the Euro crisis behind us pretty quickly, people are willing to invest more money in these types of vehicles again.”
All in all, says Tritt, Mercedes values its business in the RV industry. “The story I want to tell you is that it’s a very good business for us,” Tritt explained. “It’s a business that gives our brand exposure. On the other hand, for the RV manufacturers, it’s a reliable chassis to build on, and we’ve built this organization over the last 2 1/2 years not because we didn’t have anything to do, but because we are here to stay – unless there is Armageddon.”