In a segment of the auto industry where originality can be as rare as a pink paint job, Mercedes-Benz had cut out its own little corner of exclusivity: a big yet fuel-thrifty European-style commercial van line.
USA Today reported that the Sprinter van has proven to be a success since it arrived in 2003, initially under the Dodge brand when Daimler owned Chrysler and later under Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand. The Sprinter has also become a popular platform among Class B motorhome builders.
But now several competitors are on its doorsteps with competing tall, Euro-style vans for the U.S. and Mercedes-Benz hopes to fend them off and protect its turf with an all-new version of the Sprinter, the first redo since 2006.
When the new van arrives in the fall, it will sport a more serious-looking, work-oriented front-end styling. A four-cylinder diesel engine choice will be added for the U.S. in addition to the six, along with a raft of safety options. The van will be aimed at not only the plumbers, contractors and ice cream vendors who have been its mainstay market, but also for those who convert it for use as a small motorhome or executive van, where it has found a nice niche.
And it will still have a drawing card that none of its competitors can match: that three-pointed Mercedes-Benz badge on the front of the grille, made even a little bigger for the new one.
If anything, Mercedes executives see new Euro-style commercial van entries coming from Ford, Nissan and Chrysler’s Ram Truck division as an homage to their decision to bring Sprinter to the U.S. in the first place.
“For 10 years, we were the oddball in the van market. Now I truly believe we are the benchmark,” says Claus Tritt, general manager of Mercedes’ commercial vans in the U.S.
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When Daimler started selling its Sprinter van in North America – first as a Freightliner, then as a Mercedes-Benz and even a Dodge – it found companies on this side of the Atlantic were keen to get their hands on a European-style van, including the RV industry where the platform is widely used in van campers and in some Class C motorhomes.
But, according to Autoblog, the Sprinter is about to get some European competition from an American automaker. That Ford makes certain products for overseas markets is nothing new, but as part of its drive to standardize its lineup around the world, the Blue Oval automaker is apparently planning on bringing its full-size Transit van Stateside.
Not only is it bringing the Transit to the American market, but it will also be building it here, too. The news is confirmed by a recent United Auto Workers announcement that reveals that, with production of the next-generation Escape moving to Louisville, Ky., the Transit will be assembled for local consumption alongside the F-150 pickup truck at the Kansas City plant.
According to Car and Driver sources, in order to avoid confusion with the smaller Transit Connect, the big van will be badged as a T-Series in this market, with nameplates like T-250, T-450 and T-550 – similar to the F-Series trucks, and more pertinently, the E-Series vans that used to be known as the Econoline. They can call it whatever they want; we just hope we get a version of the UK-market limited-edition SportVan.
Mercedes-Benz USA has discontinued selling its Sprinter van through Dodge dealerships and will instead make them available through Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner dealers beginning in January, according to a report in Automotive News.
The Sprinter van and cab chassis are popular platforms for Class B and C motorhomes. Mercedes-Benz has always required RV OEMs to obtain their Sprinter bodies through retail dealerships. Until now, that has been either Dodge or Freightliner stores.
But in September, Daimler AG pulled the Sprinter from the Dodge lineup and moved the diesel-powered, high-mileage van to Mercedes, according to Automotive News.
Executives at Leisure Travel Vans Ltd., Morden, Manitoba, which has built camper vans on Freightliner-badged Sprinters in the U.S. and Dodge-badged units in Canada, said the move in a positive one.
”We are in conversations with the new Sprinter division contacts,” Ryan Elias, Leisure Travel assistant general manager, told RVBUSINESS.com. ”We are told that deliveries will be quicker and that communications will be better. That’s very, very encouraging to hear.”
Elias said ”most likely” Leisure Travel Vans will switch all its production to Mercedes-badged Sprinters because of the Mercedes cache.
According to Automotive News, in October, Mercedes invited about 120 of its dealers and 45 Freightliner dealers who sell the Sprinter to a meeting in Denver to discuss plans for the vehicle. Freightliner Trucks is a division of Daimler Trucks North America LLC.
Dealers had only a couple of weeks to accept Mercedes’ offer to sell the Mercedes-badged Sprinters. Near the deadline, 100 Mercedes dealers and 43 Freightliner dealers agreed.
Ernst Lieb, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO, said that Mercedes dealers chosen to sell the Springer are ”a healthy mix” of urban and rural stores.
Mercedes looked at dealers in regions with high Sprinter sales over the past decade and then chose those that could sell more than 30 van annually.
At the Denver meeting, Lieb said, ”We gave them an overview of the product and how we are planning to sell it and what will be required in terms of inventory.”
Dodge dealers began selling the Dodge-badge Sprinter in the U.S. in 2003. In 2008, 350 Dodge dealers sold 14,600 Sprinters. Including Freightliner-badged vans, 2008 sales were 18,282.
The Sprinter will be sold through the newly created Daimler Vans USA, based in New Jersey at Mercedes’ U.S. headquarters.