Daimler AG is aiming to cash in on latest shift in the rapidly changing market for commercial van-style vehicles in the United States.
When the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter first went on sale in 2001, its silhouette was somewhat unusual, noted Claus Tritt, general manager of commercial vehicles in the United States, during a briefing for reporters at the Mercedes-Benz Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“We are no longer the exception. We are the benchmark,” Tritt said, adding that other vehicle manufacturers including Ford Motor Co., Chrysler/Fiat and Nissan are now bringing tall, narrow commercial vehicles to the U.S.
“There has been a socio-economic change,” he said as American move towards, narrower, lighter and more fuel-efficient vans.
Winnebago, the maker of custom-fitted motor homes based in Forest City, Iowa, now uses the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter as the basis for the 25 different models it sells, according to Kelli Harms, Winnebago Sales Promotion manager.
Users of the commercial vans, which include big delivery companies, such as Federal Express, and food retailers, such as Frito Lay, are now looking closely at the total cost of ownership and opting for the Euro-style vans, said Antje Williams, Sprinter marketing chief. The commercial vans are also fitted out as mini busses, airport shuttles and utility vans for plumbers and electricians.
The updated version of the Sprinter, which is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. in September, will come with a new four-cylinder diesel engine that gets 18% better fuel economy as well as a host of new safety features, she said. In addition, the new van from Mercedes-Benz will only require service every 15,000 miles rather than every 3,000 miles for more conventional vans.
Sprinter was designed from the ground up as a work vehicle, Williams said.
The new standard engine is a four-cylinder diesel with a seven-speed automatic transmission, with the familiar V6 diesel powertrain available as an option. New safety features raise the vehicle’s already exemplary standard of safety to an even higher level. And last but not least, drivers of the new Sprinter can look forward to an enhanced cockpit with new infotainment features.
Williams said the new van will be sold under both the Mercedes-Bens and Freightliner nameplates but 85% of the sales will be by Mercedes-Benz dealers.
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Last year, manufacturers sold 250,989 commercial vans globally and sales are expected to grow by as much as 5% this year, Tritt said. In the U.S., Mercedes sold almost 21,000 Sprinters last year, up from 8,595 in 2010.
Daimler’s share of the market is only about 8% but that share has been rising during the past four years, he said. Ford and Chevy currently dominate the market with a 30% share.
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Another increase in market share is expected with introduction of the new van in September, he said. Pricing was not announced, but the current Sprinter ranges from $36,000 to $60,000 depending upon how it’s configured. Actually, the price can rise to more than $110,000 if you buy Winnebago’s Sprinter-based recreational vehicle.
Overall, Daimler AG now sells almost as many commercial vehicles, including heavy trucks, as luxury passenger vehicles, noted MBUSA spokesman Christian Bokich.
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