As part of its plans to electrify its fleet, Mercedes-Benz announced Tuesday it is finalizing plans to build the next generation of its eSprinter van at its plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, as well as its manufacturing facilities in Düsseldorf and Ludwigsfelde in Germany.
The new eSprinter will be built on a new platform announced at the end of 2020. Dubbed the Electric Versatility Platform, it’s offered with three battery and multiple body configurations and developed at a cost of 350 million euros, or $410.3 million. It’s part of the company’s overall electrification efforts.
“The future of mobility is electric in the transport sector, especially in the last mile delivery segment. Our share of battery-electric vehicles is constantly growing. We have consistently aligned our strategy accordingly,” said Marcus Breitschwerdt, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, in a statement. “With our newly developed Electric Versatility Platform, we are significantly expanding our offering in the commercial series.”
While final details of the new van will become available when it debuts, the current Sprinter is offered in three wheelbases, four body lengths, three roof heights, four powertrains, and four instrument panels, which are offered in various configurations of storage compartments, cupholders, infotainment options, and climate controls.
All models will have push-button start and new driver-assistance features. The Sprinter van was first introduced in the United States in 1995, updated in 2010 and last redesigned for the 2019 model year, and available with gas or diesel powertrains. The eSprinter, available in Europe, was not offered in the United States, although a badge-engineered Freightliner Sprinter was offered stateside.
Overall, the Sprinter ranked fourth in full-size van sales in 2020 at 41,916 units, behind the-place Ram ProMaster at 50,556 units, second-place Chevrolet Express at 55,131 units and first-place Ford Transit at 131,556 units.
Only the Nissan NV (15,247 units) and GMC Savana (15,108 units) trailed the Sprinter in popularity. Of the Sprinter’s competitors, only the GMC and Chevrolet compete with the Sprinter’s diesel engine option, and none are electrified.
A slew of electrified full-size cargo vans planned
That should change with the arrival of the 2022 Ford E-Transit, which Ford says will have a range of 126 miles, 33% more than the 74-mile average daily range for commercial vans in the U.S. The company builds the van at its Kansas City Assembly plant.
General Motors has also announced a new standalone EV commercial vehicle brand named BrightDrop, with plans to produce the EV600 electric cargo van by the end of 2021. Powered by GM’s Ultium battery, the EV600 has an estimated range of 250 miles and is capable of 120-kw DC fast-charging 170 miles of range in about an hour.
Also on the horizon is Rivian’s delivery van — already engaged in real-world testing — built in partnership with Amazon, EV startup Canoo, which plans to offer the MPDV2, with EPA estimated ranges from 90 miles to 190 miles. Not to be outdone, Karma Automotive unveiled an extended-range electric cargo van concept called the E-Flex, a battery-electric vehicle with a range of 200 miles. And that’s just the beginning.
Three plant strategy
By building the eSprinter in three locations, the company hopes to optimize production to meet demand worldwide. Currently, the company already builds a version of the eSprinter at its Düsseldorf factory on a line alongside conventionally powered Sprinters.
“In the future, we will be able to quickly meet the ever-increasing demand for electrically driven vans and, thanks to our intelligent and flexible production, be able to respond very precisely to the requirements of the different markets,” said Ingo Ettischer, head of Production for Mercedes-Benz Vans.
The expertise the company has developed at building differing Sprinters will be implemented at its North Charleston and Ludwigsfelde plants. In addition to the Sprinter panel van, the company will also construct a chassis model that can used for ambulances, motorhomes or refrigerated transporters, and other types of vehicles. Production of the eSprinter is expected to begin in the second half of 2023.
Pandemic accelerates trends planned for years ago
With the pandemic shutting down retailers and restaurants, and driving to the store is no longer a choice, having the store come to the customer is now an essential part of life. Mercedes-Benz already foresaw the accelerating growth in deliveries four years ago, when the company introduced its current line of Sprinters.
“The biggest issue is that there is not enough capacity out there to deliver the parcels to the customers,” said Volker Mornhinweg, then the head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.
And that was before COVID accelerated delivery growth to unprecedented degree.
At the time of the current Sprinter’s introduction, Mercedes-Benz debuted Mercedes Pro, a telematics system that communicates between fleet manager and driver, providing vehicle status, vehicle logistics, fleet communications, maintenance management, accident recovery and a digital vehicle log.
The web-based service enables managers to optimize a driver’s efficiency by providing a vehicle’s location, fuel level and maintenance intervals in real time. The system can even track the items in the Sprinters cargo hold, allowing companies to track inventory, and alert a driver about job changes and reroute the van to guarantee to timely deliveries.
A mix of manufacturing facilities
The Mercedes-Benz plant in North Charleston, S.C., is the smallest of the Sprinter plants. Founded 15 years ago for Sprinter and Metris vans, it was expanded to full Sprinter production in 2018 and currently has 1,600 employees.
By comparison, the Ludwigsfelde plant, now 30 years old, employs about 2,000. The Düsseldorf is the oldest of the three plants at 59 years old, and is the largest, employing 6,000. Going forward, Mercedes-Benz is also looking to make its factories carbon-neutral worldwide by cutting emissions generated from vehicle production or from the energy supply used by the plants.