Mercedes-Benz is strongly considering offering a compact van in the U.S. and will add a new standard safety feature to the 2015 Sprinter van, executives said during a March 25 visit to Bobit Business Media, publisher of Automotive Fleet, Business Fleet, and Work Truck magazines.
Executives with the German automaker gave an overview of the various Sprinter passenger and cargo models at a time when the van market has become arguably the most competitive commercial vehicle segment in a presentation to editors and Chairman Ed Bobit.
Claus Tritt, general manager of operations of the Commercial Vans division of Mercedes-Benz USA, said expanding product choices have reshaped the company's approach to commercial vans.
"In the large-van segment, we're playing with a new deck of cards," Tritt told the audience. "The most dramatic change I see is in the small-van segment. This segment is going to be the new battleground of the industry."
This year will see the launch of several new van offerings. In February, Chevrolet publicly unveiled its 2015 City Express Cargo Van at the Chicago Auto Show. Later that month, Ford introduced the 2014 Transit Connect Wagon passenger van. The first models of the 2015 Ford Transit full-size E-Series replacement arrive in June. And later this year, Ram Trucks will introduce the 2015 Ram ProMaster City compact van, a North American version of the Fiat Doblo, in the U.S.
The automaker's global van sales have seen a sharp demand surge in the past five years, Tritt said. The automaker sold 270,100 vans globally in 2013, a 63 percent increase from the 165,576 vans sold in 2009. Sales figures include the Sprinter full-size van as well as the Vito, Viano, and Vario model lines available in Europe.
Sprinter vans sold in the U.S. now represent an 8.4 percent share of the full-size van market, which reached 258,823 units in 2013. Sprinter sales in 2010 represented 4.4 percent of full-size van sales.
Mercedes-Benz now offers five Sprinter models including the crew van, passenger van, cargo van, cab chassis, and MiniBus. Daimler AG offers a Freightliner-branded version with slightly different body styling to mostly government fleet buyers.
Tritt addressed reports that Mercedes-Benz will offer a van in the rapidly expanding compact van segment now estimated at 30,000 units sold in the U.S. annually.
"We see a trend in the U.S. in the light commercial environment toward highly fuel efficient vehicles," Tritt said. "We would be seriously foolish if we didn't look at our entire lineup and find ways to enhance our offerings."
In November, the automaker confirmed it was considering the Vito for the U.S. market. Tritt said the Citan van, introduced in Europe for the 2012 model year, could offer an ideal compact van for U.S. customers.
Mercedes-Benz is introducing several new features for the 2015 Sprinter, including the Sprinter 4x4 all-wheel-drive model that will arrive in early 2015. The automaker is also offering a new feature known as "crosswind assist" — an adaptive braking technology that helps drivers correct vehicle yaw when crosswinds blow against the side of the vehicle.
Antje Williams, department manager of Sprinter brand management, said the new 2.1L four-cylinder diesel engine offered with the 2014 Sprinter has been gaining traction. The engine offers an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy over the 3.0L V-6 diesel Sprinter engine.
"Adoption of the four-cylinder engine is going quite a bit quicker than we expected," Williams said.
By Paul Clinton
Editor's note: View our "Sprinter 2014-MY Walkarounds" photo gallery for full coverage.