The driver testing the autonomous vehicle was streaming a TV program at the time of the accident.
From a vehicle standpoint, 2014 could easily be labeled the year of the luxury van. Once dominated by Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the luxury van market has grown in recent years with the added choices of the Ford Transit and Nissan NV. A passenger-chauffeured version of the larger Ford Transit Van debuted at this year’s International LCT Show while the Nissan NV was made available for the first time to LCT Magazine and companion fleet publications for close-up test drives and evaluations.
For this annual fleets issue, LCT has compiled an overview of the three luxury-market vans, which in many ways are emerging as the new “limos.” The Sprinter and Transit can be adapted with multiple floor plans that include corporate road show luxury offices; retail, party and tour arrangements; and forward-facing variable shuttle and passenger configurations.
2015 Ford Transit Van
For the limousine industry, the Ford Transit is one of the most anticipated vehicles to emerge in 2014. A prototype debuted at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas on Feb. 16. As of this writing, the first 2015 model Ford Transits are just rolling off the assembly lines heading toward dealers and customers.
Noted for its value price, reliable use, and readily accessible parts, the 2015 Ford Transit is expected to inject the industry with serious competition, with some industry insiders even dubbing it, “The Sprinter Killer.” It has a high-ceiling available in three different heights, a low roof of 83.6 inches, medium roof of 100.8 inches, and a high roof of 110.1 inches.
It also has flexible chassis models that allow room for upfitting, something Chris Ramos of Detroit Custom Coach has prepared for. The company is one of many that will custom upfit these vehicles to bring them to luxury-quality status and serve chauffeured clients in a variety of uses.
“We’ve been getting a lot of interest from current and prospective clients about the Transit,” Ramos says. Detroit Custom Coach will be offering Transits in three different styles: executive shuttle, limo-style bus, and business class. To illustrate the versatility of the Transit, Ford partnered with Galpin Auto Sports, a noted vehicle modifier, to produce a concept luxury version of the Ford Transit for its premiere.
The result was the Ford Transit Skyliner, which was made to resemble a private jet interior with custom wood panel flooring and high-end bucket seats. The Skyliner concept is something Tim Stoehr, Ford’s commercial truck marketing manager, cites as an example of the vehicle’s potential in aftermarket modifications and for the chauffeured transportation industry overall.
David Brown, president of Premiere Transportation in Albany, N.Y., first saw the Transit at the 2013 BusCon Expo in Chicago, and sized up its potential. “I think it’s going to be great for our market,” Brown says. “We do a lot of weddings, and shuttles have been a very popular choice over traditional stretch limos. The bride doesn’t have to duck down and worry about the dress. It’s easier for guests to get in and out of, etc. So with this new Transit, it gives us a better quality vehicle to do this type of work than what we’ve been using, and I think it’s going to go over great with our customers.”
The unibody construction makes it lightweight and durable, and the handling includes roll stability control, 4-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, and high-quality independent suspension to make for a smooth and safe ride. The engine can range from a standard 3.7L V6 to a 3.2L Power Stroke I-5 Diesel, and the center console screen is equipped with MyFord Touch SYNC and voice-activated navigation and SiriusXM.
Ford Transit (High Roof, Extended Length Passenger Van)
Engine: 3.7L Ti-CT V6 Engine (Standard on all SRW models, NA on DRW Vans and Wagons
Transmission: 6-spd. automatic
Performance: 270 hp @ 6500 rpm; 250 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
Interior: 15-passenger seating; two-seating configurations
Safety: Front-seat side airbags, driver and passenger airbags
Brakes: 4-wheel vented front disc and solid rear disc with anti-lock braking system
Dimensions: 110.1-in. tall, 189.7-in. long, 84.1-in. wide
2015 Nissan NV Passenger Van
The Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van is a new step for the OEM and its first vehicle to compete in the chauffeur driven market. It is notable for its low profile ceiling and robust and powerful 5.6L, V-8 engine with 317 horsepower.
The vehicle can accommodate up to 12 passengers, and each of the four rows of seating has ample leg room. Dan Passe, Nissan’s senior manager for product communications, says that Nissan has redesigned the van platform, and the new body-on-frame construction for the NV Passenger Van adds extra durability to the vehicle and gives it better handling.
The NV measures 240.6 inches in length and 84 inches tall, and is billed as a van that can maneuver like a car. The seating arrangements inside can be arranged in multiple formats, and the second, third, and fourth row seats can be removed for extra space.
The powerful engine attests to its smooth, car-like handling, and it is able to easily handle steep streets, sharp corners and tight alleys. To help slow down all this power, the Nissan NV comes equipped with some of the largest brakes in its class.
The low profile ceiling with headrests can make it difficult for the chauffeur to get a clear view out through the back window, but there is a reverse camera that shows in the LCD screen in the dash when backing up.
The large center console between chauffeur and passenger up front has multiple plug outlets. The console can slide up a bit so the passenger can easily view a laptop. USB outlets and the width of the console itself were designed to create a comfortable office space during transit, Passe says.
Safety also was a priority when building the NV, he adds. It has more standard airbags than other vehicles in its class, with curtain airbags for all four rows of seats and for driver and passenger sides. Also, the bumper is set to a lower, passenger car height, which actually helps keep NV passengers and regular car passengers safer in the event of an accident.
The cabin has two floor heater vents and two overhead AC vents to keep the climate inside comfortable in all weather conditions, and the large side windows offer excellent passenger visibility.
The side door slides open to more than 40 inches to make getting in and out of the vehicle as easy as possible, even if you’re heading to the rear rows. The seats have heavy duty cup holders that slide out from underneath, and the cabin has multiple power outlets for charging laptops and mobile devices.
Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van
Engine: 5.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 engine
Transmission: 5-spd. automatic w/tow mode
Performance: 317 hp @ 5,200 rpm; 385 lb-ft of torque @ 3,400 rpm
Interior: 12-passenger seating capacity; removable split seating for 324 seating configurations
Safety: driver and front passenger air bags; curtain airbags for rows 1-4
Brakes: 4-disc brakes, power-assisted
Dimensions: 84-in. tall, 240.6-in. long, and 102.8-in. wide
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van
Mercedes-Benz —already an established, longtime luxury brand in the limousine industry — is refining and growing its premium-level Sprinter Van model choices. The International LCT Show in Las Vegas in February drew the widest variety of Sprinter passenger and executive luxury vans to date.
Claus Tritt, general manager of operations for the Commercial Vans division of Mercedes-Benz USA, explained how Mercedes-Benz van products overall have far outpaced the growth in the worldwide van market. Since 2009, the market has grown 35% while Sprinter sales have vaulted 155%. Mercedes-Benz sold 163,000 Sprinter Vans worldwide in 2013, with U.S. clients buying 22,000, making it the second largest Sprinter Van market behind Germany at 36,000 vans sold, Tritt said.
In the U.S. market, passenger transport models comprise 15% of the domestic Sprinter market, with construction trades buying up the biggest share at 60%. The U.S. model mix consists of five Sprinter Vans: cargo, passenger, cab chassis, crew and minibus. Within the passenger segment, the chauffeured transportation niche consists of limousine, campus transport, team vans, shuttles and touring vans.
Among the Sprinter Vans, models come in either Mercedes-Benz or Freightliner brands. The differences between the two lie primarily in the design of external trimmings and features, but they retain the same mechanics, performance and amenities. All Sprinters come in the four-wheeled 2500 models or rear-double wheeled 3500 models with four- and six-cylinder clean diesel options.
Passenger models that LCT looked at for this article include three standard 144-inch wheelbase 2500 vans, fully loaded, priced from $58,010 to $60,255, and one 170-inch wheelbase 2500 van priced at $59,495. All have 11 + 1 seating and GVWR of 8,550 pounds, and come in two roof heights.
In a preview of the 2015 models, Antje Williams, department manager of the Sprinter Brand Management division of Mercedes-Benz USA, outlined the design, safety, efficiency and mechanical features of the Sprinters.
Among key changes for MY 2015 Sprinters:
• Crosswind Assist safety feature that comes as standard equipment on Sprinter 2500 models. This feature operates above 5O mph and employs an adaptive ESP yaw sensor that detects lateral wind forces and an adaptive ESP counter that steers by selective lateral brake intervention.
• A new line of high-range 4x4 models with available low range transfer case. Models include six-cylinder models of the crew van, passenger van, cargo van with 8,550 GVWR, and cargo van with 11,030 GVWR.
Beyond standard passenger Sprinters ideal for airport shuttle, hotel shuttle, small group and seniors home transporting markets, chauffeured transportation operators can choose among a wide selection of customized luxury Sprinter configurations from a list of certified Mercedes-Benz upfitters. Many of these upfitters displayed models at the International LCT Show Feb. 16-18 that cater more to the executive/VIP transportation and corporate road show markets. Such models typically are upfitted with plush leather interiors, captain’s chairs, refrigerators, work tables and high-end entertainment systems.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van
Models: 2500 High Roof 144-in. and 170-in wheelbases versions
Engine: diesel; two overhead camshafts/4 valves per cylinder; w/BlueEfficiency fuel-saving and emission-reducing technologies.
Transmission: 7-speed 7G-TRONIC
Performance: 161 hp @ 3,800 rpm
Max seating: 12 passengers
Max payload: 2,803 lbs./2,422 lbs.
Max GVWR: 8,500 lbs.
Max standing height: 76.4 in.
Fuel tank capacity: 26.4 gal.
Cargo volume: 158.9 cu.ft./187.2 cu.ft.
Safety: ESP, high beam assist, blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist
Starting prices: $42,260 (144-in.); $45,500 (170-in)
More specs: www.mbsprinterusa.com/sprinter/passenger-van
The driver testing the autonomous vehicle was streaming a TV program at the time of the accident.
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