Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van Carries Limo Appeal

Mike Antich
Posted on August 4, 2010
With its multiple seating plans, Sprinter interiors are ideal for chauffeured transportation services, including daily runs to the airport.
With its multiple seating plans, Sprinter interiors are ideal for chauffeured transportation services, including daily runs to the airport.

Daimler Vans USA has launched its fourth new Sprinter model - the Shuttle Van, a 16-passenger fuel-efficient vehicle well suited to limousine services, rental car companies, residential care providers, and community shuttles.

The Shuttle Van joins Sprinter's Cargo Van, Passenger Van, and Chassis Cab models. Its standard equipment includes an electrically operated split-entry door and step to make it easy on passengers with luggage. Air suspension ensures automatic vehicle leveling, regardless of load.

Mercedes-Benz showcased its 2010 Sprinter van lineup during a presentation for journalists in April at its Daimler Vans Manufacturing facility in Ladson, S.C.

Daimler took back the distribution, servicing, and marketing of the Sprinter from Dodge on Jan. 1. The Sprinter was rebadged as a Mercedes and continued to be badged as a Freightliner. A new division, Daimler Vans USA, was formed to oversee the sales and marketing of the Sprinter. Based in Montvale, N.J., Daimler Vans USA, LLC is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz USA. Claus Tritt, general manager of Daimler Vans USA, leads the division.

Sprinter full of features

Since its introduction in Europe in 1995, more than one million Sprinter vans have been sold worldwide and 130,000 in the U.S. The largest U.S. fleet customer is FedEx, which uses 6,000 Sprinter models daily. The Sprinter is offered in three vehicle lengths, two wheelbases, and three GVWRs.

All Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Sprinters are powered by a 3.0L V-6 BlueTEC turbodiesel that gets 30% better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline engine. Daimler no longer offers a gasoline-engine option in the U.S. due to weak demand, Tritt said. The Sprinter van meets 2010 emissions standards with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system that uses diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) aftertreatment. The Passenger Van and Cargo version are equipped with a 4.9-gallon DEF tank, while the Chassis Cab and Cutaway versions have a 5.8-gallon tank.

All Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Sprinters come with 5-speed automatic transmissions, four-wheel disc brakes, and independent strut suspension with coil springs in front, and a solid axle with leaf springs at the rear. Several choices of springs, shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars provide just the right suspension for each version of the Sprinter van.

Best-in-class honors for the Sprinter include a standing interior height of 6-feet 4-inches, which makes it a mobile workshop, and a tight turning radius of 54.6 feet.

Later this summer, Mercedes-Benz will introduce an extended limited warranty that offers one- and two-year/up to 100,000-mile warranty options with no deductibles. To qualify, the Sprinter must be under the original, new-vehicle warranty period.

The lifecycle of the current generation Sprinter will be until 2016. "Between now and then, the Sprinter will receive a facelift, along with additional equipment," Tritt says. "It is a commercial vehicle, and we will add options. There are 260 standalone options available for the Sprinter."

Key advantages of the Sprinter are its large door openings, interior height, vehicle quality, driver acceptability, fuel economy, and fuel-efficient diesel engine, fleet managers say.

Concerns have focused on long order-to-delivery time for the vehicle, which is produced in Germany, parts availability, and the dealer network. Some prior Dodge dealers were unable to work on the Sprinter due to height restrictions in their maintenance bays and had a limited number of mechanics certified to service the Sprinter, which resulted in longer downtime.

Improved order-to-deliver times

Sprinter cargo vans and passenger vans are produced in Dusseldorf, Germany, while Sprinter Cab Chassis vehicles are made in Ludwigsfelde, Germany. Sprinter Cargo Vans sold in the U.S. are built from complete knock down (CKD) kits imported from Germany and sold by Mercedes and Freightliner.

The Sprinter Cargo Vans are partially disassembled in Germany and shipped to a facility in Ladson, S.C., where they are reassembled. The cargo versions, classified as light trucks, are subject to the 25-percent "chicken tax" when imported as a complete unit, but the tax is avoided by the disassembly and subsequent reassembly. Passenger vans are not subject to the same tax classification and are imported as assembled units by Mercedes through the Port of Jacksonville in Florida.

To improve Sprinter order-to-delivery times, Mercedes has implemented a new ordering system. "In the past, once an order went to Germany, it went into a black hole," Tritt says. "Now, with our new ordering system, a customer can change the specs of an ordered vehicle up to 10 days before production."

The ordering system has been adapted and tested for the Sprinter van. "Everywhere in the world, Sprinter is handled by Mercedes. The exception prior to now was in the U.S. with the Dodge brand, which required creating workarounds," says Ernst Lieb, president/CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "Now, all of that has been eliminated. The entire line now speaks one language. We speak 'Mercedes' with the customer and 'Mercedes' with the factory."

Order-to-deliver for the Sprinter will be 90-120 days, Tritt says. "This is just 30 days longer than the lead time with European trucks. The customers' orders go into monthly production, and there is flexibility to move orders around," Tritt says.

A national dealer network

The Sprinter dealer network consists of 120 dealers - 71 Mercedes and 49 Freightliner. (Mercedes and Freightliner are divisions of Daimler AG.) Mercedes-Benz USA plans to add dealers to sell the Sprinter.

Dealers must have appropriate-sized lifts and work bays to accommodate the Sprinter. They are expected to offer extended service hours, but will not be required to build separate showrooms for the Sprinter, Tritt says. Mercedes technicians already are experienced with the Sprinter's 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel engine since it is also used in other Mercedes models, such as the M-Class and GL SUVs, which will help decrease vehicle downtime.

Last December, Mercedes started a technical training program to ensure each dealer has two technicians trained to work on the Sprinter. "There will always be two technicians fully trained," Tritt says. "If one is on vacation or calls in sick, there will always be one other fully trained technician on staff."

Another fleet concern was parts availability for Sprinter vans. To address this issue, Mercedes will operate five parts distribution centers (PDC) for the Sprinter. In August, Mercedes will take over two PDCs previously operated by Chrysler - one in Los Angeles and the other in Orlando, Fla. In addition, Mercedes will operate PDCs in Chicago; Robinsville, N.J.; and Houston.

Vocational upfitter programs

Sprinter also is making inroads in the van conversion and recreational vehicle markets. Conversions include limousines, RVs, office vans, wheelchair-accessible vans, and golf vans. Mercedes also is examining the U.S. ambulance market for the Sprinter, Lieb says.

Tritt calls the Sprinter "upfitter-friendly" with near vertical walls for the Cargo and Passenger models and flat unobstructed frame rails for the Cab Chassis. Mercedes has partnered with 39 upfit and body building specialists.  

Related Topics: fuel efficiency, Mercedes-Benz, new vehicles

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