Vehicle Review: It's time to dissect Lincoln's two biggest SUVs.
TORRANCE, Calif. — Mark 2014 as the Year of the Van in the chauffeured transportation industry as limo operators embrace a growing menu of choices in a vehicle niche best positioned somewhere between a stretch limousine and a mini-bus.
Mercedes-Benz —already an established, longtime luxury brand in the limousine industry — is refining and growing its premium-level Sprinter Van model choices as it draws two competitors this year in the chauffeured van market: The Chrysler RAM Promaster and Ford Transit Van, which both debuted last month on the floor of the International LCT Show in Las Vegas along with the widest array yet of Sprinter passenger and executive luxury vans. ILCT vehicle photo gallery here.
A team from the Mercedes-Benz USA Sprinter division visited LCT Magazine and companion auto fleet magazines owned by parent company Bobit Business Media on Tuesday. They brought seven Sprinter van models that will be on display in the parking lot and available for editor test drives and rides through next week.
Despite more competition across all van segments, the presentation, citing both company and industry trend statistics, asserted that Mercedes-Benz has worked to build on its near 130-year legacy of quality, precision, durability and luxury branding.
In a comprehensive update on the Sprinter van, Claus Tritt, general manager of operations of the Commercial Vans division of Mercedes-Benz USA, explained how Mercedes-Benz van products overall have dramatically 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. large van market, Sprinter ranked third in 2013 sales, behind Ford and Chevrolet, but ahead of GMC and Ram, ranked fourth and fifth respectively. Jan/Feb year-over-year sales of Sprinter Vans in the U.S. were 2,709 units, up 17.5% compared to the 2,305 units sold during the same months last year. Sprinter and GMC are the only two commercial van brands to gain market share during the first two months
Sales of all Mercedes-Benz commercial vans, including the Vito, Viano, Vario and Sprinter model lines, rose from a recession low of 165,576 in 2009 to 270,100 last year. Tritt estimates that there is still significant pent up demand in the van market with many over-aged vehicles.
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.
Mercedes-Benz photo gallery: Sprinter Van Model Exteriors and Interiors
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 on display at Bobit Business Media this week 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.
LCT photo gallery: Bobit Business Media Sprinter Event
For complete specs, options and packages on all Sprinter passenger vans, go to: www.mbsprinterusa.com/sprinter/passenger-van.
In a review of the 2014 models and 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:
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. For a list of upfitters, go to Mercedes-Benz approved upfitter list here.
As Sprinter gains U.S. market share, Mercedes-Benz is growing its network of 244 sales-and-service outlets, Tritt said. The company prefers to add dealerships incrementally to ensure uniformity of standards, such as a three-hour turnaround time for repairs of commercial vans. Each hour in the shop is one hour the vehicle is not earning revenue, Tritt said. Dealerships are required and incentivized to undergo quarterly training to keep abreast of Mercedes-Benz service improvements and standards, he said. Mercedes-Benz treats its categories of customers based on their different needs, which means the company must have the right people and quality standards in place. “If you can’t do it right, you don’t do it all,” he said.
Power Point: BBM Sprinter presentation here
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 won the Vincentric “Best Fleet Value in America” award for MY 2013, with judges praising the vehicle as “. . . a clean sweep, with the lowest lifecycle costs in each of the 20 cost scenarios measured. Strong results in fuel, insurance, and repair costs helped this full-size passenger van outperform competitors from General Motors and Ford.”
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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