Whither go Sprinter & Bullet?

This morning's big news that DaimlerChrysler is shedding its worrisome American operation-- the once and now again Chrysler Corp. -- comes as no shock to anyone who follows automotive or financial news even glancingly.

From all accounts, the "merger of equals" as ballyhooed by the then DaimlerBenz was no such thing. Yes, the Chrysler name was appended to Daimler and Benz was dropped but the whole shebang-- for good or ill-- was run from Stuttgart, not jointly from there and Auburn Hills, home to Chrysler. Maybe had the big deal been more like a marriage than a takevover it would have succeeded. Maybe it never should have happened period. To be sure, those with minds brighter about business than mine will be weighing in on that for years to come.

But right now I'm pondering what will be the ultimate fate of the Dodge Sprinter and the Sterling Bullet. The Sprinter commercial van is engineered by Daimler in Germany and sold here badged either as a Dodge or a Freightliner through those brands' respective dealer bodies. The Bullet is a variation of the Dodge Ram chassis-cab and is sold by Sterling dealers.

Since Freightliner LLC remains in the Daimler fold (it is not affected at all by the Chrysler sale) , presumably it will continue to offer the Sprinter. That makes sense as the Portland, OR-based OEM has made it clear it intends to be a commercial vehicle player up and down the GVW scale.

Dodge began offering the Sprinter after Freightliner and, I think, for at least three very good reasons. For one thing, the Sprinter is a distinctive "Euro-style" van that distinguishes Dodge from its GM/Chevy and Ford competitors in this arena. And, secondly, the Sprinter is so unique that it-- again in my opinion-- has had a "halo effect," helping cast a positive light on Dodge's commercial vehicle line just as it was rolling out new models (none of which are Sprinter-based). On top of that, the Sprinter was made available to Dodge dealers because there are far more of them than Freightliner dealers and many of them are already adept at selling lighter-duty commercial trucks.


Earlier this year Freightliner LLC rolled out the Bullet, developed in concert with its Chyrsler corporate sibling Dodge to help "round down" the Sterling line of medum- and heavy-duty trucks. I think this was also a smart-- and creative-- move, allowing Sterling to offer an exciting lighter-duty product while helping Dodge increase its economies of scale for Ram chassis-cab production.

Sterling Bullet

Given the size and scope of the Chrysler sale to Cerberus Capital Management, I imagine nothing will happen too quickly to any Chrysler, Jeep or Dodge product including the Sprinter and the Bullet. And it's highly likely in this era of automotive jont ventures and marketing deals of all sorts that Daimler will keep right on supplying the Sprinter to the new Chrysler and it in turn will want to keep receiving Bullets from Chrysler.

A Chrysler spokesperson responded quickly to my query on the Sprinter and the Bullet this morning with these emailed statements: "Dodge Sprinter operations remain unchanged. Dodge Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs and the Sterling Bullet will continue to share the same platform. We anticipate no change in the current relationship [with Sterling]."

Regarding my query on the Sterling Bullet, a Freightliner LLC spokesperson had just this to say: "The sale of the Chrysler Group will have no effect on Freightliner LLC operations."

In any event, it'd certainly be a shame for fleets if either of these truck platforms wind up available at fewer dealers down the road.

By the way, there's an excellent in-depth article on the Chrysler sell-off in The New York Times.

In closing, here's hoping both Daimler and Chrysler are now headed down nothing but, shall we say, happy trails.