In just five months, Mercedes-Benz USA has put together a dealer, parts and distribution network ready to take over sales and support of the Sprinter commercial van on January 1, according to officials at Daimler AG’s American automotive operation. Called Daimler Vans USA, LLC, the new commercial vehicle business will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler headquartered at MB-USA’s main offices in Montvale, NJ. It will distribute the vans under both the Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner names.
“We’ll have 119 dealers for Sprinter at start up on Jan. 1,” said MB-USA president and CEO Ernst Lieb. Forty-nine are existing Freightliner truck dealers and the rest are Mercedes-Benz dealers that have made the commitment to create commercial vehicle operations alongside their passenger car businesses. Freightliner, part of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), has been selling the van under its nameplate since it introduced the Sprinter to the American market in 2001.
For those who question the marriage of luxury cars and commercial vans, Lieb points out that “85% of our 357 dealers are multi-brand. This is not going to be a new market for most of them.”
In addition to the dealer network, MB-USA has also revamped its five parts distribution centers and will take over two Chrysler parts operations in Los Angeles and Jacksonville, FL. Training for technicians began on Dec. 1, with all new MB Sprinter dealers required to have at least two fully certified technicians on staff when they open for commercial business, according to Claus Tritt, general manager for commercial vehicles.
Tritt, who followed the Sprinter from Daimler to Dodge and has now returned to Daimler to manage the new van operation, said the Jan. 1 start up will include financing packages specifically tailored to the commercial vehicle market with the help of Daimler Truck Financial, DTNA’s captive financing arm. Other “soft” products such as extended warranties and support services for fleet users will also be launched, he said. A certified used-truck program is also expected in the near future, according to Tritt.
The Sprinter was first introduced in North America as a Freightliner truck in 2001. In 2003, Chrysler – then owned by Daimler – took over Sprinter sales and marketing under the Dodge banner. That distribution arrangement continued when Daimler sold Chrysler to private investors, but when Fiat SpA bought Chrysler this past summer both parties decided to allow agreement to lapse in 2010. Chrysler has since indicated that it will bring at least one, or possibly two Fiat commercial vans to the U.S. market.
The current Sprinter is available in cargo van, chassis cab and passenger configurations with a choice of two roof heights and GVWs up to 11,000 lbs. Standard features for the North American market include a 3-liter V6 turbo diesel engine, automatic transmission and advanced electronic stability control. The diesel will be fully compliant with 2010 emissions, using selective catalytic reduction to meet the new Federal regulations.
Although the current model is expected to carry the Sprinter through 2016 with minor facelifts along the way, Tritt said one near-term option under discussion is a 4-cyl. diesel option for fleets looking for even higher fuel economy.
The van will continued to be manufactured at a Daimler plant in Germany and assembled at a dedicated van plant in Charleston, SC.