If past is prologue, then when it comes to commercial vehicles, Mercedes has experience in spaces. (Yes, you read that right: “Mercedes” and “commercial vehicles.”)
According to Berhard Glaser, vice president and managing director, Commercial Vans, Mercedes-Benz USA, the “Motor Truck” from Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft of 1896 was the world’s first truck. Today, he says, Daimler is “the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles.”
It is worth pointing out, however, that in addition to the brand with the three-pointed star, the company also owns Freightliner.
One of the increasingly popular types of vehicles nowadays is one that Mercedes has solid experience in for American applications. In 2001, it introduced the Sprinter van into the U.S. market, the cargo van that could be configured to carry stuff as well as people. This first-generation product was initially sold under the Freightliner brand (which continues through today). Then in 2003, thanks to the so-called “merger of equals,” DaimlerChrysler started selling the Sprinter with the Dodge moniker (back then, the Dodge logo was the ram’s head, which is now used for the Ram brand. Which we’ll get to in a moment.)
A second generation Sprinter was introduced in 2006. Although Daimler sold Chrysler in 2007 (to Cerberus), Dodge Sprinters continued until 2010, when the Sprinter could be chosen as a Mercedes or a Freightliner.
For 2014, there is a new Sprinter.
What’s interesting to note is that within the past few years, cargo vehicles with this hood-and-high-box architecture have become more pervasive, with Ford offering the Transit lineup, Nissan the NV family, GM the City Express (which is built by Nissan for GM), and Ram the ProMaster lineup (based on the Fiat Ducato platform, and carrying a Ram badge like the Sprinter of yore).
The Mercedes Sprinter and the Freightliner Sprinter, Antje Williams, department manager, Sprinter Brand Management, Mercedes-Benz USA, acknowledges, are mechanically the same vehicle. The difference, primarily, is the front grille. Period. Glaser says that there are a variety of reasons why a customer might opt for one brand over the other, such as whether there is a fleet- based association with a given dealer (which might be the case with a commercial customer who runs Freightliners) or a country club that might want to get a Sprinter configured as a passenger van and so would prefer the Mercedes badge.
There are two big changes for the 2014 Sprinter. One is under the hood. One is based on an array of sensors (although this one is optional).
The Sprinter in the U.S. market has been diesel-only (using the Mercedes BlueTEC diesel, which means that there is a diesel-exhaust fluid injection system that puts urea into the exhaust so that nitrogen oxides are turned into nitrogen and water in a catalytic converter) since 2010. This is still the case, with the introduction of a new standard diesel engine: this a 161-hp, 266 lb-ft, 2.1-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel. This is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission—which, according to Mercedes, makes it the only van in the world to be so equipped.
(The other available engine is a carryover, a 188-hp, 325 lb-ft, 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel that is mated to a five-speed automatic.)
The Sprinter is available with Collision Prevention Assist, which uses a radar sensor in the front bumper to measure the distance between it and a vehicle ahead of it. If the system calculates that based on relative speeds, the vehicles are too close, then a proximity warning is activated. There is a static warning, which is a light in the instrument cluster that indicates there is an unsafe distance between the vehicle. There is a dynamic warning— audible and visible—if there is a high closing rate determined between the two vehicles. In the event the Sprinter driver needs to get on the brakes, then there is support from Adaptive Brake Assist, which is activated by the Collision Prevention Assist, and which provides additional boosting for the brakes to help mitigate or avoid the collision.
There is an available Blind Spot Assist system based on four close-range radar sensors. The sensors are located behind the rub strips of the B-pillars and the rear corners. If the sensors pick up something in the blind spot, there is a red light activated in the mirror on the appropriate side of the vehicle. If the Sprinter driver activates the turn signal indicating a lane change while there is the red warning, then an acoustic warning is added to the mix.
There is available Lane Keeping Assist based on input from a camera located near the rearview mirror. There is Highbeam Assist, which uses the camera; when driving at night, the headlamps are automatically switched from high or low depending on whether the camera detects moving objects (i.e., other vehicles) as well as ambient lighting conditions.
The manufacture of the vehicles is rather interesting, primarily due to the so-called “chicken tax,” or a 25% tariff imposed on light cargo vehicles being imported to the U.S.
Sprinters are produced for the U.S. market in a plant in Dusseldorf, Germany. Passenger versions are shipped from the port in Bremerhaven, Germany as-is. The cargo variants are largely disassembled, including the removal of the powertrain from each vehicle. The semi-knocked down (SKD) Sprinters are sent on one ship; the powertrains are sent on another. They meet up in South Carolina, where everything is reassembled in a facility in Ladson, near Charleston. Everything is carefully marketed and coded so that all of the pieces go where they belong.
Which is taxing in and of itself.—GSV