Reflecting the growing importance of the commercial-van market here, Daimler AG recently split its Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) marketing/distribution arm into two operations— one devoted to passenger cars and light trucks and the other strictly to commercial vans.

The new Vans USA division is headed up Bernhard J. Glaser, its newly named vice president & managing director. Glaser brings to his new post over 20 years of experience in executive positions with Daimler, including nearly nine years heading up product management on the car side for MBUSA.

While meeting with the editors of FleetOwner yesterday, Glaser explained that the new Vans USA division will enable Daimler via MBUSA to more fully give the U.S. its due— as it ranks as it ranks as the number-two market (after Germany) for one of its core vehicles, the Sprinter van.  Underscoring thus market’s importance, Glaser said Vans USA reports directly to Daimler AG’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

In reply to a question, Glaser also explained that Vans USA is also “looking very closely”” at whether to bring over other European-designed vans drawn from Daimler’s commercial-vehicle portfolio.

“Certainly, the large-van market [Sprinter, Ford Transit, Chevy Express/GMC Savana, Nissan NV, Ram ProMaster] is forecast to continue to grow,” Glaser remarked.  “But the real growth here is in the small/mid-sized commercial segment. “So, we are studying this segment very closely as we consider if and when we would bring a small/mid-size van here.”

As to the Sprinter’s own standing in the U.S., Glaser reported that 21,816— including those badged as either a Mercedes-Benz or a Freightliner—were sold here last year— and the Sprinter attained an 8.5% share of the large-van market. Some 15% of those sold were badged as Freightliners.

And he pointed out that for 2014 thus far (through May) Sprinter sales are up 23.5% year-over-year with 9,282 sold vs. 7,517 at the same point a year ago. In addition, market share year to date stands at 7.8% or 0.5% ahead of where it stood a year ago.

In the U.S., Glaser said 68% of Sprinters are sold as cargo vans, with another 13% as chassis-cabs, 6% as crew/cargo vans and 13% as passenger vans.  Trucking buyers are primarily in the construction trades (60%) followed by those providing delivery services (15%) and those engaged in retail/wholesale operations (10%).

As for the Sprinter support network, Glaser noted that it now numbers 252 ‘select’ dealers, including 57 Freightliner outlets.

Speaking to the Sprinter’s strengths in this market, Glaser said “I like to call it the Swiss Army Knife of vans and to point out that it’s ‘the original’ European-style van in the U.S.A."

Glaser observed that because “for commercial customers, vans are all about cost of ownership— and also a little about looks—we want them to consider both the acquisition cost and the total ownership costs of a Sprinter when shopping for a van.”

While the Sprinter was heavily redesigned for the 2014 model year, Glaser pointed to several significant developments that will become available in the U.S. with the rollout of the 2015 Sprinter, currently slated for “this summer/fall.”

The first of these is that service intervals that were set at 15,000 miles on 2014 Sprinters will increase to 20,000 miles for the upcoming 2015 models. The second is Crosswind Assist, a safety feature that Glaser advised will become a standard feature of the Sprinter’s ESP system on all 2015 models.

According to Daimler, Crosswind Assist kicks in when vehicle speed exceeds roughly 50 mph. It detects sudden, strong gusts of wind that can push on the side of a Sprinter’s van body and then prevent the truck from "drifting" out of its lane by electronically applying the brakes on the wheels on the side facing the wind turbulence. The braking force is based on the strength of the crosswind encountered.

As FleetOwner reported back in March, also optional on the 2015 Sprinter will be an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. The 4x4 option will be offered on Sprinter cargo, crew and passenger models powered by the Mercedes-Benz 3.0L V6 BlueTEC diesel, rated at 188 hp and 325 lbs-ft of torque.

Glaser said this package will become available on 2015-model year Sprinters in the first quarter of next year. He pointed out that the 4x4 option is an “on-demand system, activated at the push of a button,” that retains the functionality of the Sprinter’s load-adaptive electronic stability program (ESP). The AWD system can also be ordered with a low-range gear to provide more traction on slippery ground.

While he said that ordering ADW won’t make a Sprinter into an “off-roader,” the option package also includes anti-roll bars and raising the body 4.3 in at the front and 3.1 in at the rear. That ups the Sprinter’s slope-climbing ability by up to 20% compared to a Sprinter fitted with only conventional drive, per Daimler. Depending on van body style, the 4x4 option adds about 265 lbs, according to the OEM.

“Customers are already lining up to order the all-wheel-drive option,” Glaser noted. “They include everyone from those who have to get in and out of oil-field sites to plumbers who want to make sure they can get up and down long driveways in the winter.” He added that 4x4 pricing has not been set yet, but “it will be priced accordingly for the commercial segment.”