If you were to make a movie about the recent machinations in the U.S. light commercial vehicle market, it might very well be called Invasion of the Vans. Bothand Chrysler are bringing new full-size commercial van models to the U.S. market that were developed on chassis that have seen long service overseas, especially Europe. And other OEMs, such as Nissan, are introducing smaller and more compact versions of their larger product offerings.
None of that surprises Claus Tritt, general manager of commercial vehicles for Mercedes-Benz. This is because the “van wars” now brewing in the U.S. market are a direct result of broader economic factors, which are affecting the bottom line of all sorts of businesses that rely on such models to get jobs done.
“The light commercial vehicle market is going to change in the U.S. for a lot of reasons, but primarily economic ones,” he explains. “That’s driven largely by a greater focus on fuel economy because the cost of fuel is going nowhere but up. At the same time, van users want more capability from their equipment, so it’s causing them to reassess what types of vehicles they buy and how they use them.”
Those demands are also changing the mix of options offered by manufacturers, Tritt says. “The old thinking meant we offered just one wheelbase and one roof height,” he explains. “The old thinking was all about horsepower and not torque, with little regard for fuel economy. But gone are the days when a van fleet manager could sleep comfortably at night knowing his equipment was getting 6 mpg.”
The Sprinter van built by Mercedes-Benz is a case in point. First produced back in 1995, the Sprinter has undergone a significant transformation over the past few years. In 2010, a crew van option was added to the Sprinter’s existing cargo van, passenger van, MiniBus and cab chassis family. The crew model offers a three-person second row seat that can carry an entire work crew to the job site and back, plus all their tools and materials. It’s powered by a 3L V6 diesel that gets 30% better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline engine.
The company recently displayed one of its Sprinter 3500 cab chassis models equipped with what it calls a “Maranda” service body to showcase how the van is being redesigned for light commercial vehicle users outside of the traditional van space.