Three OEMs may bring European "midweight" delivery trucks stateside

Given recent actions and statements, it appears two U.S.-based OEMs - General Motors Corp. (GM) and Freightliner LLC - may soon import commercial light-duty vans from their European operations to cash in on the demand for home-delivery vehicles driven by growth in retail sales over the Internet. And a third manufacturer - Ford Motor Co. - is at least rumored to be contemplating doing the same.

In Europe, the GM Opel/Vauxhall Movano, the Mercedes-Benz (Freightliner's German sister) Sprinter, and the Ford Transit delivery vans compete head-to-head in the continent's "mid-weight" (1-2+ tons) commercial-vehicle category.

These zippy but meaty trucks are successful over there because each was designed expressly to neatly navigate the narrow streets and byways of Old World cities and towns.

The general dimensions and cargo capacity of the "Eurovans" put them roughly between what we call full-size vans on the light end of the commercial ladder and the step vans and cutaway trucks on the next rung up.

It's anyone's guess which manufacturer will make a move to import these trucks first. However, at a recent customer event in Asheville, N.C., attended by FLEET OWNER, the GM Fleet & Commercial operation displayed several Opel-badged Movano vans and solicited attendees on whether the trucks would be a welcome addition to their fleet operations.

In Europe, the diesel-powered Movanos are offered as panel vans - the type most likely to arrive here - and as chassis cab units.

Depending on specific model and specs selected, the Movano panel van has GVW ratings running from 6,160 to 7,700 lb. and can haul payloads weighing from 2,288 to 3,817 lb.

The vans come in lengths of 192.4, 211.3, or 231.8 in. and have wheelbases of 121.2, 140.9, or 160.6 in. The cargo floor height of all versions is just 21 in. The base model's interior body height is 75.3 in. but there's a wide range of optional heights.

On its British web site (www.vauxhall.co.uk), GM touts the Movano for its "unrivaled cargo access, low loading heights, and extremely competitive loadspace volumes."

Also in May, Freightliner LLC helped mark the fifth anniversary of its Custom Chassis Corp. assembly plant in Gaffney, S.C., by showing off what it generically labeled a "light commercial van" that company officials said would eventually be assembled there.

At about the same time, DaimlerChrysler, Freightliner's parent company, announced it would export its Mercedes-Benz Sprinter delivery van from Germany to the U.S.

Although Freightliner still hasn't made an official announcement of when the Sprinter will arrive, Debra Nicholson, Freightliner LLC's general manager of corporate relations & communications, recently told FLEET OWNER the Sprinter is headed here where it will be badged as a Freightliner.

According to Nicholson, the van will eventually be either assembled (from a knockdown setup) or built (from the ground up) at the Gaffney plant.

"The truck will fit into the Class 2-3 light commercial segment," Nicholson stated. She also pointed out that it will be well-suited for light-duty P&D as well as home delivery of e-commerce orders.

According to the Mercedes-Benz product-line web site (www.mercedes-benz.com), it's not its cargo space that sets the Sprinter apart, but how that space is used: "The sidewalls of the panel van rise straight up to the window. The roof is slightly recessed. The nearly vertical side panels that result allow you to make optimum use of the cargo area."

While Freightliner or GM is likely to be the first to release a Eurovan in our midst, Ford's European Transit van would also be a contender in this market.

Interestingly enough, the Transit is already a product of cross-Atlantic pollination. As the OEM's web site (www.media.ford.com) points out, development of the 2000 model was "led by an international team from the Truck Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Mich., with support from engineering centers in Britain, Belgium and Germany."