FORT MYERS, Fla. – DaimlerChrysler Vans LLC, a recently formed business unit of the DaimlerChrysler Group, announced today the start of distribution of the Class 2-3 commercial Sprinter van in the U.S. The full-size van, designed by Mercedes-Benz, is being marketed in the U.S. under the Freightliner nameplate.

The Sprinter will be manufactured in Dusseldorf, Germany. Passenger vans arrive fully assembled while cargo models are shipped in semi knocked-down form for final assembly in the company’s Gaffney, SC plant.

Huntersville, NC-based DaimlerChrysler Vans, according to president & CEO Tim Reuss, has the exclusive role of establishing the Sprinter’s dealer network as well as providing all sales, marketing and aftermarket support for the cargo and passenger van line.

Reuss said that by year’s end, 50 dealers, including 48 Freightliner Truck dealers, would be signed on for the separate Sprinter franchise. And by the end of next year, he expects to have from 140 to 160 dealers in place. Reuss noted that DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge dealerships “will also be approached” to help reach that number and to ensure coverage in key urban markets.

Initially, both the cargo and passenger version will be offered in two GVWRs (8,550 or 9,990 lbs.) three wheelbases (118, 140 or 158 inches), and in choice of standard or high roof height. The Sprinter is powered by a Mercedes-Benz five-cylinder diesel engine rated at 154 hp that is driven through an electronically controlled five-speed automatic.

It also features an independent front suspension, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes, antilock braking, acceleration skid control and a highly ergonomic interior design. According to Reuss Sprinter pricing begins at $26,300 and depending on how equipped, can range up to around $36,000 for a “fully loaded” passenger model.

Reuss said cab/chassis and flatbed versions of the Sprinter will be introduced here next year. And he said DaimlerChrysler Vans LLC may market additional products down the road. He said these may include a model for Class 4-5 applications as well as the next generation of the smaller Mercedes-Benz Vito van now sold in Europe as both a cargo and passenger vehicle.

Industry sourses say the Vito could be the replacement for the current Dodge Ram van, which is slated for retirement.