When journalists converged on Amsterdam in April for the press test drive event of the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the keywords were “flexibility” and “connectivity”. Mercedes-Benz Vans has gone all out to make sure that the new generation of its core product can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. The word “van” is way too simple for the modern world. Describing it as a piece of “smart hardware”, MB Vans boss Volker Mornhinweg said: “The new Sprinter is a holistic transport system that slots seamlessly into the value chain.”
Seems like a lot of words for a box on wheels – but then again, that’s the whole point. The usage spectrum for a large van like the Sprinter is vast – ranging from the hard-knock life in the trades to the burgeoning CEP (courier, express and parcel) sector to the altogether more premium requirements of a VIP shuttle bus, with all manner of permutations in between.
Driven by the global megatrends of individualisation, urbanisation and digitalisation, Mercedes-Benz has developed the most versatile iteration of the Sprinter in the model’s 23-year history. The company has calculated that all the possible configurations add up to a total of 1700 ex-factory variants.
I worked on some of the speeches and presentation materials for the new Sprinter, and if I were to distil the content down to the three most significant elements, they would be the expansion of the driveline options, modular configuration and connectivity tools.
The addition of a front-wheel drive variant to the existing rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive formats opens up the market for Mercedes in three key areas: 1. FWD is cheaper to build and means an entry-level variant will be available at just under 20,000 euros (Germany). 2. FWD also means MB can now offer the Sprinter as a tractor head, which makes it more desirable for body builders and motorhome manufacturers. 3. FWD allows the floor height to be lowered by 80 millimetres, which may not sound like much until you spend all day loading and unloading a van.
The new Sprinter is also prepared for electric drive, with the e-Sprinter scheduled for launch in 2019 complete with a comprehensive support system of charging infrastructure, maintenance and range management tools.
The modular toolkit approach has massively increased the degree of flexibility than can be applied cost effectively to configuring a vehicle. In the case of the Sprinter, it is these building blocks of available engines and drivelines, body and cab types, wheelbases, transmissions and roof heights that deliver more than 1700 possible variants across an enormous bandwidth.
We often associate vehicle connectivity with the convenience it provides in cars, whether it’s for streaming music, navigation or providing real-time traffic info. However, it’s application to the business sector has the potential to offer added value that impacts the bottom line. MB is using its Mercedes PRO connect services to make the Sprinter part of the Internet of Things and thus make fleet management and communications simpler and more efficient. The total of eight packages available at launch include tools for keeping tabs on vehicle location and status in real time to enable things like predictive and flexible route planning and better navigation as well as driving style analysis for improved fuel mileage. Yes, it may all seem bit “1984”, but in fast-growing, highly cost-sensitive sectors like parcel delivery, a business stands and falls on squeezing every last ounce of efficiency from its fleet.
First vehicle of the adVANce era
The new Sprinter is the first vehicle from Mercedes-Benz Vans to reflect its new adVANce strategy, unveiled in 2016. Touted as “nothing less than the far-reaching transformation of Mercedes-Benz Vans from a pure vehicle manufacturer into a provider of holistic mobility solutions”, the approach integrates customers more deeply in the development process and substantially expands the services provided by MB beyond that of the vehicle itself. As well as the aforementioned connectivity solutions, this is also taking it into the realms of vehicle rental and ride sharing.