Mercedes-Benz believes the traditional model of marketing vans is becoming obsolete and is shaping a new strategy with its new Sprinter to meet the burgeoning demand for parcel deliveries driven by online shopping.
Quoting research from the University of Westminster, the manufacturer’s LCV boss Steve Bridge claimed that this year 26 billion parcels would be delivered in the UK by the 11,871 parcel delivery firms registered at Company House.
Talking exclusively to What Van?, Bridge said these businesses were taking “a massive gamble on guaranteed delivery”.
He claimed Mercedes would be able to meet peaks in demand through reacting quickly via the new Sprinter’s position within the ‘internet of things’ and through supplying vans to multiple customers for short periods – more like a leaser than a vendor.
As part of its ‘adVANce’ initiative, the manufacturer has developed Pro connect internet-based fleet management connectivity to improve communication between fleet managers and the drivers and vehicles in their fleets.
Mercedes claimed this would enable assignments to be managed online, and vehicle information, such as location, fuel level or maintenance intervals to be retrieved almost in real time. Packages available with Pro connect include Vehicle Supervision, Vehicle Operations, Fleet Communication, Maintenance Management and a digital Driver's Logbook.
Bridge added that the main problem for parcel companies was not sourcing vans but finding enough drivers to operate them – particularly out of conventional working hours – such as during the night. To overcome this he claimed Mercedes was compiling a database of drivers alongside the hours they are available to work.
Although the brand grew sales in a declining market last year (up 5.8%) Bridge claimed Mercedes was “not bothered about competing with manufacturers who want market share” simply through building sales volume but instead wanted to create “a holistic transport solution” to deliver an integrated service for all parties in the corporate process, which may not equate to an outright van purchase.
“The automotive industry for the last 30 years has let the world go by,” claimed Bridge and added that Mercedes-Benz Vans aimed to become an “operating systems provider”, through connecting to third parties, rather than simply a vehicle provider. He drew a comparison to the myriad functions provided by a smart phone.
Selling more vans to fewer customers was less important than acquiring more customers, he argued.
He was quick to stress, however, the value of big fleet deals in creating a “halo effect” for the Sprinter.
“Why does DPD buy Mercedes?” he asked, “it’s not the cheapest but [the decision] is TCO (total cost of ownership) led.”
The third generation Sprinter is the first manifestation of the large van to be available with front- as well as rear- and all-wheel-drive.
Mercedes said the FWD version would provide an 80mm lower loading height as well as 50kg more payload compared to RWD. It has developed a nine-speed automatic transmission as well as a new six-speed manual gearbox for the FWD model.
In showrooms from June, Mercedes said it would offer the new Sprinter in 1,700 configurations, including panel van, chassis cab, pick-up and minibus bodystyles.
The weight range goes up to 5.5-tonnes with a maximum load volume of 17m3.
The manufacturer said a new feature is loadable wheel arches.
The Sprinter has always been revered for its safety features and assistance systems available for the new model include a self-cleaning reversing camera showing its image in the rear-view mirror, a parking package with a 360-degree view, and a rain sensor with an integrated wet wiper system for optimum visibility even during the wiping process.
Mercedes is to launch an electric e-Sprinter in 2019 to follow the e-Vito medium van coming this year and claimed it would introduce an electric version of its Citan light van when the new range launches at the end of next year.