By on May 23, 2011

Ford sold 8,834 Transit Connects in 2009, with sales of the small, Euro-style panel and passenger vans hitting 27,405 units last year. With 9,852 already sold in the first third of 2011, it seems the original German delivery van-slingers in the US market, Mercedes, are taking notice of the segment. The Dodge-branded Sprinter, a larger vehicle, saw peak sales of 21,961 back in 2006 has seen sales fall dramatically in recent years, and in 2010 Mercedes wrestled the vans back to its brand, only to sell a meager 8,599 (a nearly 1,500 unit improvement over Dodge’s last year with the product). In other words, the lesson of recent US-market Euro-style delivery vans seems to be that bigger (i.e. more direct competition with American BOF offerings) is not better.

In any case, that’s the lesson Mercedes seems to have moved, as Autoblog‘s Chris Paukert hears that Mercedes is studying the possibility of bringing its smaller Vito van to the US. And they won’t have to bring it far, as the Vito is built in Mexico (among other parts globalized). And if a $35k base-price Sprinter costs about $50k in Mexico, the $30k-ish base-price Vito (with 150 HP diesel, the only option in Mexico) could end up priced fairly close the Transit’s $22k+ range.

Will more space, a three-pointed star on the hood (did we mention the RWD?), possible diesel engines (a 3.5 liter, 250 HP gas V6 is also a likely candidate) and (Daimler willing) a sane price tempt the unexpectedly-strong smaller Euro-van market away from Ford dealers? Would you be ready to look at a Vito?

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46 Comments on “Are You Ready For: A Smaller Sprinter?...”


  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    I’m not convinced that the Sprinter’s slow sales are so much due to size…it’s the price.

    They sold moderately well prior to the economic collapse, but the $10k price difference over a Ford or Chevy is hard to justify. Sure, the Sprinter gets better mileage, but the payoff takes quite a while. And then there’s the maintenance costs, which are not for the faint of heart.

    • 0 avatar
      WRohrl

      I was involved in the purchase of a Sprinter a few years ago. Pricewise it made sense vs. the Ford we also considered. Everything was great, the gas mileage was phenomenal and it drove much better. It kind of sicked when out Dodge dealer was culled, it became a bit more difficult to service and buy parts when needed.

      Switching to Mercedes cannot help sales vs. Dodge, there are just not enough dealers conveniently located. Also I do not believe that the average buyer that is looking at a Ford, Chevy and formerly a Dodge, is going to naturally even think of visiting an M-B dealer to take a look. (Not in the US market at least).

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Well they actually did improve sales switching the emblem to a Star from a Do g er I meant ram. The fact is in the real world they don’t make sense vs the Ford or Chevy offerings. Sure they get better MPG (with a more expensive fuel) but that savings is more than ate up by the much higher maintenance costs. The typical one in the fleet I maintain runs near $3000 in the first year just for oil & filter changes, brakes and tires. God forbid you need to replace a transmission in one of them. The fleet had one replaced under warranty and they foolishly thought the next one would be covered by warranty too, over $13K later they had a new trans in their rig with about 40K on it. According to the Jasper salesman FedEx just sends them to the crusher when they need a new trans or engine. He also says that they are building the heck out of the V6 engines and transmissions, obviously for customers other than FedEx.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I used to have a job where once in a while I’d get stuck driving Ford Econoline 15 passenger vans. The newest one I drove was a 2008 that had 400 miles when I picked it up. I really hated them. Whether they had a few hundred miles or a hundred thousand miles, the engines were thrashy, the doors flapped in the wind, clanked over bumps, the rear seats tried to remove fingers when being latched or unlatched, and the front suspension geometry changed drastically over bumps. Reading the customer reviews of the Mercedes built Sprinters puts it all in perspective. I still won’t forgive Ford for taking advantage of the lack of competition to saddle fleet drivers with such miserable products, but at least the damned things almost never broke down.

      • 0 avatar
        M 1

        I’m not sure how Scoutdude’s point about oil, filters, brakes, and tires is remotely relevant to a specific brand … but my dad used to run small fleet of 6 FedEx Sprinter 2500 heavy-duty diesels and he’s right anyway with respect to maintenance costs.

        Out of all 10 of his heavily-used trucks (each averaged 15 hours of driving per day, mostly in the mountains, and were kept for an average of about four years) none of the Sprinters ever lost a transmission, but those turbos failed often and that’s a fairly expensive fix. He never complained about them otherwise, and I’d have heard about it if they had other unusual maintenance costs.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        M1 the fact is that the step vans in the fleet don’t cost anywhere near that much to maintain. They use appropriate sized quality brakes and tires from the factory. On t Sprinters the factory rotors are at or under min thickness by the time the pads are done which the most I’ve seen the last is 15K, 12K is closer to the norm. The aftermarket rotors will last for 2 sets of pads and the aftermarket pads will last at least 15K so it does get better the second year. Stock tires are shot at 12K too and the “40K mile” replacements are lucky to make 25K. The fuel filter which needs to be replaced at leas once per year is over an hour worth of work. By contrast the old Step vans the brake pads will last 30K or more and the rotors don’t need replacement because even after 150K or more they are still above min thickness. So the Step Vans annual maintenance cost averages out to somewhere betwee 1/2 and 1/3 of that of the Sprinter. Cost for repairs are much cheaper too, an alternator for a Sprinter is over $400 (cost) and is a 1.5 hr job vs $60 for one for a Step van and less than .5 hr job. The purchaser for the fleet has finally came to his senses and they are going back to Step Vans in the future since they cost much less in the long run.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      In Europe, the V6 diesel has less than 2% of the Sprinter sales. Sane fleet buyers get the 4-cylinder diesel and manual transmission. The V6 is too pricy to buy and run.
      None of the Sprinter’s competitors in Europe even offers a 6-cylinder.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    nice vans

    but here’s the problem… expensive to buy, expensive to fix, much higher running costs than a Japanese/Korean van, poor resale due to the above

    sure they drive nicer but the value per $$ is poor

    VW vans too

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      What you and Ed seem to be missing is that there are multiple markets here.

      Call me when the Japanese or Koreans build a 1-ton HD van that can work a FedEx/UPS rural route, or function as a carpenter’s work van, or the other things these are typically used for.

      One size does not fit all.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @TonyJZX, as far as I know, other than the Nissan “van”, neither the Japanese nor the Koreans offer any commercial vans in US or Canada.

      If the Toyota Hi-Ace would be offered, that would be a whole different thing …

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    I recently did a trip with 8 people in a rental Vito. It was a base-ish model: Bench second and third row, vinyl floor, no luxury crap, long wheelbase… but the room is unbelievable: A 6′ 6″ guy can get comfortable in the third row, no problem at all. Even with all three rows, there still was a lot of room for luggage behind the third row. Cruised quietly at 160 kph all day. AWESOME road trip vehicle.

    Don’t compare it to the Transit Connect. It’s a completely different vehicle. Taller, wider, heavier, RWD.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    How much of the drop in sales for the Sprinter was the increase in price of 20% since 2006, the loss of the huge fuel economy numbers with the replacement of the thrifty 5-cylinder with the emissions strangled V6, and the deserved reputation with fleet operators for being no more reliable than a German car? It is hard to say what the market would be for a high quality large diesel van when the Sprinter is known for putting people out of business.

  • avatar
    7shades

    I own a Vito 115cdi.

    Biggest… Lemon… Ever.
    And if you check the forums and reviews, I am not alone.

    Mine just hit 70k, and in that short time has been back to the dealership over a dozen times for various faults including electrical, EGR, turbo failure, brake rotors warping, uneven and excessive front tyre wear, windows falling out of the regulator, switchgear failing, transmission computer dying, I replace head and tail light bulbs on a weekly basis, exterior trim falling off, door handles breaking, central locking actuators failing, the list goes on and on… And I haven’t even mentioned the rust yet.

    Oh and the plastic floor covering has already worn through, as has the steering wheel and driver’s seat trim.

    Shoulda stuck with a Hiace. The last four I’ve had gave me zero faults in over 1.5 million total kilometres.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Neither the Japanese nor the Koreans sell their utility vans in the USA, however.

    (not counting Nissan’s US-built Titan-with-a-large-tumor “van”)

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Hank: “(not counting Nissan’s US-built Titan-with-a-large-tumor “van”)”

      +1

      What most folks have seemed to have forgotten is that the Vito is smaller than the Sprinter. (We should note that the name Vito should be very popular in certain parts of New York and New Jersey.) Not having seen one in the flesh, I’m assuming it’s very close in size and function to the Transit Connect. But I also would imagine the target market for this kind of vehicle would probably never even think of MB as a source for a van. Ford, GM, Chrysler, now Nissan, (and probably Fiat in the next couple of years) all come to mind first.

      MB has spent many years and dollars ensuring their image in the States is about luxury cars, and not their workaday commercial vehicles. I bet if you were to ask the average man on the street if they were aware that MB had a whole commercial truck diviaion, very few would know that.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        Those vans live by fleet sales. The only people who have to know are the fleet sales buyers and they will know

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @geozinger, not the size of a Transit Connect, more like the “standard” Transit. A real van, in other words. See below for a side-by-side picture:
        http://www.mbcvrocklea.com.au/content/australia/retailer-4/mbrocklea/my_library/media_library/vans/news_events_offers/Sprinter_and_Vito.object-Single-MEDIA.tmp/Silver%20Vito%20&%20Sprinter_640x295.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Mirko Reinhardt

        The Vito is NOT the same size as a Transit Connect. A long wheelbase Transit Connect has a cargo volume of 3.5 cubic meters. A long wheelbase Vito has 6.2. That’s nearly twice as much. Those vehicles are not even remotely in the same class. I don’t get why Ed brings the comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        Mirko Reinhardt

        For comparison’s sake, a Ford E150 van has 6.7 cubic meters of cargo volume compare to the Vito’s 6.2. That’s the size class the Vito is in, not the Transit Connect’s.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Since this is a commercial vehicle Daimler should have left distribution with their Freightliner dealer network. Freightliner dealers spent a few years building up the business only to have the Sprinter transferred to the Dodge dealer network. Dodge dealers made a half-hearted effort to sell the vehicle (considering they have a retail customer base, not commercial), only to have to Sprinter taken from them and switched to Mercedes dealers.

    No commercial truck/fleet buyer wants to darken the door of a Benz dealer (with the possible exception of his personal car) much less their service department. Mercedes dealers have a service cost reputation that is even worse than yacht dealers.

    If Daimler wants to sell a commercial vehicle they need to use their commercial vehicle dealer network, which is Freightliner. However, since German executives are not known for listening to customers or dealers they will probably keep imposing top-down solutions instead of actually talking with potential Sprinter customers, which should include plumbers, electricians, carpet cleaners, shuttle bus operators, etc.

    Maybe their next move will be trying to sell Sprinters at Smart dealers. If that does not work, they can move them to Maybach.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      DC made the right move pulling them from Freightliner. The dealer sales guys didn’t want to waste time on them. I’d rather sell a package of 20 used tractors at $65,000 each than 20 new delivery vans at half the price.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        As a condition of getting the Sprinter franchise Freightliner required that dealers have a dedicated Sprinter sales rep, and those guys (along with the dedicated medium duty guys) were not focused on tractors.

        Very different products and customers.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    The Econoline outsells the Transit Connect 4 to 1. So first, the market for euro-style vans isn’t that big yet. This market wants utility and low price, and the ancient but durable E series delivers.
    Second, if Daimler thinks that it can crack this market with the same reliability and maintenance issues found in its cars, then good luck. The comments above from people with experience tell the tail. At the prices Daimler will need to charge, the van must have an insane level of reliabilty and durability. Unfortunately, the Econoline already offers this and on the cheap besides.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      But if Ford were to offer the Transit (at a competitive price, built in North America), it might well be able to take over the Econoline’s position. Slightly smaller but more flexible and economical, it certainly has been found durable in commercial use in Europe.

      MB Vito … as others have pointed out, selling them from MB dealerships is the first big problem. Price may be another, although manufacturing in Mexico should improve costs vs the Sprinter.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      If the solid, reliable Econoline were paired with a diesel smaller than the PowerStroke it would be a great combination for fleets and commercial buyers in high mileage applications. The PowerStroke is overkill for most van applications, but a much smaller diesel engine with 300 ft/lbs of torque and resulting better fuel economy would be great for a lot of users.

      American reliability plus European fuel economy would be a great combination.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @Toad, why do you figure that the Transit would be unreliable?

        Not to mention that it’s a modern design with better space utilization, better drivability, better ergonomics and better fuel economy (even with the same engine).

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        th009, I did not mean to imply that the Transit is unreliable. It may be a terrific product.

        I was referring more generally to combining the fuel economy of European products with the reliability, sizes, and cost of the Econoline.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    MB doesn’t have a chance to compete against the Ford TC, and I don’t believe it would be priced that close to $22k.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      The Vito is larger, roomier, more heavy-duty than the TC. It doesn’t compete with the Transit Connect at all, it rather does compete with the short wheelbase real Transit, and is priced rather similarly.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    I have driven an ’05 2500 Sprinter for tens of thousands of miles. It is fantastic! It handles very well and I always find myself turning into “White Van Man” as the British say (an aggressive driver driving a white-colored commercial van).
    I would welcome a slightly smaller version of the Sprinter van. My van tops 8-ft. with the rear air conditioning unit. That will keep you from nearly all parking garages, bank ATMs, and fast food drive-ups. They just better keep a diesel engine in the mix…that powerplant and the van’s utility brought us to the Sprinter in the first place.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I drove a Westphalia version of this around Europe several times for work. Being a diesel it would go forever on a tank, I always thought if they sold it here I would buy it.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      I wonder what a Westy version of the Vito would cost in USD, around $60K?

      • 0 avatar
        Mirko Reinhardt

        I don’t know – I’d guess if you don’t go crazy with the options, you could get a nice one under 50k. The Mercedes/Westfalia Marco Polo starts at around 42k€ before taxes in Europe, or about as much as a 4-cylinder E-Class.

        Price list here:
        http://bit.ly/kSnnjO

        If you don’t need a toilet and kitchenette, the Viano “Fun” starts at about 35k, or the price of a very base C-Class. It’s just a basic van with rear bench seats that fold into a nice bed. A pop-up roof with bed (standard on the Marco Polo) is a 3400€ option.

        AWD is 3150€ on both. The base engine is a 136hp 4-cylinder diesel with 6-speed manual, 800€ extra buys a 163hp version of that same engine (should be the OM651).
        Another four and a half large, and you get a V6 diesel with 224hp and a slushbox. Not sure I’d want that.
        For 2,300€ more than the V6 diesel, you can get a 258hp 3.5L gas V6. I guess some people are weird enough to order that, but why?

        Here’s the Westfalia brochure:
        http://bit.ly/fBWEoP

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    I was at a Diesel pump just off I-40 in my Golf when a tricked-out Sprinter pulled up behind me.

    Inside was a well known indie (in certain circles) band on their way to a gig.

    Asked the driver about the Sprinter. Said he could drive it 2X as far as the competition without getting tired because the handling and seats were that much better. He was rapturous about it.

    Much better range between fill-ups, I’m willing to bet.

    Cost is not a factor for everybody. Sometimes comfort and safety are important, esp. on long-distance drives.

    I’ve noticed that a local ambulance company is now outfitting Sprinters as ambulances. Narrower than the fugly box on a truck vehicles of tradition, but taller – probably tall enough to stand in. Probably handles better, rides better, better power reserves on tap, double the fuel economy and you’re not plowing the side of a building into the wind.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      I’d guess about 90% of ambulances in Germany are Sprinters, mostly chassis cabs with boxes for more interior width. I’ve spent some time in ambulance service about a decade ago.
      I guess ambulances and police vans are the reason the Sprinter does so well – they are mandated to be automatic, and most of the Sprinter’s competitors don’t even offer an automatic option, because the market for automatic work vehicles in Europe is very, very small, too small to bother for most manufacturers.

      • 0 avatar
        AlexG55

        That’s the same as they are here in the UK. They used to be LDV vans with the 3.5 Rover V8, but LDV are gone now.
        Apparently they only have the 160-horsepower four, though…

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yes the Sprinter drives well but since most purchasers of vans don’t actually drive them, their employees do, the cost is the most important thing. So that extra 10K purchase price and $1-$1.5K per year means that much money is going to someone else and not the bottom line which is the commercial buyers main concern. Their second main concern is up time where Chrysler’s lack of parts inventory means that the Sprinters have done poorly in that respect in the past.

    • 0 avatar
      Polak

      Sprinter pro:
      very comfortable to drive
      great diesel mileage (22mpg @ 65mph under loaded of 2500 pounds)
      rear wheel drive means great handling (except Winter time)
      big interior
      Cons:
      Must not use Biodiesel (unless 5% or less)
      Must use DFT solution (but good for green planet)
      lot of electronics (its to sensitive fo weather change)

  • avatar

    It’s the Ford Aerostar all over again!

  • avatar

    Sounds like a good little truck cant wait to see it!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So how much for the “conversion van” model? My fiance has seen the “converted” Transit Connects and actually likes them.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Our 2007 Sprinter V6 diesel 170 WB. high roof has been super reliable, just about to crack 300k miles. These are mainly freeway miles for what it is worth but I was even a bit skeptical about its longevity compared to Chevy or Ford.

    We needed the extra room compared to the US cargo vans so we would have had to get a small box truck from Ford or GM that would have guzzled fuel at ~11 mpg compared to our ~20 mpg average.

    Tires have lasted typically 75k+ a set for us but I know the freeway driving is much easier than in town delivery for such. We have the 250k mile service package pre-paid so it goes in every 10k mile for services. Driving wise and comfort is not even comparable to the Ford or GM, the engine and transmission are like butter!

  • avatar
    Polak

    I believe that I can put two of your Sprinter alternatives inside of my 2011 170″EXT Sprinter. If you need to be competitive on todays market then there is no other option than 170″ EXT Sprinter. Mercedes Sprinter. That’s my 1 cent.


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