By on December 7, 2020

Mercedes-Benz is reportedly planning to bring an electric commercial van, presumably the eSprinter, to the United States as early as the third quarter of 2023. While the all-electric van launched earlier this year in Europe, the manufacturer said it wanted to hold off on North American exports for reasons that should be obvious to anybody familiar with the industry. The model’s rather low range (up to 96 miles, depending on load and route) makes it a poor fit for North America’s wide-open spaces, as does its standard 75 mph (or optional 50 mph) top speed. Meanwhile, the necessary homologation efforts required to sell the eSprinter in the U.S. would only increase the price of a vehicle already ill-suited to the nation’s roadways.

Were it to come here now, we’d be looking at a cargo van with an MSRP dangerously close to $60,000 and the top speed and range of a small-displacement dirtbike. Regulatory incentives aside, it doesn’t seem like a worthwhile addition to the North American landscape. But analysts are worried that Mercedes-Benz needs to get a move on and ensure the vehicle comes to the U.S. market before it’s edged out by the competition. It’s a position we’d be inclined to agree with had the eSprinter arrived with more robust specifications.

Guidehouse Insights has forecast U.S. battery-powered light commercial vehicle sales hitting 623,000 units in 2030, against the 56,000 units that were estimated for 2020. “Given the rapidly increasing interest from commercial fleets in going electric, it would be foolish for Daimler not to offer the eSprinter here,” Guidehouse analyst Sam Abuelsamid told Automotive News in a recent interview. “What it comes down to is making sure the vehicle has a competitive range and performance capability.”

But that’s easier said than done. Literally, every single automotive engineer (sometimes entire teams) honest enough to level with us has stated that increasing the range of cargo-focused vehicles is a serious engineering issue. While range can be improved by chucking on a bigger battery pack, the immense amount of weight this adds starts to create a law of diminishing returns. Throwing cargo into the mix further complicates the issue and increases upfront cost — as the battery pack ends up being the most expensive component on any electric vehicle.

Daimler’s U.S.-Spec eSprinter could be powered by a 120-kilowatt-hour battery, according to insider sources. But this is assumed to be the outer limits of what the platform could accommodate. Regardless, an American van would absolutely need something larger than the 55-kWh energy pack that’s currently residing inside the European version. Ford’s E-Transit already outclasses the Mercedes-Benz van with a lower price tag and 126 miles of range and it hasn’t even gone on sale yet. But we weren’t exactly thrilled with its similarly mediocre specifications and still relatively high starting price.

Manufacturers tend to downplay the negatives of electrification, however, while prioritizing the benefits in their marketing. Numerous nameplates have attempted to convince fleet operators that the range and charging limitations (in addition to those elevated MSRPs) of EVs are more than offset by their lighter maintenance schedule and nonexistent fueling costs. Despite the recipe seeming to have limited applications for long-haul deliveries, it does appear to have some utility in urban environments with tighter delivery routes. This may explain why Amazon invested in Rivian and placed an order for 100,000 midsize electric van to be delivered by 2030. Of course, Amazon now has a grotesque amount of money and can afford to waste it. But there are plenty of other agencies ordering smaller batches of EVs to see how they’ll slot into their respective fleets.

From AN:

Electric vehicles are “poised to revolutionize the commercial fleet world,” said Scott Phillippi, UPS senior director of fleet maintenance and engineering.

“We’re partnered with smaller disrupters already, and we would like nothing better than seeing more players putting the innovation pedal to the metal in this space.”

Automakers are responding to the demand. Ford will offer a battery-electric version of the Transit cargo van in the U.S. and Canada for the 2022 model year. And GM will begin production of an electric van, code-named BV1, in September, according to AutoForecast Solutions.

Ford and GM are Mercedes’ largest competitors in the commercial segment, said David Ellis, general manager at RBM of Alpharetta, a major Sprinter retailer near Atlanta.

“So we have to stay competitive and release an electric vehicle that will have longer range and larger carrying capacity,” Ellis said. “The future of the auto industry is electric.”

But when exactly is that going to be? While battery capacities have improved immensely over the last decade, it’s difficult to imagine continued exponential growth over the next couple of years. Although, it rarely seems like it’s the technology or market demand that’s driving the all-electric ship anymore. Much of this is being spurred on by government initiatives and stringent regulatory measures that basically force automakers into building EVs or paying out hefty fines. The same goes for big corporations operating sizable automotive fleets.

“It would be attractive to the U.S. market because fleet customers have CO2 and sustainability targets to achieve, and many other customers could benefit from lower operational costs,” said Swickard, CEO of Swickard Automotive Group, which operates four Mercedes stores in Alaska, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington.

Daimler is intent on launching 10 purely electric vehicles and 25 plug-in hybrids globally by 2025. Last week, the company also said it would invest at least $85 billion to encourage the electrification and digitization of its products within that time frame.

[Images: Daimler]

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7 Comments on “Mercedes Reportedly Shipping the eSprinter Stateside in 2023...”

  • avatar

    Well the Sprinter is just more expensive than the Transit so it makes sense that it carries over to the EV version. The range is more than adequate for huge numbers of applications. The 75mph top speed isn’t a concern for the fleets that will use this type of vehicle the most and many set the speed limiters on their vehicles lower than that, particularly in areas where the speed limits on freeways are lower than that. Which of course is the reason they talk about an optional 50 mph max for those vehicles that do need to go on the freeway.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    A 96-mile range *3 years from now* is a definite non-starter.

    Also, these e-delivery mfrs (all EV mfrs, actually) need to get real about range with load, partial charge (like 20-80%, not 0-100%), and temperatures, and degradation. Otherwise, they’ll spoil the very market they’re trying to break into.

    I almost always charge my EV to 80% and almost never run it below 20%. This makes for a very happy battery, but a lot less than EPA range. Winter has a 30-50% deduction, and summer gives me a 10-20% addition. Speed kills range, and so will loading or towing in vehicles which do that.

    EV range is a bit like claiming a newborn baby will live to be 80; many factors affect the outcome.

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla’s position on charging is evolving. Tesla now recommends 100% every so often for cell balancing purposes. For everyday charging, they’re saying 90% now and below 5% is fine. Except for Model 3s with lithium iron phosphate batteries. You don’t have worry at all with those. The 90% number is for efficiency since you’d lose regen at higher states of charge. Modern material science has given Tesla and some other manufacturers a solution to the degradation problem.

      Here’s an explanation:

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      @SCE to AUX:
      Your assessment is spot on. Bringing a product, any product but more so a vehicle, prematurely to the market could burn the early adopters.

      With social media instantly broadcasting any bad news, this could damage the reputation of such vehicles for many years to come.

      But I have attended many engineering-marketing meetings where marketing demands a product with certain features at a certain price point, and most importantly at a certain date, and damn the torpedoes.

      If the engineering team doesn’t agree, they are threatened by management that they will find an engineering team who does.
      So the engineers get working and to meet the constraints, have to design in all sorts of compromises. One of them is the range.
      Another is battery life.

  • avatar

    I’m holding out for the Airstream eSprinter conversion for $275k with 40 mile range (or $305k with 55 mile range).

  • avatar

    Put a proper Diesel motor under the bonnet and the range and charging issue are fixed. It’s that simple.

    In fairness, the eSprinter here is marketed purely for usage within the city environment where the terrible range will not really matter (unless it is winter time). Blame the EU and their hysterical fear of CO2 for this EV insanity. While I am not against EVs, I seriously doubt that they are the future and the solution to our ever increasing mobility needs. And they lack the flexibility which is required in the heavy duty sector, to which I would count the Sprinter class as belonging to.

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