Fleet News

Launch preview: How Sprinter success put the squeeze on Merc’s UK sales

THE past 12 months have been a tough time for Mercedes-Benz vans in the UK.

While global sales of LCVs up to 3.5 tonnes are at a record 267,000, sales in Britain plummeted by 10% to 22,257.

But Peter Lambert, UK van sales and marketing director at Mercedes-Benz is not, as might be expected, a worried man. Frustrated maybe, but certainly not concerned that the appeal of the three-pointed star might be waning.

His frustration stems from the fact that the Sprinter panel van has been so successful that the factory in Dusseldorf can’t churn enough of them out. Hence a shortage in Britain, which led to the dramatic fall in sales.

Although the Sprinter is due for replacement in May – in fact Lambert was speaking exclusively to Fleet Van at the official unveiling of the new model in Stuttgart – the world seems to be crying out for the present model. And with a limited number being built, some tough decisions have been made at Mercedes-Benz HQ about which markets are going to be satisfied and which will not.

Lambert said: ‘Our fall in sales is purely because worldwide demand for Sprinter exceeded supply and we have been rationed by our bosses. It’s as simple as that.

When the new Sprinter comes on the market in May we will still be selling the old model and people are ordering it like it’s going out of fashion.’

Lambert also stressed that although he was seeking to win back last year’s lost sales, it would not be done at the expense of profit - and he criticised some other manufacturers which, he said, were chasing volume at the expense of profit.

He said: ‘There are some crazy fleet deals being made at present with some manufacturers, who are entering into buyback deals in which they can’t be making a profit. We don’t do business like that. We want to increase sales but we won’t do it if the business is not profitable. We must make a reasonable margin.’

Lambert also ruled out big rental deals as he believed they would destroy the Sprinter’s high resale values. He said: ‘Sprinter makes fantastic money at selling time and if we launched into some big rental deals, we would see a huge number coming back on to the market at the same time. We guard our residual values with our lives and would not want to see them suffer.’

Lambert also predicted that in the future, most vans sold to larger fleets would be fitted with speed limiters. He said: ‘Already many of our big fleet customers are specifying speed limiters and we expect more to ask for them soon. They have a significant effect on fuel consumption, and also cut down on accidents and maintenance. They are definitely the way forward and will help improve the image of white van man.’

New model breaks fresh ground in safety and functionality

ANYONE who doubts the credentials of the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter would do well to heed these figures:

  • The van cost €1.8 billion to develop
  • 400 design engineers worked for five years to produce the van
  • No fewer than 340 patents have been applied for
  • More than 1,000 different variants will be on offer

    Those figures are staggering in anyone’s books but Mercedes-Benz is determined to hang on to Sprinter’s awesome reputation in the face of an onslaught of new rivals.

    When new Sprinter goes on sale in the UK in May, there will be three wheelbases and roof heights, with load volumes up to 17 cubic metres and payloads up to 2,440kg. Chassis cabs will also be available.

    In the cab, a driver’s airbag will be standard (it was a paid-for option on the old model) and window and thorax bags will be optional. A CD/radio, adaptive traction control and ABS brakes will also feature as standard. There are also extra storage spaces over the old model.

    There will be a choice of engines – a 2.2-litre four cylinder unit offering 87bhp, 115bhp and 147bhp, while there will be a new 3.0-litre V6 diesel pumping out a massive 181bhp – a new record power output for panel vans in the UK. The old Sprintshift model is deleted, although a fully automatic version will be on sale for a premium of about £900.

    All engines are Euro IV compliant and have particulate filters. There will be no petrol versions, hence no LPG option either.

    In the back, the side loading door has been extended and there is a new load-locking system which allows cargo to be strapped on to the van’s side.

    Another option is a keyless entry system and electric side door which will open automatically when a driver nears the vehicle – useful if the driver is carrying a heavy box. There will also be a tyre pressure warning system and parking sensors front and rear. Prices will be announced nearer launch.

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