Mercedes-Benz enjoyed a record year in 2007, with 8,141 Vitos and 18,632 Sprinters sold. But despite this success, director and van sales and marketing Steve Bridge is not a happy man.
For while Sprinter enjoys a high profile among Britain’s LCV operators, he feels that the smaller Vito isn’t getting the attention it deserves and Mr Bridge has labelled 2008 a year of cracking the medium panel van market.
Speaking the show, he said: “We could have sold even more Sprinters last year but the factory in Germany is already working flat out and we are restricted in the number we can obtain.
But we don’t feel that Vito has as high a profile as we want and we have set aggressive sales targets for this year.”
Mr Bridge wants to see 9,000 Vitos sold in 2008 rising to 10,000 ‘within a few years’.
One way of increasing sales is the launch in September of a new long wheelbase 3.2-tonne gross vehicle weight model (the present limit is 2.8 tonnes), which Mr Bridge believes will appeal to fleets such as the AA and RAC.
Meanwhile, making its world debut on the stand at the show was a new ecoStart Sprinter, which takes over from the old MSS stop-start system. the van automatically switches off the engine when it has been stationary for two seconds and switches it back on again with a dab of the accelerator.
The new system has a beefed up starter motor and alternator and Mercedes reckons that in tests the van has shown a 6% fuel saving over the standard diesel model.
There will also be a 4x4 Sprinter launched in the summer and eventually Mr Bridge promised a hybrid Sprinter for the UK.
He said: “It will come but we don’t know when.
It is a case of slowly does it.” Meanwhile Mr Bridge said some fleets were also showing an interest the petrol/CnG Sprinter.
Although CnG is not generally available at filling stations in the UK, the environmental benefits of using the cleaner fuel, the possibility of fuel bunkering at central fleet sites and cash savings by using the fuel have
He admitted that such vehicles would probably end up having a zero residual value as no-one would want to buy them secondhand, but this would be factored into the fleet equation.