Sunday, 21 September 2014

And Daimler’s Vito makes it three

An interesting situation will materialise when three Renault-powered vans line up in Europe’s marketplace.

Renault’s 1.6-litre diesel already powers both the Renault Trafic and the Opel/Vauxhall Vivaro in front-wheel drive configuration.

They are joined now by the Mercedes-Benz Vito, which will also be available with a 1.6-litre Renault engine.

It will be recalled that Daimler AG and Renault are ‘old buddies’ – they have a partnership thta first became evident in the French-built Citan, but later was offered with a three-pointed star, but still built in France.

And so it is that lighter versions of the new Mercedes-Benz Vito will carry a 1.6-litre Renault engine while the vehicle itself no doubt bears the fruits of two minds (French and German) being applied to the engineering. Renault knows how to make a van lighter and this is technology the German company can well use.

But which of the three vans, Trafic, Vito or Vivaro, has the least hours/van (hpv) accumulated on the production floor? That is closely held information as it relates to cost per van.

As reported here earlier this year, Vito vans are built in Daimler’s Spanish plant at Vitoria, but the company claims Vito is now the first vehicle in its class to be available with a choice of rear-wheel drive (RWD), all-wheel drive (AWD) and front-wheel drive (RWD).

According to Daimler, the front-wheel drive (FWD) version is “very light”, and when the vehicle is unladen or carrying only a low load, “it offers better traction”.

Daimler adds that proven rear-wheel drive (RWD) is “the right solution” for all applications involving heavy weights, high towing capacities and exceptional driving dynamics.

Which is just as well that it has not ditched RWD altogether. For in 2003 Mercedes-Benz made a volte-farce as its engineers changed the driveline configuration of their 1996-launched Vito from FWD drive to RWD, using the pretext (no doubt heavily influenced by cost-benefit minded purchasing and financial staff) that the company could transfer across technology, parts and know-how built up over the years with its C-Class passenger cars and estate cars.

That rear-wheel drive vans had a 200mm higher load platform that appeared not to offer such an imposing penalty as to cause heartaches from lost sales amongst forecourt salesmen.

Now, the company has added all-wheel drive (AWD) to the mix claiming it is the answer to the need for “maximum traction”. So Mercedes-Benz salesmen have all three options in their armoury when dealing with wavering customers.

Available for the new Vito with front-wheel drive is the “horizontally installed” compact four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine in two output categories: 65 kW (88bhp) and 84 kW (114bhp).

In RWD Vitos, familiar Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder diesel engines of 2.15-litre displacement come with three output levels: 100kW (136bhp), 120kW (163bhp) and, at the top end in the Vito 119 BlueTec (a kind of BlueMotion Vito), a useful 140kW (190bhp).

As the first Mercedes Euro 6 engine in this class, the BlueTec engine “assumes a special role” and is also the driving force of the Vito 4x4.

For power transmission, engineers have selected a six-speed manual transmission boosted by the luxury of the 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission. Daimler is keen to make the point that this is the only automatic transmission with torque converter offering seven ratios for vans. But double-clutch (DSG) transmissions have also found their niche (and followers) in the van market.

Meanwhile, sales staff – and their chiefs within Renault and Opel/Vauxhall will watch with more than passing interest to see the full extent of Vito’s penetration into their market. Renault executives might be less concerned – the other two OEMs are still selling Renault-powered vans. Which can’t be bad for Renault’s engine plant, if nothing else.

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