Mercedes-Benz has responded to offerings by Fiat and Ford in the US van market with the launch of its Metris, the US-version of the Vito.
Initially the gasoline-only powered van will be imported from Germany but if volumes increase it is conceivable the company could manufacture it locally.
Although Mercedes-Benz executives have declared the new $500 million facility in Charleston, South Carolina, will build only Sprinter vans, if market pressure is great then another line could be added in an extension. Sprinter is now assembled from CKD parts.
In the meantime, Mercedes-Benz could introduce another van product, the Citan, to North America. By that time, Metris could have shifted to local CKD assembly - a step that Citan could take in the US to make Charleston a dedicated all-van assembly plant.
Mercedes-Benz Vans USA launched the Metris midsize van version of the latest Vito, at the Work Truck Show earlier this month.
Beginning in September, Metris will be available in various panel van (cargo) and Tourer (passenger) versions.
It will be the second Mercedes-Benz van on the US market after Sprinter. However, the market for Euro-style vans is developing fast that, as mentioned, the German vehicle builder’s executives may elect to introduce Citan (which it takes from Renault in France) to the US.
“It’s only logical that we employ a global approach and expand our successful Mercedes-Benz Vans product range to the US,” said Bernie Glaser, vice president and managing director of Daimler Vans USA who added ominously that “we (i.e. Mercedes-Benz) are here to stay”.
The Metris is therefore an important new component of the “Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global” growth strategy. Other ”components” will be added later in the “here to stay” strategy.
In addition to exploiting new growth potential outside of the core European markets, this strategy aims to expand existing activities and further extend the division’s technology leadership.
Mercedes-Benz executives declare the new model as being designed for city use, yet as a midsize commercial van “it will develop a market segment of its own”.
They claim that Metris has been “especially adapted” to the North American market. As a midsize commercial van, it is larger than other vans offered in the segment below the Sprinter on the US market. As a result, it defines a new vehicle class for the North America, according to the company. But at the moment it is being offered in only one wheelbase.
Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz offers only the 1.9-litre, four-cylinder M274 turbocharged gasoline engine which it says is “especially designed” for the North American market.
North Americans seemingly have yet to fall completely in love with the diesel, hence the company’s decision to go it alone with a gasoline powertrain backed up to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Executives clearly see no call at this stage for a diesel engine that small, though it could come later.
The 1.9-litre unit develops 155kW (211bhp) and offers a maximum torque of 350 Nm.
By adopting Vito’s European standards, the company says that Metris will set a new safety benchmark for the US market. As the only van in its class, even the basic version of the Metris panel van carries airbags and seatbelt warning for both driver and front passenger.
Boasting up to eight airbags for driver and passengers, the Metris Tourer is regarded by the company as the new benchmark in this aspect.
Standard equipment in the Metris also includes tyre pressure monitoring and Attention Assist. Also unique for a midsize van, Metris comes with Crosswind Assist as standard. Mercedes-Benz claims this “almost completely” offsets effects of strong side winds. The Metris can be further customized with other options.
From a marketing perspective, Metris will be sold only as a Mercedes-Benz branded product, yet will be offered through the 219 Mercedes-Benz Vans USA dealerships that exist in north America.
Sprinter, when launched had a front-wheel drive configuration; engineers later changed this to rear-wheel drive.
In 2001 when Vito first appeared in North America, Daimler-Chrysler branded it a Freightliner and Dodge product. This dual branding ceased in 2009 with change of ownership; Dodge was dropped, allowing the Sprinter to be sold only as a Freightliner product.
Executives are expecting sales of Metris to be split equally between cargo and passenger-carrying vehicles, the latter being taken up in shuttle-bus and taxi operations. Cargo vans have a payload of 2,502lb.
Mercedes' decision not to offer a diesel engine in the Metris could be partly because the same van sold in Europe - badged Vito - has a 1.6 litre diesel outsourced from Renault. Its availability Stateside would necessitate currently unjustifiable investment in dealer parts and service support. However, that decision could change if and when the Citan is launched, which uses the same French diesel engine.
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