If you've ever visited Germany, you know that Mercedes-Benz doesn't exactly carry the high-end cache in its homeland that it does in the US. While the Three-Pointed Star is still certainly known for its luxury sedans and sports cars, the brand also represents most of the taxis on the road, and its Sprinter vans make many of the deliveries. The upscale image in North America might be beneficial when trying to lure new buyers to a CLA-Class, but Merc is seeing pushback from some commercial buyers who think its vans are too ostentatious for them.

Mercedes USA has created a dedicated van unit, and one of the group's first tasks is to fight this belief. It has already begun targeted, web-based ads advertising the truck's monthly payments to show potential customers they can afford it. "We want to align perceptions with realities," said Christian Bokich, Mercedes USA Product and Technology Manager. A standard Sprinter in the US starts at $35,920 with a 144-inch wheelbase and standard roof, and the largest models provide the most cargo space among competitors.

The company also has another way to sell the Sprinter – Freightliner ; these models are identical other than the grille. According to Automotive News, that brand sees most of the van's large fleet orders.

Despite some customers being turned off by a commercial Mercedes, Sprinter sales are growing. According to AN, the van's sales were up 25 percent in March to 1,915 units, and February was up 18 percent. For 2014, the US model receives a new standard powertrain that pairs a 2.1-liter four-cylinder BlueTEC diesel, making 161 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, with a seven-speed automatic, and an all-wheel drive version is on the way. Mercedes is out to prove to the US that it is as good at vans as it is with plush sedans.


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  • 62 Comments
      King of Eldorado
      • 9 Months Ago
      Sorry to be picky, Autoblog, but this has been bugging me for awhile: The word you were looking for in the first line is cachet, not cache. Carry on....
      Winnie Jenkems
      • 9 Months Ago
      I don't think the problem is brand perception (an "ostentatious" commercial van? just because of the star in the grille? come on.) I have driven Sprinters and they are very good. But despite being bigger and better than its competitors, they are significantly more expensive. And when something breaks, how much is it going to cost to fix compared to a domestic brand? Maintenance & repair costs. That's the problem.
      superchan7
      • 9 Months Ago
      As ambulances, delivery vans, etc. become Sprinters, I wonder how the market perception changes. Got to get down on the streets and ask people. If that Benzo star is too big, the Freightliner brand is the solution. American commercial vans have some stiff competition from Sprinters and now the FWD Fiat Ducato / RAM ProMaster.
      Fred Crow
      • 9 Months Ago
      In my way of thinking everything is or should be based on frequency of repair records. Lately MB has taken a nosedive in this category. I would drive a Lexus all day long before a Mercedes based on some of the latest records of leaving your vehicle in the hands of a mechanic on a regular basis. While some models are exquisite, others are greatly in need of improvement. Lexus has a great record from bottom to top and since I don't relish the idea of dropping off vehicles in need of repair, even if they are under warrantee, I would definitely go with a better track record.
        brad
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Fred Crow
        You're...comparing a Lexus...to a Sprinter? Please, continue.
      Hazdaz
      • 9 Months Ago
      So are parts for the Sprinter as obscenely priced as regular Mercedes car parts are?? Mercedes also has to remember that their dealership network as just as important (sometimes more so) than the product itself. This is especially so in the business world where a company needs to have their van serviced and have a low cost of ownership, and can't be bothered with traveling an hour or three to the closest M-B dealership which probably more specializes in E and C class cars than commercial vehicles. To a company that needs to get some work done, a shiny 3-pointed star on the hood means squat if it costs more to run their fleet or if the local dealership doesn't have the parts they need to get the work done. I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the reasons why their partner, Freightliner, has higher sales even though they are the same vehicle. They are setup to service the commercial customer since that is all they do, while maybe see the M-B branded vehicle as just a side-business for Mercedes.
        brad
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Hazdaz
        MB doesn't partner with Freightliner- it owns them outright. Parts can be pretty expensive - especially anything connected to the PR-based BlueTec emmissions system. Doesn't really help anything but DOE press briefings. On the other hand, service intervals are pretty widely spaced. Can't think of a late-model commercial vehicle with less expensive parts, though. Can you? If you're suggesting Mercedes isn't aware of the role dealership service departments play in sales, think it through a bit more. Not every Mercedes Dealer has Sprinter maintenance certs and equipment, and neither do many Freightliner service departments (as I discovered in a giant Freightliner center in El Paso at midnight once.) Where there are capable service departments, sales are brisk. It is, as you point out, the limiting factor. My opinion? If you aren't prepared to learn and act on basic maintenance needs, you're making a mistake buying one of these machines. Many fleet managers handle most maintenance in-house. Interestingly, I can't find any source at all for dividing out MB branded Sprinters from FL Sprinters, just the factlet from the article that most *fleet* sales are FL. My new rig will probably be an FL, just because I can get a faster, slightly lower priced buildout from PDX FL powerhouse McCoy Freightliner. I'll badge it MB, of course - I'm just as shallow as the next guy (if not more.)
      D E S I G N
      • 9 Months Ago
      so the headline says it's hurting sprinter sales, and then in the article it states that sales are growing. Excellent reporting.
      Oscar
      • 9 Months Ago
      @compassstl: I've owned a Sprinter for over two years now, live in the Midwest and it's still rust free. We have a big family (8 kids now), so we needed a full size van. I test drove everything that was available at - frankly - there was no comparison between what was available from Ford, GM, Nissan and the Sprinter. The Sprinter was so much more comfortable for my family, safer, better to drive, better equipped and the mileage was so much better that we chose the Sprinter. The Sprinter only had three drawbacks for us. 1. It's more expensive (but you get what you pay for) 2. Maintenance is more expensive 3. Towing capacity tops out at 5,000 lb Despite that, it stood head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe if the Ford Transit had been around two years ago, we would've considered that, but driving an E-series and a Sprinter back-to-back was a revelation. http://snowgoosechronicles.blogspot.com/2012/03/farewell-odyssey-hello-sprinter.html#.U0sTqPldX-s
      kentinoc
      • 9 Months Ago
      What King of Eldorado said. Cachet (pronounced “ka-SHAY”): the state of being respected or admired; prestige. Cache (pronounced “CASH”): a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place, or in computing, a temporary storage area. It’s “cachet” that you want. :-) Good article, though—it’s amazing how many people can be tripped up by the three-pointed star on the grille and think the price is higher than it actually is. Were sales any better for Sprinters when they had a Dodge badge, I wonder?
      FuelToTheFire
      • 9 Months Ago
      I don't have much time now to make a comment, so let me just say this. They would sell a LOT more Sprinters if they equipped them with a 6.2 V8 rather than the puny 4 cylinder diesels they have. Americans want vans which AREN'T rolling roadblocks.
        john96xlt
        • 9 Months Ago
        @FuelToTheFire
        You don't have enough time to make a complete and total @$$ out of yourself, as you always do? I find that hard to believe.
        rstonnerdd
        • 9 Months Ago
        @FuelToTheFire
        Commercial owners buy these vehicles to haul cargo, not haul a$$.
        Chris O.
        • 9 Months Ago
        @FuelToTheFire
        Yep, that's what the market is asking for... an AMG Sprinter. I know tradespeople and service providers that are squarely in the panel van demographic. Entry price, operational cost (including fuel), and maintenance schedule/cost are the primary factors.... not V8 power. 265 tq should be more than enough for anything below class 3 duty, especially in a city.
        Quen47
        • 9 Months Ago
        @FuelToTheFire
        Don't you mean a 9.0 V16? Let's see if we can make it go from 0-60 in 3 seconds and get 7mpg. That's what small business owners are looking for.
      RGT881
      • 9 Months Ago
      To me it's troubling that so many Americans are clueless about Mercedes as a brand because they have never been to Germany. Yes, guess what, there are MB taxis, trucks, commercial vans and so forth. It's not an ostentatious brand unless you choose to look at it as such. Essentially this boils down to educating Americans and of course it is a challenge.
        Jack
        • 9 Months Ago
        @RGT881
        Okay, now when will Europeans learn to not be so snooty and stubborn when looking at American cars as "yank tanks" with cheap interiors, poor handling, and engines from the stone age? America automakers have made dramatic improvements over that last 10 years, but too many Europeans still turn up their noses at our cars.
          l5kream
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Jack
          4-5 years tops? How much experience do you have with driving these vehicles? Even many American cars made in the mid 2000's were miles better than cars made a decade before. Go compare the 11th gen F150 to the 10th or 9th generation F150. These trucks are like night and day. You said Cobalt, but even the crappy Cobalt was better than the Cavalier. You don't remember just how bad America cars were in the 70's to the 90's. Don't turn your nose up, you need to be giving credit where credit is due.
          Carlos Cruz
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Jack
          "cheap interiors, poor handling, and engines from the stone age" Last 10 years? More like 4-5 tops. Also, this only applies to a limited range of vehicles. Furthermore, changing brand perception takes years. It will take decades to erase the bad aftertaste of something like a driving a Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber (or any average American car really). I'm an American and I turn up my nose at our cars, unfortunately.
          Carlos Cruz
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Jack
          I've driven plenty of cars from the big 3 from the 2000's, enough to know that they only began to improve once the saw themselves at the edge of death in 2008. Furthermore the models that received upgrades right away were those that were designed by the European arms of said dealerships. The large SUVs and pick up trucks are only now receiving upgrades. My boss' 2012 F-150 Harley-Davidson edition has what must be the worst fit and finish of any $50k+ car EVER! A coworker's 2013 Chevy Silverado isn't much better (but at least it wasn't nearly as expensive). Another co-worker's 2005 GMC Yukon Deanli makes me wonder how anyone paid so much for so little. And a personal friend's 2010 Jeep Compass made me want to puke, especially considering I had to sit in it for 14 hours on a political trip to DC. yuck. This is just the ones I've had tons of contact with, it doesn't count the 2010 Chevy Cobalt rental I drove for a week (I almost quit driving that week), or the 2008 Dodge Magnum my parents rented for a vacation, or the many other American cars that I've test driven.
        Chris O.
        • 9 Months Ago
        @RGT881
        @RTG881: RTG881, it's troubling to me how clueless you are about Mercedes' marketing efforts in the US because you have apparently never seen any of their print or TV ads. Yes, guess what, MB (as well as BMW & Audi) position themselves as a manufacturer LUXURY cars, crossovers, and so forth. Essentially it boils down to a deliberate effort to focus on selling vehicles with a higher profit margin, rather than doing it on volume (as they have chosen to do in other markets). Essentially, this boils down to educating you, and of course, that is a challenge.
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @RGT881
        Go look up the price list for Mercedes Benz in Germany. Why do you think that Mercedes are used as Taxis in Germany and other countries? Mercedes has a strong global reputation for its vehicles, which why you see them all over the globe and a mainstay for diplomatic missions in all the globes major Capital cities. Are they ostentatious, that's not what MB built their rep on; are they cheap - anywhere - NO ;-) http://www.mercedes-benz.de/content/germany/mpc/mpc_germany_website/de/home_mpc/passengercars.html
        Mudotaku
        • 9 Months Ago
        @RGT881
        It is about marketing. They sell models and configurations in Europe that they would never sell here. For Example, they sell the Class A and B, which cost between 20% and 25% less than a CLA. They also used to offer cars with weaker engines and with no luxury amenities like cloth seats instead f leather and even manual windows instead of electric ones !!!
      Bernard
      • 9 Months Ago
      > "We want to align perceptions with realities," said Christian Bokich Oh Mr. Bokich, I don't think you want that. If American's had a grip on Mercedes's reality, you're brand wouldn't be doing so well over hear. As long as MB perception and stays far enough away from reality you will be able to sell your CLA as luxury car, and you'll be able to get 6 figures just for putting 8 cylinders under the hood (of the other cars). Once that perception catches up, the gravy train is over.
        Quest
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        BS! Try again.
        superchan7
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        I think it's not that bad. The Americans who think "Masaydeez are for rich people" are usually not MB customers. Those who can afford an S-class are more likely to appreciate that the brand doesn't literally stand for rich people, but it does represent a high standard in automotive engineering, regardless of the end user.
      jz78817
      • 9 Months Ago
      Maybe what also hurts Sprinter sales is that they run $6-8k more than the equivalent model from the competition. Plus it would help if the damn things weren't made from compressed rust. Where I live, any light-colored Sprinter more than a few years old has ruddy brown streaks down the sides.
        NightFlight
        • 9 Months Ago
        @jz78817
        We've got one of the first Freightliner Sprinters that ever came here and has over 900K on it at this point, and it has no signs of rust. Our company does take great care of it though....
        Jim R
        • 9 Months Ago
        @jz78817
        I've noticed this as well. Any Sprinter more than 3-4 years old is rusty as hell. It seems to mostly sprout around the door handles and hinges, and along the track for the sliding door. Have they not heard of rustproofing?
        brad
        • 9 Months Ago
        @jz78817
        What $6-$8K lower equivalent model do you mean? If it's the Dodge Promaster (Fiat DuCato) or Nissan NV, please check prices, towing capability and payload when claiming equivalency. Can't speak for the Nissan, but the Fiat loses the maintenance cost battle in a decade of European experience. The Nissan's a good rig, but it's a pickup truck with a van body. If that payload/towing package works, great. I'm seeing comparable prices, though. The rust issue? It's a thing. Pretty well documented in the old TIN-1 Sprinters. Improved since 2006. Still, some individual units of the white NCV3 (2006-on) models seem to suffer a lack of finish durability. All of mine have been metallic silver, and no problems. I hang mostly in SWFL (winter) and the Pacific Northwest (summer.) I've got no experience with the industrial Midwest and Northwest, but there are threads devoted to this on sprinter-source.com/forum
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