The last time Mercedes-Benz rolled out an all-new Sprinter, George W. Bush was in the White House and Saddam Hussein was still alive. The space shuttle was flying, a diesel had just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time, and a solvent General Motors was churning out Pontiacs, Saturns, and Hummers. In other words, the arrival of a new Sprinter is hardly what you might call a common event. It has only ever happened twice before: in 1995 and 2006. But after almost 12 years with the current model, Mercedes is gearing up to introduce the next one.
We’re still a couple of months away from seeing the finished product unveiled in February. But in preparation for the big reveal, the automaker staged an event in its hometown of Stuttgart, Germany, to give us an advance look at some of the innovations it’s integrating into its forthcoming new workhorse.
A plethora of configurations is the hallmark of full-size vans, but with the next-generation Sprinter, Mercedes is taking things even further. Not only will customers be able to choose among the usual array of body styles, wheelbases, roof heights, and powertrains, but there are also specific levels of interior equipment, dashboard configurations, storage options, and more. All told, the new Sprinter will offer more than 1000 configurations to help buyers get exactly the van they need—nothing more, nothing less.
Among those options will be the availability for the first time of a battery-powered printer, sharing its electric powertrain with the smaller eVito (based on the model sold here as the Metris) just introduced in Europe. We’ve yet to receive details on prospective availability in the United States, but Mercedes-Benz Van’s chief Volker Mornhinweg told Car and Driver that the editor will likely arrive in North America (as the eMetris) before the printer.
Mercedes isn’t content, however, simply to sell electric vans and let its customers and operators sort out how to manage them. It’s also offering services to set up charging infrastructure, optimize charging times to minimize grid load, finance the entire investment, and help fleet operators determine whether the switch from internal combustion to battery power will be worthwhile for their specific applications.
With the integration of Mercedes Pro Connect, fleets of new Sprinters promise to be easier and more efficient to manage. Pro Connect, the business counterpart to the consumer-oriented Mercedes Me Connect suite, allows fleet managers and dispatchers to communicate with the drivers they supervise, track the locations of their vehicles, restrict their movement within geofenced boundaries, remotely monitor parameters such as fuel levels and service status, log and categorize trips, and monitor the cargo on board. The system was rolled out as a retrofit for existing Sprinters this past September but is being fully integrated into the new model.
Beyond developing the vehicle itself, Mercedes has been innovating solutions specific to the various ways in which its vans are used. Tradesmen and service technicians, for example, will be able to receive deliveries straight into their vans instead of driving around town picking up and dropping off equipment and supplies. Couriers will be able to deliver packages more efficiently thanks to integrated logistics chains. Supermarkets will (at some future point) be able to deliver food at exactly the right storage temperatures. Passengers will appreciate more comfortable reclining seats, deployable cupholders, smartphone cradles, USB chargers, and onboard WiFi. And in the future, parents will be able to receive notifications when their kids get on and off the Sprinter-based school bus. All the while, the new Sprinter promises to put less strain on drivers thanks to lower load floors, better ergonomics, and the availability of modern infotainment features.
As ridesharing becomes more commonplace, Mercedes is partnering with Via to deploy the new Sprinter as the backbone of on-demand shuttle services in the United States and overseas. Mercedes-Benz Vans and Daimler Mobility Services recently invested $50 million in a joint venture with Via, leveraging the New York-based ride-sharing startup’s algorithm, which has already enabled more than 20 million rides at a rate of more than a million served each month—providing convenience for passengers while reducing congestion on city streets. In the future, smart Sprinters will use seat sensors to track vacancies, deploy weather sensors to predict usage patterns, and project displays on the interior windows to show passengers points of interest and route information in real time.
In short, the new Sprinter promises to represent not just an improvement on the current model but an altogether more useful tool as Daimler aims to shift from simply manufacturing vehicles to providing comprehensive transport and mobility solutions.