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2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Innovation Campus

How the Third-Generation Sprinter Will be Optimized for the Future

Dec 11, 2017
It’s no secret that your author is a dyed-in-the-wool van fan, and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter could arguably be one of the most famous van nameplates worldwide. That’s why we were excited to score an invite to the 2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus in Stuttgart, Germany, Mercedes’ annual event showing the benefits of the all-new 2019 Sprinter to a specific audience: global media, top-selling dealers, and corporations that buy loads and loads of the machines.
As the first European-style van in the U.S. (in 2001 as the Freightliner Sprinter and in 2003 as the Dodge Sprinter), the Mercedes-at-its-core van ushered in a new era of tall, spacious, efficient, and stable cargo vehicles, rendering the inefficient, body-on-frame Chevrolet Express, Dodge Ram Van, and Ford E-Series mostly obsolete.
Photo 2/48   |   Mercedes Sprinter Teaser
The second-generation model built on the successes of the first, namely excellent efficiency and surprising highway stability, and although it dropped the Dodge logo in 2010 in favor of a three-pointed star, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter remains a very popular, economical choice for a variety of businesses.
Now moving into its third iteration, Mercedes-Benz promises the Sprinter will help redefine the van for a global audience, just like the first-generation machine did for the U.S. market. Due in the fourth quarter of 2018, the third-generation Sprinter will be idealized for urban environments as people move to “megacities,” cities with populations of 10 million or more. The United Nations expects there to be more than 40 megacities by 2030, as cited by Dr. Matthias Winkenbach, the director of the MIT Megacity Logistics Lab.
Photo 3/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus 2019 Mercedes Benz Sprinter Teaser Interior Detail 7
Dr. Winkenbach, the keynote speaker of the Sprinter Innovation Campus, pointed out that although the world’s 600 fastest-growing cities would only contain about a quarter of the global population in 2025, they’d provide more than half of the global GDP. In these urban environments, “last-mile” logistics, like local deliveries, shipping, and courier services, become crucial to economic development and growth. As such, Benz claims modern urban life would not be possible without vans like the Sprinter.
“In a digitized world, they are the hardware that bring products and services to the customer,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “And if life and logistics in the city are changing, our vans have to change too.”
Photo 4/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Volker Mornhinweg Seminar 01
The third-generation Sprinter, designed under the “adVANce” initiative, follows five different @vans (or “advance”) tenets.
• digital@vans ensures the new Sprinter is connected to the world around it, both through vehicle telematics and services like Bluetooth and in-cabin Wi-Fi.
• solutions@vans develops new hardware to help customers’ daily work more efficient. Improved cargo volume, new accessories, and electronic tool/parcel tracking help in this way.
• rental@vans helps Mercedes-Benz offer their vans in pay-per-use situations, giving van users a bit more flexibility beyond the traditional finance/lease options.
• sharing@vans is Benz’s way of providing new concepts in local public transport.
• eDrive@vans represents the company’s development of a comprehensive approach to electric mobility.
[Sidebar: Couldn’t Mercedes-Benz have chosen one or the other, either adVANce or @vans, as a buzzword? No? We’re the only ones who think that? Okay…]
To prove its van’s viability in a modernized, digitized, and web-connected urban future, Mercedes-Benz took us through six different Sprinter Innovation Campus labs, where we learned about the 2019 Sprinter’s versatility, digitalization and intelligence, and electrified potential, as well as explored how it would help with e-commerce, people moving, and handyman industries. Since these Sprinter labs were idealized with the global market in mind, some of the lessons we learned won’t be applied to the U.S. model just yet, as our market has its own demands.

Versatility

First, the new Sprinter’s versatility will be reportedly improved over its predecessor. Mercedes-Benz estimates that while some Sprinters are driven as little as 3,000 miles a year (think show-circuit mobile billboards or hyperlocal deliveries), others rack up 200,000 miles. And while many Sprinters get pressed into duty as delivery machines, that cargo varies between lightweight boxes of potato chips to dense, heavy safes full of diamonds or currency. As such, the Sprinter will offer a variety of features, powertrains, and sizes to meet a variety of needs.
Photo 5/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Versatility Lab 01
Most interestingly, the global-market Sprinter will be offered with a front-wheel-drive layout for the first time, although we doubt this powertrain will make it to the U.S. As we learned in the e-commerce lab that focused on local logistics and e-grocery deliveries, the front-wheel-drive Sprinter will offer a load floor that’s 80 mm (3.15 inches) lower than the rear-drive variant, reducing strain on the workman tasked with loading up the big van.
And for the first time since 2009, the U.S.-market Sprinter will be available with a gasoline engine, augmenting today’s standard diesel. Furthermore, the global Sprinter will be available in three different wheelbases, four different lengths, and three different roof heights, bringing the fight to the excellent, adaptable Ford Transit.
Specific powertrain details and vehicle dimensions are as yet unavailable, but suffice it to say, there will be more Sprinter to choose from for 2019.

Digitalization and Intelligence

Since the Sprinter’s hardware will be comprehensively rethought for 2019, it’d be very shortsighted of Mercedes-Benz to leave its software untouched. Therefore, the company told us to expect the third-generation Sprinter to offer a holistic, “Internet of things” approach to vehicle, cargo, and task management. At the forefront of that process is MercedesPRO, an onboard telematics system that allows a fleet manager to view a variety of vehicle parameters remotely, including maintenance status, vehicle location, and more.
Photo 6/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Digitalization Lab 03
Using a vehicle-mounted communication device, a Sprinter with MercedesPRO is able to relay vehicle status data to the cloud, which then sends the info to the registered owner’s preferred dealer. The dealer can then reach out to the owner with special service offers and coupons, based on the Sprinter’s scheduled or unexpected maintenance needs.
MercedesPRO also offers a mobile app, which turns the system into a dynamic routing service. In a provided example, a handyman is out performing his normal duties in a Sprinter when a call arrives at the company’s dispatch center reporting an emergency water main break. The fleet manager is able to locate the Sprinter closest to the new customer, then send job details to the vehicle operator via his mobile device’s MercedesPRO app. The driver completes the new job, then returns to his regular route. Such a service would also have applications in the hotel shuttle/limousine, emergency response, and same-day delivery industries as well.
Photo 7/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Digitalization Lab 04
The telematics system’s app also offers Digital Fleet Key, which allows fleet drivers to lock, unlock, and start their vehicles from the mobile device. In a company where drivers use different vehicles each day, Digital Fleet Key helps prevent downtime due to lost keys or accidentally taking the wrong van that day. It also allows deliveries from an authorized party to be made right to the vehicle, meaning a general contractor might be able to avoid a time-consuming trip to the hardware store since he or she could instead order parts online and have them delivered straight to the van.
One of the most interesting features of the 2019 Sprinter is Digital Cargo Space, an open-sourced app running an automotive-grade Linux operating system. Users can use Digital Cargo Space to design their own solutions, such as package tracking and tool logging. Mercedes says the telematics system is secure, easing concerns of vehicle hacking.

eSprinter

Using lessons learned from the Europe-only eVito midsize van, the third-generation Sprinter will be available as an all-electric offering. The eSprinter, as it will be known, will offer the same cargo space as a conventional Sprinter, thanks to a front-wheel-mounted electric drive unit deriving power from a massive array of batteries mounted under the floor.
Photo 8/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Esprinter Lab 08
In order to ease potential customers’ range anxiety and electric mobility concerns, Mercedes-Benz will offer certain services to determine if an entity is ready to make the switch to electric. An app will analyze customers’ driving habits over an extended period of time, giving them a look at how frequently they’d need to recharge their van. Benz will also work with customers to identify charging solutions, and in certain markets, parent company Daimler can even offer green power generation or power storage to customers to help them transition to the eSprinter.
The eSprinter is slated to arrive in Germany in 2019, with other markets following soon thereafter. Although U.S. potential for the electrified powertrain is unconfirmed, we’d be surprised if we don’t see the all-electric cargo van in our dealerships by 2021 or so, with some of those consulting services making the jump across the pond. Range of the eSprinter is unconfirmed, but Benz promises it will be similar to the eVito, which goes about 90 miles on a single charge.

Industry Features

Divided into three labs, Sprinter product experts gave us a detailed overview of how Mercedes-Benz optimized the 2019 van for different industries.
Courier, express, and parcel (CEP) services and eGrocery delivery are common outlets for the van’s city-friendly size and massive cargo space, and the 2019 Sprinter will be ideal for such deliveries thanks to new technologies. Keeping food fresh is a key concern for eGrocery services, which often retrieve produce, dairy, and frozen goods at an order fulfillment center at the beginning of the day even though they won’t be delivered until the customer gets home from work in the evening. The Sprinter, therefore, will theoretically be available with a refrigerated body with divided climate zones for shelf-stored, chilled, and frozen foods.
Photo 12/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Cep Egrocery Lab 02
Using Digital Cargo Space technology, the food can be loaded into the van in the order it will be dropped off, making sorting and delivery easier for the driver. And MercedesPRO will provide smart routing in this application as well, allowing customers to track their deliveries in real time and get updated ETAs as the van gets closer to their location. Digital Cargo Space and MercedesPRO will provide these same benefits to same-day parcel delivery services as well.
One of the Sprinter’s most common applications here in the U.S. is in the field of shuttle services and people moving. In this sector, the Sprinter’s different interior configurations are a boon, giving hotel shuttles and VIP buses a more luxurious set of interior features. Furthermore, the big van will also have improved HVAC controls and operation, keeping all occupants comfortable. There are available reclining rear seats, with USB charging in each row. And the company will also collaborate with VIA, an on-demand rideshare service in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to optimize the Sprinter for the industry.
Photo 13/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus People Mover Lab 01
Photo 14/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus People Mover Lab 04
Improved driver and passenger safety, better connectivity, and more comfortable interiors round out the updates made to the 2019 Sprinter. We had a chance to get cozy in couches made from the rear seats of a mid-level version of the new Sprinter, and they’re a significant improvement over the already comfortable current-generation model.
Finally, the crafts industry (or handyman/home repair/contractor, if you prefer) is the final highlight Benz gave us of the new Sprinter. The company estimates that in Germany, more than 90 percent of the crafts industry is comprised of small businesses employing less than 20 people, meaning their fancy new van needs to prioritize uptime and low operating expense to keep profits high for the proprietor.
Photo 15/48   |   2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus Crafts Lab 04
As such, the new Sprinter will offer more than just optimized cargo space and flexibility. Among its new features are clever storage solutions like an in-vehicle, roof-mounted cargo rack, which keeps lumber, ladders, and lengths of pipe organized within the vehicle and away from the elements (and prying eyes). There’s also a file box that can be either belted into the front seat or removed from the vehicle, giving the operator a convenient place to store receipts, invoices, service manuals, and the like. That aforementioned in-vehicle delivery system, enabled by MercedesPRO, is another benefit to small business, maximizing productivity and reducing wasted time.

U.S. Market

In a private roundtable discussion with Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, we were able to chat about the future of the Sprinter in the U.S. market.
As the first European-style van in North America, the Sprinter nameplate carries a good deal of positive recognition on our shores. “The U.S. is a stable Sprinter market,” said Mornhinweg. As such, the new Sprinter will follow much of the same recipe as the model it replaces, with a two different wheelbases, three roof heights, and a variety of payload packages. Furthermore, Mornhinweg told us to plan on seeing the rear- and all-wheel-drive variants of the Sprinter make a return, as will a diesel engine, likely a version of the current van’s 3.0L turbodiesel V-6. Mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and possibly kitted out with automatic engine stop/start, expect the new Sprinter’s diesel engine to return up to 30 mpg.
As mentioned above, however, the 2019 Sprinter will offer an available gasoline engine of an undisclosed displacement and configuration. The gas engine will likely be a base offering intended to lower the cost of entry into the new Sprinter, helping it compete more effectively against the bargain-priced Ram ProMaster and Ford Transit, both of which offer gasoline engines. The second-generation Sprinter was available with a 3.5L gasoline V-6 for 2007 and 2008, but that Mercedes engine’s relative lack of torque suffered against the Sprinter’s prodigious gross vehicle weight rating, and its fuel economy wasn’t as impressive as the diesel. The new gasoline engine should solve those woes, as it will likely be turbocharged for better low-end torque and downsized for improved fuel economy.
The new Sprinter will also mark the debut of MercedesPRO in the U.S. The comprehensive telematics system will go toe to toe with aftermarket solutions, such as Telogis, but Mercedes-Benz promises it will be more comprehensive and easier to use than post-purchase systems. Furthermore, companies that currently own the Sprinter and Metris may be able to retrofit their vehicles with MercedesPRO, making fleet management a one-step process for companies loyal to the three-pointed star.

Now What?

Mercedes hasn’t confirmed exactly when the Sprinter will be launched on our shores, but we expect it by the end of 2018, at least in rear-wheel-drive format. And if our experience at the 2017 Sprinter Innovation Campus is anything to go by, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter will be a winner. This van fanatic can’t wait.

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