Will this be the next big step for full-size vans?

Mercedes-Benz is preparing the next generation of Sprinter van, but with a twist: it will have the option of a fully electric drivetrain. The automaker says this will make the Sprinter more competitive, along with having the distinction of being able to operate in congested city centers while emitting zero emissions.

The report comes from Ulf Zillig, the head of the Sprinter’s replacement project, who spoke to The Detroit Bureau, saying the new Sprinter is due in the 2018 calendar year. Zillig also revealed the upcoming van will share similar dimensions with the current Sprinter, but will have several improvements aimed at making it easier to drive, including a possible autonomous driving system.

Zillig said Mercedes is working with several upfitter companies to meet requirements for their aftermarket equipment. This will likely make it easier for upfitters to build work bodies, interior shelving, and even full box truck systems, allowing the end customer to have a better-designed product.

There is only one caveat, however. Zillig said the Sprinter would only have an electric drivetrain “if the market supports it.” This means Mercedes is sill on the fence and will conduct further research before investing more cash into R&D. Nevertheless, the overall design of the upcoming Sprinter will support an electric drivetrain and its various components.

The full-size Euro van sells in nearly ever market across the world, even becoming a popular option in the United State. In fact, Ford and Ram have adopted Mercedes’ strategy by adapting its Euro-spec Transit and ProMaster vans for American use.

Mercedes is arming itself against the new competition with the addition of an assembly plant dedicated to van production located in Charleston, South Carolina. The new facility should be online before the decade’s end, just as the new Sprinter is scheduled to arrive on U.S. shores.

Of course, Mercedes didn’t spill any official information regarding the specifications or capabilities of the Sprinter’s electric drivetrain. We’ll likely have to wait till closer to 2018 before that information becomes available.

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Why It Matters

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is an immensely popular product among the fleet and commercial segments around the world. It offers a huge range of wheelbases and roof heights, along with various powertrain options. The addition of an all-electric powertrain would certainly be a welcomed addition. That’s especially truce since several crowded, downtown European cities are restricting vehicle use to electric car operation only.

Thankfully for the Sprinter design team, they have access to Mercedes’ full breath of parts and systems, making it easier to piece together an electric drivetrain and integrate high-tech driver aids into the Sprinter. It’ll be interesting to see what Mercedes pulls off. Expect to see this new van debut in the U.S. market for the 2019 or 2020 model year.

Source: The Detroit Bureau

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