- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

A full-sized Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van will go on sale at 90 Dodge dealers next year, but will not wear the famous MB star. The van will badged as Freightliner and dealers have been warned they won't be allowed to sell the new van on price.
"There will be no deal of the month with Sprinter," said Tim Reuss, CEO of DaimlerChrysler Vans LLC, the South Carolina marketing company set up in June.
"We will have to teach them how to sell Sprinter on its attributes and quality."
The Sprinter, according to DaimlerChrysler, will have a base sticker price of $26,300. This is about 10 percent higher than the competition and is similar to the premium pricing of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. DaimlerChrysler is expected to begin looking for a North American plant to build commercial and passenger versions. Chrysler has excess capacity but it may be more efficient to build from start than refurbish an aging Chrysler group factory. The search for the new site will begin in January.
Mercedes' van strategy is complex with both Freightliner and Dodge dealers in the 2004 model year after a major redesign. The Vito is built on the same platform as the Sprinter but has a more upscale shape and the luxurious trim and equipment of a traditional MB car.
The vehicles will wear "Powered by Mercedes-Benz" badges and have a high-technology diesel engine used in Mercedes cars sold in Europe. This will allow shoppers to buy advanced Mercedes diesel engines at Dodge dealerships.
The two models will fill a void in the Dodge lineup. Dodge's aging full-sized 3500 Ram Van is being phased out at the end of the 2002 model year because of falling sales.
Ford Motor Company's Econoline and Club Wagon are segment leaders holding 45.5 percent of market for the first 11 months of 2001.
DaimlerChrysler believes Sprinter product attributes, such as Mercedes-Benz engineering and safety, an independent front suspension, a five-speed electronically controlled transmission plus a five-cylinder 2.7-liter common-rail diesel engine that provides superior fuel economy over the competition's gasoline engines will draw buyers into Dodge dealerships.
Three different wheelbases and two heights will be offered Sprinter buyers.
Sprinter is currently built in Germany and reassembled from kits in Gaffney, S.C. The existing plant can't assemble more than 20,000 units annually.
The Sprinter debuted in the United States this year with the Freightliner badge. FedEx was first to buy with 1,900 models purchased.
Mr. Reuss said the decision to rebadge the Sprinter came after extensive research in which potential customers said they didn't want their commercial vehicles wearing the Mercedes-Benz name.
"Florists and cargo carriers said if their customers saw them driving Mercedes-Benz vehicles, they'd wonder if they were paying too much for their services.
"Mercedes-Benz is regarded as more of a luxury brand in the U.S. than it is in Europe, where taxis and even big trucks have the name," he said.
N. AMERICAN AUTO WRITERS SYNDICATE

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