February 18, 2020

Mercedes unveils lightweight Sprinter bodies

Mercedes-Benz Vans UK is to offer customers an ultra-lightweight body for the Sprinter van range. It will be available in dry freight and refrigerated transport models, with a launch early this year.

The bodies offer up to 40% more payload than a conventional steel and fibreglass body, with a similar load volume. This will result in reduced fuel consumption, lower CO2 emissions and increased productivity.

“We’ve been a player in the e-grocery home delivery market for 20 years,” said Mercedes-Benz Vans UK’s sales director, Simon Neill.

“We’ve been trying to deliver as much payload as possible, as these customers are always payload compromised. However, we have always focused on the van or the chassis, never on the second stage of the process, the bodies. We will be having a lightweight solution for dry freight and fridge/freezer use in 2020 through the Ready-To-Work offer.”

Mercedes has been working as part of Project FLAVA (Flexible Lightweight Architectures for Vehicle Applications) with Midlands engineering specialist Penso, the Advanced Propulsion Centre and Innovate UK. The project also includes materials specialist Solvay, which has contributed to the development of composite structural materials for a range of automotive applications.

Penso and Mercedes have worked together previously, with the Midlands firm helping to develop the Mercedes London taxi. Now the company has produced a carbon fibre-based composite material, incorporating recycled plastic bottles, that doesn’t require an expensive autoclave to set. The sheet material is said to be incredibly strong and highly insulating, making it suitable for multi-temperature delivery bodies.

Penso has also worked on the aerodynamics of the body, creating a structure that follows the contours of the Sprinter cab, rather than simply being a rounded off box. It is said to retain, or increase, the required overall load volume though.

Test vehicles have been working with several potential customers in real-life delivery operations, to assess their design and suitability for the job. Mounted on a front-wheel drive 3.5-tonne Sprinter chassis, the body is said to offer up to 47% more payload in a triple compartment e-grocery layout. The customer would be able to carry 1,250kg of goods, around 300-440kg more than a conventional delivery body.

The body is also said to offer fuel savings of up to 30% over a full duty cycle, leading to predictions that the lightweight body could contribute to a CO2 reduction of up to 25-tonnes over a five-year ownership period.

Penso has built a production facility in Coventry that will produce a range of up to 30 lightweight body types, to suit dry freight, single, double, triple and quadruple temperature-controlled e-grocery bodies, high-roof and Luton bodies. The bodies will initially be designed for Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and offered through the company’s Ready-To-Work pre-bodied programme. They utilise Mercedes door handles and locks, to allow the vehicle’s central locking system to function.

Mercedes-Benz Vans has also been working with a range of e-fridge suppliers, to provide the temperature-controlled vans with a cooling solution that is compatible with Sprinter’s standard Start/Stop system.

The lightweight bodies will carry a premium over a conventional Ready-To-Work conversion. However, with a standard 10-year warranty on the body, allowing movement to a new chassis, Mercedes-Benz Finance can provide separate funding for the body if required. The company has also ensured that the bodies can be easily and cost-effectively repaired if necessary, with interchangeable panels.