Mercedes-Benz Vans is set to rapidly increase sales of its electric LCV models this year. Andrew Lawson and James Riddington talk through the plan with Dan Gilkes.
“Our aspiration is for 10% of our sales this year to be EVs,” said Andrew Lawson (below), sales director at Mercedes-Benz Vans. “Overall, we aim to sell 36,000 vehicles in 2021, including more than 3,500 EVs. Three-quarters of that number will be eSprinter and one quarter e-Vito.”
Lawson certainly jumped into the deep end when he arrived back in the UK in the middle of 2020, after four years with the manufacturer in the USA. Yet, amid lockdowns and a market that was being turned on its head, Mercedes and its dealers remained on call for customers, ensuring that the UK’s delivery and logistics businesses kept moving.
Indeed, though the overall van market fell by more than 20% last year, Sprinter was the best-selling vehicle of any kind in April, even outselling the passenger car sector.
“2020 was a successful year for us as a van division, we over-achieved across the board, in sales and aftersales,” said Lawson.
“We remained open to serve our customers, particularly in home delivery and the emergency services. It brought us closer together as a team.”
Despite the traditional dominance of Sprinter in the fleet market, Mercedes also saw a broadening of its appeal among buyers, with growth in retail and SME sectors, alongside fleet. That said, while Sprinter sales remained strong, the firm’s other models were less popular, while the X-Class pick-up was dropped from the UK line-up completely.
“We did see a decline in Vito, but that was driven by a fall in the passenger carrying versions,” said Lawson.
There will be a new Citan unveiled later this year, for a launch in 2022 and this time around Mercedes will get an EV version of the compact model, which of course owes much to Renault’s Kangoo. An eCitan will make a strong contribution to the company’s EV plans.
Indeed, the firm is expecting growth across all of its electric vans. The eVito started series production in 2020 and has already been upgraded, along with the regular Vito, with improved technology and specifications on offer. Mercedes will launch a longer range eVito later this year, though it won’t use the current battery pack from the eVito Tourer people-carrier.
Range has been a talking point for potential eSprinter customers as well, though the company has had little trouble filling early build slots to satisfy last-mile delivery buyers. However, Lawson recognises that there is demand for longer range and also for alternative body types, in particular chassis cabs.
The current eSprinter is limited to a 3.5-tonne gross weight by its front-wheel drive layout, which results in a payload of below a tonne. By 2023, there will be a rear-wheel drive option coming, offering increased carrying capacity and a driving range of well over 200 miles.
“E-grocery is the biggest chassis cab market. We are aiming at 2023 with a higher mileage range and by 2023 we will also see a selection of electric-powered fridges,” said James Riddington, connectivity and electric vehicle manager.
“We had a lot of success in construction and utilities as well last year,” said Lawson “We have identified specific customer industry sectors, such as construction and utilities, e-grocery and parcel delivery and focussed on those sectors. We will further enhance our Ready To Work programme to meet the needs of these customers.”
This expansion of the pre-built model range could include pharma vans and temperature-controlled vehicles.
But the real growth, not just for Mercedes-Benz, has to come from electric vans, as the Government pushes towards the end of petrol and diesel sales by 2030. Mercedes believes that this target can be met, but that manufacturers will have to invest further. Customer demand will also change rapidly going forwards.
The company has looked at a variety of models for supplying electric vans, ranging from traditional long-term purchase and leasing to more innovative deals. This has included what the firm calls 2+2+2, where an early adopting customer leases the van for the first two years, but then wants to move to the latest technology. The van is then leased by a second customer, also keen to adopt EVs, but perhaps without the budget of the early adopter. After another two years a third customer, who needs a lower cost EV to access inner-city areas, takes the vehicle on another contract. As the vans have an eight-year battery warranty, this could be extended further.
However, with the backing of in-house finance, the company is now even offering one-year deals, for those customers keen to try an EV but not yet sure if the vans will work in their operation.
“We believe the life cycle will shorten, to allow the customer to keep up with technology,” said Lawson.
“The rate of change is definitely getting faster,” agreed Riddington. “But it is going to be limited by infrastructure.”
To help customers navigate their way to an EV future, all of the firm’s dealers have an EV specialist on site who can assist the business when assessing its requirements. Mercedes-Benz Vans is also working with charging station provider New Motion, to deliver charging hardware, installing both AC and rapid-charging DC infrastructure. This can include vehicle-to-grid technology and can also be incorporated within various financial products, backed by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.
The company has also developed a number of products, under the Mercedes PRO Connect banner, that come as standard for the first two years with an electric van. This includes the ability to precondition vehicles while still connected to a charging point, setting internal temperatures in preparation for the drive ahead through a website or phone app.
Managers can see their fleet at a glance, including battery charge levels, available range and whether a van is plugged in. However, Mercedes has dropped its in-house telematics offering, opting instead to partner with leading providers Geotab and WebFleet, for comprehensive fleet management and telematic solutions. The company has also developed a portal that allows developers to access vehicle data for their own telematic systems.