The Mercedes Benz Sprinter van is well-known for many things, one being produced under various brands. Yes, Dodge, Freightliner, and even Volkswagen have all built these near-identical vans, with only the differences being a badge and some minor interior changes. Keep this in mind as you begin a search for a used Sprinter van; it’s not uncommon to come across a Dodge Sprinter or a Freightliner Sprinter.
Unlike in other countries, this sometimes confusing mix of brands and Sprinters only happens in the U.S. Now, why is that? Well, a lot of it has to do with U.S. tax law. So, in this article, we’ll explore the Unlikely History of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van. And how it came to be the way it is today.
It all started when Mercedes decided to replace their old TN-model vans that date back to the 1970s. So, in 1995, Mercedes released the first-gen Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in Europe. The Sprinter was voted international van of the year and sold very well in the European market. Based on this success, Mercedes decided in 2001 to sell the Sprinter in the U.S. While Mercedes is considered a luxury brand in America, globally, it’s also recognized for its robust commercial vehicle line. But, as the automaker sought to introduce its trucks into the U.S., it ran into a chicken tax problem.
After WWII, both America and European countries increased taxes on imports. It started with America exporting cheap chickens into Europe. Since the nations were recovering from WWII, they put heavy taxes on imported chicken to protect their local farmers. In return, the U.S. also increased taxes on brandy, dextrin, potato starch, and light trucks. As it all happened due to chickens, it was called chicken tax.
The taxes on other imports were reduced over time. But, the tariffs on imported pickup trucks were still at 25% in the 90s. This means any company trying to sell their light truck in the U.S. market would have to charge at least 25% more to make a comparable profit.
This made it incredibly hard for Mercedes to sell their Sprinter trucks at competitive prices. As brands like Ford, GMC were already selling their cargo vans in great numbers. So for Mercedes to sell their commercial vans, they needed a way around the tax.
To avoid the tax, Mercedes started importing their Sprinter vans in pieces called CKD kits. Mercedes first would manufacture their trucks in Germany. Then they would disassemble each van into a complete knockdown kit. And then import each unit into the U.S.
In the U.S., Mercedes made deals with both Dodge and Freightliner to reassemble and sell their trucks. In return, they get to put their badges and make minor changes. This way, Mercedes managed to avoid the taxes but were able to infiltrate the market.
The first-gen Mercedes Sprinter was launched in 2001 in the USA under the Freightliner badge. It’s worth noting that Freightliner is owned by Daimler Trucks North America, part of the global Mercedes empire. At first, U.S.-market Sprinters were sold by Freightliner, while the vans for Canada and Mexico wore Mercedes badges until 2003.
At this point, Sprinters were released for all of North America under the Dodge label as the automaker replaced its ancient RAM van series. You may recall that Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes, had purchased Chrysler, the parent of Dodge, in 1998. Are you still following this complex story of car brands? Hang on for more!
The Sprinter tale continued into 2006, with Dodge selling cargo versions of the Sprinter (which were exempt from the chicken tax) and Mercedes selling the passenger variant of the van. This happens alongside Daimler’s sale of Chrysler in 2007 to an investment firm. Hence, Sprinter vans with Dodge badges disappeared in 2010.
Last year, Mercedes announced that Freighliner-branded Sprinters would be dropped at the end of 2021, with the van being solely a Mercedes product moving forward.
Now that you’ve got the full story of Sprinter’s American history under your belt let’s look at each of the Sprinter generations.
As mentioned before, the first generation Sprinter was released in the year 1995 in Europe.
These first-gen vehicles started a new class of light trucks that became prized for versatility and compatibility with multiple commercial uses.
The first-gen Sprinter came in multiple models with diesel and gas engines featuring independent front suspension and rear-wheel drive. Compared to other vans on the road, the Sprinter was well regarded for spacious interiors and comfortable driving characteristics.
The second-generation Sprinter launched in Europe in 2006, with U.S. sales starting the following year. Building off the success of the earlier version, the Sprinter was available in multiple models.
Options included crew cab, cargo, five or nine-seat passenger configurations. There were low/standard- and high-roof styles along with wheelbase variations ranging from 147 inches to 170 inches. Sprinters were also available in two different weight classes: 2500 or 3500 pounds. This customizability made the Sprinter the go-to vehicle for many businesses.
In 2013, the second-gen Sprinter got some major upgrades with a new body design, better driving tech, and modernized interiors.
The 2013 model of Mercedes Sprinter received a refreshed body, including a new grille, bi-xenon headlights, static cornering lights, and active curve illumination.
Advanced driver aids were added, too, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, adaptive lights, crosswind stabilization, and a collision-avoidance system. Mercedes also upgraded the insides with new leather upholstery, thicker steering wheels, and the latest audio and infotainment systems.
The variants in the U.S. offered two engine choices: A 2.1 liter, 4-cylinder turbo with 7-speed automatic and a 3.0 liter V6 turbo with 5-speed automatic. Both engines were diesel-powered. These Sprinters were available in five configurations: cargo, crew, passenger, minibus, or cab chassis.
The latest Sprinter van launched for the 2019 model year with a continued focus on commercial use. Today, almost 50% of Sprinters in the U.S. are used by businesses to carry crew and load. At the same time, the rest serve as recreational vehicles for VIP transport, R.V.s, and luxury vans. The current-gen Sprinter van comes in four variants: cargo, crew, passenger, and cab chassis.
The current-generation Sprinters come in four variants; 1500, 2500, 3500, and 4500. These are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine producing 188hp and 258 lb-ft of torque coupled with a 9G Tronic or 9-speed automatic gearbox.
An option for a 190hp, 3.0 liter turbocharged V 6 diesel engine is also available with a 7-speed automatic transmission. Both powerhouses are offered in all variants, from cargo to crew. However, a 161 hp, the 4-ltr turbo-diesel engine is specifically offered for the cargo van configuration.
All models of the Sprinter are rear-wheel drive with a standard wheelbase of 144”. An extended 170” wheelbase is available with an option for all-wheel drive.
The base model comes standard with 16-inch wheels, metal floors, passenger side sliding doors, keyless ignition, air conditioning, 360-degree camera, Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, and Mercedes latest MBUX infotainment system. They are also equipped with crosswind assist, hill-start assist, and load-adaptive electronic stability control as standard.
While the Sprinter Cargo has a cabin partition preparation, the Sprinter Crew offers seating for 10 with two rows of seats. It also has additional cargo space in the back with a rear set of windows.
The Sprinter Passenger, however, has a 12-seat capability which can be upgraded to 15 seats. There are options for a longer wheelbase and a high roof with additional storage.
The Sprinter Cab Chassis is the simplest Sprinter with only two front seats; its empty rear area is designed to be customized by the companies for their particular uses. This model comes with many options, including the turbo-diesel V6.
Discover our selection of Used Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Vans for Sale. Please note that our inventory changes frequently and is subject to prior sales. Be sure to ask us about incoming used Mercedes Sprinter models.
Unlike ordinary car shopping, buying a work vehicle involves different priorities like low operating costs, reliability, and the ability to help your business grow. At Trust Auto, we understand what’s essential to companies looking for a new truck or van. Whether you’re a one-person operation or need multiple vehicles, our professional team can help. Ask about our selection of Sprinter 1500, Sprinter 2500, Sprinter 3500, and Sprinter 4500 models.
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