Sprinter is focal point of Dodge's vision

AFTER officially broadening its US commercial van strategy by introducing the new Sprinter van at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Dodge unveiled its ambitious vision at The Work Truck Show in Atlanta.

“Our 10-year vision is to become the most product-driven corporation in the commercial vehicle market,” said director of marketing Craig Fisher. “Our vision is to become the market leader in Class 2-5 vehicles. We're beginning with the Sprinter, following with the Caravan, and a few more products. Our market share will be 25% when we meet again in the next couple of years.”

Fisher said Dodge's goal is to increase sales by one million units by 2010, and commercial vehicles are the key to achieving that. He said 33% of the market is in commercial vehicles, which he views as “a huge opportunity for us.”

Fisher said the company will depend strongly on its Business Link dealers. He said Dodge had 299 dealers in its network as of the first week of March, was adding them at the rate of two per week, and would have them in the top 400 markets by the end of the year.

Fisher said the small-business market grew by 14% between 1997 and 2002, and “all expectations are for further growth in 2003.”

For Dodge, the key to tapping into that market obviously is the Sprinter.

Available on the global market since 1995 and developed by Mercedes-Benz as a high-end product, it was voted European Van of the Year in 1998 and Commercial Vehicle of the Year (vans category) for the past six years.

Developed in Germany

Sprinter product manager Paul DiLisio said it was developed in Germany, where fuel costs $4.50 a gallon and 75 million people are crammed into an area the size of Alabama and Georgia, creating a confined space where maneuverability is highly valued.

“It's not a Ram van replacement,” he said. “It plays in a lot of different segments — the full-size van market, but also cab chassis and pickup quad cab markets, especially for utility body applications and flatbed applications.

“We will not participate in the conversion van market. Sprinter is a commercial vehicle designed as a commercial vehicle from the very beginning. It doesn't fit in any garage or any parking deck.”

Introduced to the US in 2001, the Sprinter is available in three different wheelbases — short (118"), intermediate (140"), and long (158"). Despite its compact dimensions, it offers between 247 and 473 sq ft of storage space, depending on the wheelbase and roof height. And the flat floor in the cargo area and the tapered rear wheel housing ensure the capacity is put to optimum use.

It is powered by a high-performance Mercedes-Benz 2.7-l diesel engine with 154 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque. The common rail direct injection system (CDI) for the easy-to-maintain diesel engine ensures an even power distribution while also reducing emissions and external noise.

“A lot of customers are surprised to learn it is a diesel engine when they hear it running,” DiLisio said.

The principle of CDI is to inject fuel directly through one injector per cylinder. This improves upon the design of a conventional gasoline engine, which is subject to the limitations of such mechanical system components as the pump camshaft and multiple injection valves. Instead, the CDI engine is regulated by the precision of computer-controlled electronic shift impulses sent to the four solenoid valves in each cylinder.

The state-of-the-art engine guarantees very low fuel consumption without sacrificing to the operating performance in dealing with the toughest daily applications. Customers have reported a 22 mpg average and a vehicle range of approximately 550 miles.

The standard W5A 380 automatic five-speed Mercedes-Benz transmission system guarantees optimum power delivery, while offering easy shifting and economic ratios, long service life and low maintenance costs. The system has a torque converter lockup clutch to maximize fuel economy. With the “touch shift” system, the transmission offers drivers an easy way to accelerate in traffic or tackle an incline by simply tipping the gearshift left or right.

New benchmarks

The chassis has established new benchmarks in Class 2 and 3 vehicles in terms of comfort and active safety features. The front axle has an independent suspension with a lower transverse link and damper struts, reinforced especially for the rigors of the North American market.

Fiberglass-reinforced plastic transverse leaf springs are integrated into the front axle housing. A 1" thick stabilizer is fitted to vehicles rated at 8550 lb as a standard feature. The rear axle has a differential diameter of 8½" and is available with two different final drive ratios.

A power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system guarantees comfortable driving and easy maneuverability. The van's tight turning circle contributes to its handling and is a major benefit for navigating through busy metropolitan areas. The turning radius is 36.7' for 118" wheelbase, 42' for 140", and 47' for 158".

DiLisio said the 42' turning radius for the 140" wheelbase “beats our competitors by 6 feet. We have the same turning radius in our 158" wheelbase vehicle as our competitors do in their 140" wheelbase. You really have to drive it. There is nothing like it on the road today.”

He said it is offered in three product configurations (cargo van, passenger van, and cab chassis) and two GVWRs (8550 lbs and 9990 lbs).

The Sprinter cargo vans with 118" and 140" wheelbases are available with a standard roof (64") or, at additional cost, with a high roof (73"). Only the high roof is standard on the long wheelbase version.

“I'm 6-2, and I can stand in the Sprinter's high roof without crouching,” DiLisio said. “That makes it ideal for mobile workshops. You can work inside the vehicle very comfortably and stay out of the elements. The side walls are relatively vertical, so you can efficiently pack the vehicle and put upfit equipment close to the sides.”

Spacious inside

The short wheelbase configuration offers a cargo bay volume of 247 cu ft, the intermediate wheelbase version has 321 cu ft, and the long wheelbase configuration has 473 cu ft. The cargo van offers a cargo bay-sliding door on the right-hand side and double rear 270-degree opening doors (180 degrees for the 118" wheelbase version). On request, the van is available with an additional sliding door on the left-hand side. Glass for the sliding doors (right and left hand) and rear doors are also available as an option.

“People don't realize how big Sprinter is until they're standing next to it,” DiLisio said.

The Sprinter passenger van is available in all three wheelbase configurations. The passenger vans with 118" and 140" wheelbases are available with a standard roof or, additional cost, with a high roof. Only the high roof is standard on the long wheelbase version. Including driver, the Sprinter can be configured to hold up to 10 passengers. All passenger vans have a sliding door on the right-hand side and double rear doors as standard.

Customers who choose the conventional maintenance concept benefit from long standard maintenance intervals. An oil change is required only every 10,000 miles, and maintenance service is required only every 20,000 miles.

In addition, ASSYST is an optional maintenance computer that calculates engine oil service intervals from various parameters such as driving style, traveled distance, operating conditions, and engine oil quality. This approach enables operators to have flexible oil service intervals in compliance with the actual engine load and to achieve considerably longer intervals (up to 20,000 miles) if the vehicle is operated accordingly. This may allow the maintenance intervals to be extended depending on vehicle usage, however, as a rule the time between services should not exceed two years.

The next recommended service date is shown in the central display when the ignition key is in the second position in the steering wheel lock. The display blinks when this date has passed and a minus sign is shown before the number of miles. ASSYST displays the time remaining until the next maintenance date when this figure is less than 2,000 miles or 30 days. The driver can switch this display off again by pressing the “mi” button. This occurs automatically after 10 seconds. The driver also can call up the display manually while driving.

The condition and amount of the motor oil in the vehicle is the foremost factor in determining the need for maintenance. For this reason, ASSYST automatically checks the motor oil level only five minutes after the engine has been turned off — provided that the van is in a level position. The result is shown in the multi-function display. A warning buzz sounds when the level is too low or too high.

Safety components

The popular concept of the “whole being more than the sum of its parts” also applies to safety. This is why each of the Sprinter's safety components fulfill not only all active and passive safety test criteria to the fullest extent, but also work together in a well thought-out and integrated overall concept.

This begins with the chassis, with its extremely well balanced handling properties. The balanced chassis design is rounded off by an extensive braking system, which always provides more than adequate braking reserves. Considering its high payload, the Sprinter is fitted with 4-wheel disc brakes. As standard, Anti-Lock System (ABS) and Electronic Brake Distribution System (EBV) ensure optimum braking performance under all conditions. Acceleration Skid Control (ASR) brakes the spinning wheel(s) in low friction conditions to maximize traction, thus making the Sprinter easy to handle in all weather conditions.

The stable passenger compartment with its clearly defined deformation zones is the Sprinter's hard core for crash safety. The closed bulkhead between the engine compartment and the body also increases the structural stability of the vehicle as a whole. In addition, the glued-in windshield positively influences the vehicle's front-end deformation properties.

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