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    The making of the new Sprinter: The legend enters the future.

    Since its launch in 1995, the Sprinter has embodied the role of a van pioneer. The new Sprinter also sets standards and reinvents many aspects of its segment. We take a look behind the scenes of the creation of the iconic van.

    Author: Marcel Schlegel

The Sprinter – pacemaker.

How do you improve a van that gave its name to an entire vehicle class? How do you change the van which, since its launch in 1995, has served as the prototype for an entire market segment and has sold an incredible 3.4 million units? How do you ensure that a legend like this continues to find a home in more than 130 countries around the world in its third generation? How do you send the Sprinter into the future? The answer: You combine elements of the digitalised and networked world with the reliable values and strict functionality for which the Sprinter has been renowned and appreciated throughout its more than 20 years of undisputed market leadership. By taking the pioneering role. Once again. “Even though the Sprinter is a very successful and popular van that gave its name to a whole vehicle class, we are convinced that we have to change the game and tackle the challenges in transportation and mobility in the 21st century”, explains Ulf Zillig, Senior Project manager for the Sprinter at Mercedes-Benz Vans. The Sprinter is a van that defined the rules in its pioneering role and now transports these to the world of network mobility, thus reaffirming its leadership in the large van segment.


A Sprinter seen from the side
The front of the Sprinter from Mercedes-Benz

Once a pioneer – always a pioneer.

What makes the new Sprinter so unique? “In particular, its flexibility and variability”, explains Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “These will be key success factors in the world of logistics and transport in the future”, emphasizes the head of the van segment. “Customers are looking for a vehicle that can be perfectly adapted to their own specific needs”, continues Volker Mornhinweg. “A good vehicle alone is no longer enough. Today, a vehicle has to be more than just the sum of its parts.” That is why the new Sprinter is a multi-talent that provides perfect overall-system solutions for diverse commercial transport and mobility requirements: with an unmatched variant diversity, new networking services and a new telematics generation. The Sprinter spearheads the strategy transformation being advanced by Mercedes-Benz Vans: away from a pure vehicle manufacturer toward a provider of complete mobility and connectivity solutions. Once a pioneer – always a pioneer.


A global player changes the strategy.

The approach: maximum modularity. The proof? More than 1,700 different variants can be generated using the body types, drive concepts, cabin design, body lengths, tonnages and cargo area heights. The bandwidth ranges from simple construction vehicles with an attractive entry-level price to shuttle vehicles with high quality interior fittings.


The Sprinter is a van with the right solution for every requirement and every industry and has long been far more than “just a van”. It is a multi-talent.


Market research: early identification of customer needs.

But how does Mercedes-Benz understand what customers need and require from the new Sprinter? The keyword is market research. This brings us to Norbert Kunz. One key aspect for the Sprinter product and marketing manager: exchanging information with major customers and fleet customers, body manufacturers and also with private customers who were all specifically invited to provide Mr Kunz and his team with feedback about the Sprinter prototypes in realistic usage situations. What is the best position for the storage systems and where are the beverage holders?


Which problems do tradesmen encounter on a day-to-day basis that the developers and designers may never have heard about without practical feedback? This process transformed a blank body into a van optimally tailored to its users and its day-to-day tasks. This process successively created the third generation Sprinter. Norbert Kunz and his team discovered another need in the course of the market surveys: networking. “Our customers want to see the vehicle all the time or know what’s going on with their vehicle”, reports Norbert Kunz.


Three men in front of a virtual reality screen that shows a Mercedes-Benz steering wheel

Infotainment system and connectivity services.

That is why Philipp Wex sees the new infotainment systems as the face, heart and soul of the new Sprinter. Why? “At the wheel, driving infotainment is your main interface between you and your van, so it’s extremely important”, explains the man responsible for the infotainment systems. The voice control and diverse touchscreens, that are now even integrated into the steering wheel, make communication between the driver and the vehicle even more natural. The innovative connectivity solutions provide similar advances and enable an entire spectrum of new, proven and enhanced services such as the fleet manager. “Connectivity services enable you to engage with the car remotely even if you’re not sitting in it”, explains Philipp Wex. “Connectivity is in the DNA of the new Sprinter.”


Design: form follows function – and the heart.

Each vehicle also needs an unmistakable exterior. The Sprinter in particular. Kai Sieber is responsible for design at Mercedes-Benz Vans and understands the balancing act and the risk involved in the “Sprinter – third generation” project. On one hand, the van needs to retain its characteristic aspects because this is how the Sprinter has looked for more than two decades. In addition, the Sprinter is the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz Vans family and shapes the direction. Its appearance also influences the Vito and Citan. Yet more than this: for customers, the Sprinter with its design often embodies an entire fleet and may even represent the face of the company. But the most important thing is that the van retains its everyday functionality. In this context, Kai Sieber talks about a dialectic between “warm” and “cold” that exemplifies the design of the new Sprinter. “The cool part is pure functionality. It is really strict and rational. A commercial vehicle has to work and has to function. It needs to be really functional.” This contrasts with the warm, soft and emotional aspect. “The hot talks directly to your heart”, states Kai Sieber. “We want our customers to fall in love with the Sprinter.”


A hand holding a pencil. The hand draws the cockpit of a Sprinter
A man designs a Sprinter model

Emotion meets functionality: the philosophy of “sensual purity”.

How can these opposites be combined? The designers around Kai Sieber addressed the tensions between design fascination and the essential, functional aspect with their design philosophy of “sensual purity”. This is characterised by the contrast between soft and emotional yet clear lines. Andy Sugata is responsible for implementing this concept in the interior. He placed great value in not breaking away completely from the traditional essence of the Sprinter product. The Sprinter had to remain identifiable as a Sprinter. “The Sprinter has already established one specific class for itself”, explains Sugata. “In this world, a lot of people are using the word ‘Sprinter’ instead of using the word transporter.”


Sprinter can handle the extreme conditions.

The prototype of the Sprinter is ready. Now it is time to ensure that the van from Mercedes-Benz is also safe and reliable. To this end, the Sprinter had to undergo a vast array of trials and tests including extreme conditions. Some trials take place in Andalusia, where Mirko Bänisch and his team tested the Sprinter in extreme heat. Or in Sweden, where the tests determine how the van with the star reacts to freezing cold. Mirko Bänisch from Development at Mercedes-Benz Vans is responsible for the testing and approval of the Sprinter.


Bänisch’s team intentionally takes the Sprinter to the absolute limits of the possible “because the vehicle has to function safely and reliably even under these extreme conditions”, comments Mirko Bänisch. The Sprinter passed all of the tests. It is ready for the market and ready for production.


Two men sitting in an office talking with each other, one points at a screen

The best or nothing: the brand value of the star.

The same principles apply to the production that distinguished the entire development process of the new Sprinter generation: the very highest quality with no compromises. “Quality is a brand value of Mercedes-Benz”, explains Andreas Rein from Van Quality Management. In order to achieve this, Mercedes-Benz relies on state-of-the-art and innovative technology – not only for the new Sprinter. However, for Mr Rein quality is more than the sum of good individual parts. “The central aspect is always the overall impression of the vehicle and the sense of quality that customers perceive. Love of detail and highest quality in every pore – this is what distinguishes a Mercedes-Benz”, says Andreas Rein.


The new front-wheel drive – a challenge for the production.

The new Sprinter is also manufactured in the USA and Argentina. But naturally, it is primarily produced at its main plants in Düsseldorf and Ludwigsfelde. But how are the production procedures transferred from Germany and Europe to the other plants around the world? This is the job of Martin Kelterer from Mercedes-Benz Vans Operations Engineering. His answer: Industry 4.0. “Reacting more quickly to market needs, more quickly to customer needs – that is our job.”


The production facility of the Sprinter in Düsseldorf
Robot arms at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Düsseldorf

Innovations demand innovative processes.

Armin Willy manages the production at the main plant in Düsseldorf. He talks about the major challenges involved in converting the manufacturing process for every new vehicle. For example, the Sprinter is available for the first time with a front-wheel drive. “Every new aspect has significant effects on the production procedures and production facilities”, explains Armin Willy. That is why the employees first undergo extensive training before production start. Mercedes-Benz also relies on the latest technologies here, such as virtual reality applications. At Mercedes-Benz, nothing is left to chance. Every Sprinter should be unique. The same way every Sprinter can be adapted to individual customer needs, Armin Willy and his colleagues tailor the production individually to every single vehicle. The head of the Düsseldorf plant emphasises: “At the Düsseldorf plant, we are proud to manufacture the new Sprinter and will continue to provide our customers with top quality.”