Mercedes-Benz steps up to compete in the small van segment
It’s called the Citan, and, for those interested in how names come into being, the official explanation is that it’s derived from mixing the words City and Titan together, at which point you get Citan or Titty. No prizes for guessing which came out on top.
For Mercedes-Benz, the suggestion of entering the small van segment is totally new, bringing in the product range as a step-down from Vito and its larger cousin the Sprinter. For the buyer, it means typical flow-on of technology and safety from the Mercedes-Benz range and a true rival for other entrants in this segment such as the VW Caddy, Renault Kangoo and the other European alternatives such as the Peugeot Partner and Citroen Berlingo. The only small Japanese van entry is the Suzuki APV.
This small van segment is currently running in the Australian market at an annual registration level of 3,200 units for 2011 (VFacts), but is showing an increase for the first quarter of 2012 of 22 percent with volumes already at 772 units (YTD comparison with 2011).
Citan comes into a market where the dominant player is Volkswagen. The Caddy is currently enjoying a market share of 52.7 percent in the Australian market, well ahead of second placed Suzuki with 16.8 percent market share. The Holden Combo drifts out of our market until a replacement comes on line, leaving Citroen and Peugeot to scratch their heads in wonderment as both makers analyse their abysmal performance in this segment.
Whereas the small van segment was still a niche market in the mid-1990s, it has now grown to around 700,000 units in Europe. At that level of sales, it means Mercedes-Benz becomes interested as the viability of the segment justifies the investment in creating an all-new model line-up.
Mercedes-Benz already is the undisputed market leader for mid-size and large vans in Western Europe, and, 2011, was the most successful year in the division’s history.
In Western Europe, the brand increased its market share to 18 percent in 2011. Market share rose in the US from 4.9 to 7.2 percent and currently amounts to six percent in China.
With a corporate forecast that suggests it’s possible for the German car maker to add a further market share of four to five percent in this segment, Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, is convinced that the Citan will be a big success.
“We sold over 264,000 vehicles last year, boosting profits by 85 percent and achieving a new record of €835 million,” said Mornhinweg.
“The return on sales also reached an all-time high. It amounted to 9.1 percent in 2011, enabling us to not only reach our target for 2013, but to exceed it.
“Our typical Mercedes-Benz reliability, 24/7 service, and, last but not least, our great brand image are key selling points as far as our commercial customers are concerned. We aim to sell more than 400,000 units worldwide by 2015,” he added.
Due to its large number of variants, the new urban delivery van is aimed at a broad range of commercial applications. Not only will the Citan be offered as a panel van, a crewbus, and a mixed-use vehicle, it will also be available in a variety of lengths and weights.
The Citan will be launched onto the global market in the third quarter of this year and was unveiled to the general public in the form of a 3D rendition at the RAI Commercial Vehicle Show in Amsterdam prior to its public debut at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover in September.
As the first vehicle to be created as a result of the strategic partnership between Daimler and Renault-Nissan, the drive concept encompasses a broad range of low-emission, fuel-efficient diesel and petrol engines and includes a BlueEFFICIENCY package. An electric drive version is also being planned.
The power choice comes from three high-torque turbo-diesel direct-injection engines, ranging from 55 kW (75 hp) to 81 kW (110 hp), as well as a supercharged petrol engine with 84 kW (114 hp).
All of the diesel engines are equipped with a particulate filter as standard equipment. Power is transmitted to the front wheels by five- and six-speed transmissions, with an easily reachable joystick selection lever in the centre console.
A BlueEFFICIENCY package is available as standard equipment for the petrol-powered Citan and as optional equipment for the diesel variants. This package includes the ECO start/stop function, a battery and generator management system, and variant-dependent low rolling-resistance tyres, which help to reduce fuel consumption even further.
The basic version is the panel van, which is available in three lengths: 3.94 metres, 4.32 metres, and 4.71 metres.
Another model is the Citan Mixto with five seats, which is based on the extra-long version (4.71 m) and has a foldable rear bench seat and two sliding doors.
The third basic model is the Citan crewbus, which is mounted on the long wheelbase (4.32 m) and can also be delivered as a five-seater with a foldable rear bench seat and sliding door (optionally available with sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle). Depending on the model selected, the vehicle is available in three weight variants with a GVW up to 2,200 kilograms.
As is the case with every Mercedes-Benz vehicle, safety plays a big role. The Electronic Stability Program ADAPTIVE ESP comes as standard, and this system differs from those of some other competitors by taking the vehicle load into consideration. This innovative dynamic handling control system in the new Citan combines the functions of the anti-locking braking system ABS, VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) that counters over- and understeer, and TCS (Traction Control System). It also includes ASR (acceleration skid control) and drive and braking torque control.
Start-off Assist, daytime running lamps, height-adjustable seat belts, belt tensioners and belt force limiters for the driver and front passenger, a seat belt reminder and driver airbag all come as standard. Amongst other standard features, the Citan crewbus additionally has a front passenger airbag, thorax sidebags and windowbags for the driver and front passenger.
In the panel van, a full partition wall protects the driver and front passenger from loads sliding or tipping over. There are load retention points in the rear for securing the load. A plastic floor covering and partial trim prevent items with sharp edges from damaging the body in the load compartment.
Mercedes-Benz has greatly expanded its vans business in recent years. In line with the slogan of “Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global,” the brand is not only manufacturing vans in Düsseldorf (Sprinters), Ludwigsfelde (Sprinters and Varios), and Vitoria, Spain (Vitos), but also in the US, Argentina, and China.
It is also planning to strengthen its presence in the Russian market through a partnership with GAZ, the leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles in Russia. Over the medium-term, the GAZ factory near Nizhny Novgorod will produce 25,000 Sprinters each year, and do so strictly according to Mercedes-Benz’ quality standards.