THE INSIDE TRACK- Sprinter holds its own amongst the competition | VAN REVIEW

The Sprinter may be due for replacement in the next 18 months, but it still holds its own amongst the competition

If a manufacturer can get a high recognition factor through the name of its vehicle design, it’s almost a guarantee for success for generations to come. While an obvious example of this success comes in the form of passenger vehicles such as the Mini, in Mercedes-Benz land the accolade goes to the Sprinter.

First launched in Europe in 1995 to replace the TN series, Sprinter was voted International Van of the Year in 1995. The launch of the second-generation Sprinter in 2006 once again scored an International Van of the Year award in 2007, as well as in the following year.

Ten years is a long time for any production run, and yet thanks to a few upgrades in 2013, such as cross-wind stabilisation, collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive highbeam, lane departure warning and Euro 6 compliance, it’s easily kept up its ranking.

The accolades for the Sprinter have not just been confined to the European market. The annual Delivery Magazine Large Van of the Year Award has been collected by the Sprinter through four consecutive years (2013-2016), an amazing endorsement for a product that is actually nearing the end of its production run, currently scheduled for 2018.

For the fleet guys it’s all about safety, and that’s where the Sprinter has scored highly in consistent fashion through the years.

The specialised nature of parcels delivery brought together Mercedes-Benz and Prestige Truck Bodies of Melbourne, with Australia Post and StarTrack, to develop a unique body fit out over a 12-month evaluation programme.

The Sprinter programme based on the 516 model resulted from an initial concept, leveraging on benefits of the product such as vehicle access, ease of use, fuel economy, and health and safety benefits.

The group then went to the drivers input on operating in their environment. This resulted in a three-month evaluation programme with a prototype for the drivers to see if the forward engine and cab type seating arrangement was more convenient for them than a typical cabover format.

That’s where the side access door came into play, and the locking and loading of racking. With nearly 21 cubic metres, the layout is much more compact than in a panel van of the same volume. It is also possible to switch the body to a replacement chassis when the time comes to purchase new vehicles.

The Australia Post and StarTrack fleets nationally operate around 120 vans and 50 cab/chassis Sprinter 516 models, and you’ll find them in other fleets such as TNT for courier work and Woolworths and Coles for delivering food and produce to customers.

Back in April 2015, Delivery Magazine profiled the Coles fleet that at the time numbered 230 Sprinter 516 models, featuring Carrier Pulsor fridge units to ensure produce got from the supermarket to the customer in perfect condition.

Conventional refrigeration units depend on engine speed and reach optimum capacity at 2400 rpm, meaning that some older-style refrigeration units have difficulty maintaining preset temperatures. During city deliveries, a vehicle may be operating 90 percent of the time at low speed, under 2400 rpm. This compromises refrigeration capacity and makes it even harder to maintain the right temperature inside the body.

The benefits of the inverter technology with variable speed hermetic compressor enable the Pulsor to deliver 100 percent of its refrigeration capacity at low engine speed to guarantee constant cold temperatures throughout the day.

As a result of its E-Drive technology, Pulsor achieves high levels of reliability thanks to fewer moving parts and fittings, due to the absence of belt drives and mechanical transmissions. Optimum fleet availability together with reduced maintenance and an estimated 20 percent reduction of fuel consumption during pull-down phase maintain a low cost of ownership. Operating in outside temperatures of -30°C to +50°C, Pulsor delivers -30°C to +30°C in the box in all these conditions.

Versatility is the key to vehicle efficiency, and in a new trial by the RACV the Sprinter forms the basis of a roadside tyre repair unit, painted in the associations distinctive yellow RACV livery.

RACV’s Mobile Tyre Service is really two businesses in one, explains project lead Brenton Kaitler.

“One side is for new tyre sales, where you can book new tyres online and we come out to your house or workplace, remove your old tyres, fit the new ones, balance them and do a wheel alignment if you need one.

“The other side is puncture repairs, which was identified as an opportunity based on the large number of tyre changes RACV were completing each year.

“Historically you get your spare put on, but you now have a flat tyre sitting in your boot – another problem to deal with. We work with our member to ascertain whether the tyre can be repaired, and if it can be we send the van out, and we repair it on the spot”.

The Sprinter 416 Medium Wheelbase Van with a high roof was selected for the trial. With a 4.49-tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM), it provided a more than adequate 2 tonnes worth of payload to cater for all the tyre workshop equipment, whilst allowing the vehicle to still be driven on a standard driver’s licence. The 416 also adds more space in the rear cabin as it is fitted with super single tyres on the rear axle. The space between the wheel arches in the cargo area is wider compared to a dual rear wheel axle vehicle, allowing more room for the tyre equipment to be fitted.

Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia/New Zealand managing director, Diane Tarr, said, “It’s a fantastic initiative by RACV and makes a lot of sense when you consider how increasingly time poor people are becoming. Sprinter is the perfect platform for this type of fit-out, plus RACV can be assured that their people are operating in a safe and comfortable vehicle whilst out on the road every day.”

Once the right Sprinter was selected, the vans took form “like a Meccano set”. All the fit-out kit came from the UK, the tyre changer and wheel balancer from Italy and the vans from Germany – a truly global undertaking.

Taking the equivalent of a tyre mechanics’ workshop on the road also came with another challenge – power. The van needed to be able to supply battery power to high-load compressors for the tyre machine and wheel balancer, and also be able to recognise when to charge these batteries.

The van runs solely on 12-volt power, removing the need for bulky AC power inverters, and so the solution was an adaptive charging panel that not only keeps all four batteries powered up, but has the smarts to know when charging is and isn’t required, minimising alternator load.

Brenton is confident taking brick and mortar businesses to the road will only increase in popularity as our lives continue at a rapid pace. “Take someone with their day off – instead of spending two to three hours at a tyre shop, we can come to them and fix it at their own home,” he added.

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