By Bruce W. Smith
Full-size diesel pickup trucks may be the vehicle of choice for many contractors in the building trades, but sleek, fuel-efficient Euro-style vans are coming on strong in just about every other commercial enterprise that transports goods and services. The new Mercedes-Benz Metris Worker is a prime example of one such offering.
The 2017 Metris Worker Cargo, which starts at $26,990 including destination, is the only midsize van now being offered in the U.S. It sports 186 cubic feet of cargo space (about 45 percent more than the Ford Transit Connect), and its 5,000-pound tow rating is considerably more than any other downsized work van, which includes the Chevrolet City Express, the Nissan NV200, the Ram ProMaster City and the Ford Transit Connect. The Metris Worker also fits inside a typical two-car garage, all of which bodes well for contractors who place a high value on vehicle security and accessibility to residential and commercial parking environments.
Right now Mercedes offers the front-wheel-drive Metris with one powertrain option: a 208-horsepower, direct-injection turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder backed with a seven-speed automatic. It's the same powertrain in the Mercedes C-Class sedan but with a different cam and engine control module programming for better low- and midrange torque. The nimble, sporty cargo van is rated at 21/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined. To see our First Drive of the Metris Worker, click here.
What should make commercial owners take notice is that Mercedes now offers a direct ship-through upfitter program so the Metris (and full-size Sprinter) can be configured to fit the exact needs of the buyer. Mercedes also offers lease-purchase programs that can be adapted to the seasonal ups and downs of some commercial businesses.
Ship-Through Partners Expand Options
While breaking ground for what will eventually be a new assembly Mercedes vans production plant in North Charleston, S.C., Mercedes unveiled a new program called MasterSolutions that allows owners to customize vans. MasterSolutions partners with work vehicle upfitters such as Knapheide, Smartliner Vans and Auto Truck Group to customize vans.
Under the MasterSolutions system a commercial buyer can go to a Mercedes dealer, order a new van outfitted exactly to his needs and have it arrive at the dealer turn-key ready for work. Everything is covered under a single vehicle invoice and custom-tailored payment plan.
"You're the expert in your trade, and your van is the tool to get the job done. MasterSolutions allows you to configure your van directly via your Mercedes-Benz Vans or Freightliner Vans dealer and get you exactly the van you need right when you need it &mash; so you can concentrate on finishing the job," Bernie Glaser, head of the Mercedes-Benz Vans USA, said in a statement.
"Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner bring you a portfolio of turn-key solutions for your vocation — anything from shelving to refrigeration or even transportation of people — all at a preferred price," Glaser continued. "These pre-configured MasterSolutions from industry-leading manufacturers are customized to fit your Sprinter or Metris van and can be quickly configured and ordered via your preferred dealer. The ordering process is streamlined and installation is also simple — all MasterSolutions are fitted directly as ship-through, thus ensuring seamless integration, delivery time and consistent quality."
Sprinter Offerings Expand
Mercedes-Benz is also shipping a newly priced version of the full-size Sprinter called the Sprinter Worker (the starting price is $33,490 including destination), which was shown at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show. The base Sprinter Worker shares the same safety features and 161-hp, 2.1-liter turbo-diesel found in other Sprinters but there is an optional 188-hp, 3.0-liter Bluetec diesel now available, along with higher roof and longer wheelbase versions.
"The response since we introduced the Sprinter Worker earlier this year at the Chicago Auto Show has exceeded our expectations," Glaser said. "We received such terrific feedback from our dealers and customers that we have added several optional features to the Worker lineup. We remain committed to providing an affordable and approachable van for all the hard-working contractors, delivery and shuttle drivers."
A New Manufacturing Plant
Mercedes-Benz Vans is expanding its North Charleston, S.C., assembly plant to become a manufacturing facility by the end of this decade. Right now the vans are built in Stuttgart, Germany, disassembled and put in cargo containers, then shipped to the South Carolina facility for reassembly to get around the 25 percent tax the U.S. imposes on imported vehicles.
That will change within the next four years when the new U.S. manufacturing facility goes into production. It will add 1.1 million square feet to the existing reassembly plant, along with another 2.8 million square feet of storage for finished vehicles. The improvements will eventually lead to 1,300 jobs at the plant.
Mercedes-Benz's current share of the small and full-size van market is relatively small. The Ford Transit and Transit Connect are the top sellers, but M-B looks to be doing the right things to make the Metris and Sprinter more popular with specialized big and small businesses. And if Mercedes keeps doing it at discounted prices, the vans are bound to attract more attention.
Cars.com photos by Bruce W. Smith
Mercedes-Benz vans are currently built in Germany, then disassembled and shipped to the U.S. in containers. The parts are then taken to the North Charleston, S.C., plant for reassembly to avoid the 25 percent tariff imposed on imported vehicles. Local, state and national dignitaries and Mercedes-Benz executives lift their shovels at the ceremonial ground-breaking for the new M-B van assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. Van production is said to begin by the "end of this decade."
The entry-level 2017 Mercedes-Benz Metris Worker sets a new price challenge for competing midsize work vans with a starting price of $26,990.