Wow, you don’t like to ask easy questions, do you?
You just posed a long and detailed question, really. The response is a Megillah, which I am taking the time to write for you, so please read it. Lol.
Its a long story, and it goes back to the invention of the automobile, and involves some bizarre players, including the Chrysler Corporation, Consolidated Freightways, White Truck, and Federal Express.
Mercedes whole brand heritage, as it plays it in the United States, is something of a lie. Mercedes-Benz, and its predecessors, for the first hundred years of their existence, were not ever luxury brands. First of all, the Daimler Motor Factory and Benz & Co. were not “luxury car” manufacturers.
They invented the modern car (a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot actually invented the automobile some 115 years before the German pair, but it was highly impractical- and oddly enough most of the great automotive pioneers were French- Andre Citroen, Jules-Albert de Dion, Gabriel Voisin, Rene Panhard, Emile Levassor, Emile Delahaye, and many others), and as such they couldn’t have been luxury cars, since they weren’t above the standard- they WERE the standard.
But even so, when Daimler and Benz merged in 1926, the first car they built as a joint venture was actually a fairly ordinary family car, not a luxury car. They have practically always built luxury models in their lineups, but even today, never exclusively. And even today, their profit engine remains commercial vehicles- as is true for everybody who builds them, besides the idiots at Ford and GM… and why every big truck manufacturer but Mercedes divested themselves of their car business.
Mercedes have always been marketed as the “Best”, a title that throughout its history was practically always well deserved. They were never a company to sell on price, and until the mid-90s they never sold economy cars. But their models were generally all sold in ranges that were between underpowered and comfortably powered (with occasional overpowered cars such as the 300SEL 6.3) and with trim levels that went from poverty (rubber floors, no A/C or heat, etc.) to lavish.
The traditional price spread in Europe of a Mercedes body was over 100%- meaning that by specifying the biggest engine and ticking every box, you usually doubled the base price). That’s true even today- in Europe the Vito/Metris starts at about $25k and a fully loaded V250 runs a tad under $75k. An E200 starts about $45k, I think, and a fully loaded E63 AMG is ~$100k.
However, in the mid-70s Mercedes decided to position themselves in the North American market- and the North American market only- as a luxury car brand. They slowly weeded out the small engine, stripped out models, finally eliminating them completely with the discontinuation of the 240D in 1983. North American models came standard with features that were not only optional on Euro-spec cars, but also uncommon- such as wood trim, power windows, air conditioning, sunroofs, alloy wheels, automatic transmissions, and vinyl orthopaedic seats. And I dare you to find a Euro spec Benz from the early 90s with automatic climate control, or an American car without it.
As part of this plan, Daimler-Benz bought the truck division of Consolidated Freightways, Freightliner, in 1981. They have been, starting in 1985, highly related internally to Mercedes-Benz trucks, but reformatted to better suit the American market. Mercedes fully withdrew its truck lineup from the American market by 1991. For a variety of reasons that aren’t important for this discussion, Mercedes trucks were not particularly competitive with American market trucks (due mostly to highly different regulations and operating environments) and were rendered irrelevant by the elimination of length restrictions in 1982. In the United States and Canada, and those two countries alone, by 1991 the Mercedes-Benz brand was exclusively put on luxury cars.
Enter Federal Express. In Europe, FedEx used Mercedes-built vans exclusively, the Sprinter since 1995. In the United States, their fleet started out with the Ford Econoline, and then switched to StepVans. FedEx was highly dissatisfied with the insane fuel costs and limited durability of the Econoline, and the extremely high purchase costs and high fuel costs of their Stepvans… which were generally overkill in size for their usual delivery routes. Teaming up with several other companies, FedEx approached Daimler with a request for purchase of their Sprinter for US service.
There were some tax implications, involving the 25% Chicken tax, but FedEx was willing to pay the price, and several thousand Sprinter vans were ordered to be assembled as CKDs in the US. It was more like a contract order- they were not intending to sell these to retail customers. In order to avoid sullying their carefully cultivated luxury image, these trucks were labeled and sold as Freightliners.
Upon their deployment, however, a lot of other businesses were interested in their larger-than-Econoline size, their impressive maneuverability, and their extremely low operating costs. The result was that Daimler Trucks decided to continue importing them, selling them to fleet customers through their Freightliner dealerships.
In the meantime, and coinciding with this whole story, Bob Eaton decided to make himself a lot of money by letting Daimler-Benz make the huge mistake of purchasing the good looking but rotten-cored Chrysler Corporation, which had been making itself look good by moving huge amounts of metal with highly subsidized leases that were about to come due- and render Chrysler nearly insolvent. The so-called Merger of Equals took place, forming DaimlerChrysler.
Chrysler’s Dodge brand was amusing the industry by trying to hawk its Ram Van, a model two generations out of date- in a segment where generations lasted a decade and a half. Chrysler couldn't afford to develop a replacement for it (prior to its 1994 butch-styled Ram truck, Chryslers whole truck division was mostly something of a joke, and entirely irrelevant in sales), and when they made a request for funds to develop a replacement, the largely German management thought for a moment, and then decided that they were going to try general retail sales of the Sprinter.
Thus, the Dodge Sprinter was born, replacing the Ram Van with something completely different. The Dodge Sprinter got a solid foothold in the van market, appealing to customers with its impressive maneuverability for a general cargo capacity, and its incredible fuel economy- the American full size vans were single digit animals when fully laden, whereas the five-cylinder Sprinter could hit 20mpg in the same conditions.
In 2007, DaimlerChrysler decided to stop pretending that Chrysler was anything but an albatross, (Time and again has proven that Daimler’s arrogance tends to make it buying other car makers a bad idea) and sold it to Cerberus. Part of the deal with the sale was that Cerberus would be allowed to continue as a distribution channel for Mercedes’ Sprinter. That did not, however, extend to Fiat, who bought Chrysler out of bankruptcy, for a variety of reasons, and sales and servicing of Sprinters at Chrysler dealerships ended fairly abruptly.
But by that point the Sprinter was a runaway success in the US. Dodge was selling the vast bulk of them, due to its vastly larger dealer network- and at huge profits. Daimler needed a fast fix, and decided, with much deliberation and sole searching, and quite a bit of hesitation, to sell them as Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, through a new network of Sprinter dealers- many of which, but not all, also ran Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car dealers. There were several reasons, the major one being that a lot of people were well aware that the Dodge Sprinter was very much a Mercedes.
A lot of dealers screamed bloody murder- especially the ones who didn’t take franchises immediately. Mercedes is a carefully cultivated luxury car brand in this country. Americans see commercial vehicles as low brow. It was deeply felt that this would damage brand image terribly. And that it would hurt profitability, and erode the “Mercedes premium”, which made their cars more profitable than the often comparably expensive to make but cheaper products from BMW and Audi.
Except something happened. The dealers who took Sprinter franchises began to see how much money they could make selling these things. Fleet operators don’t care about brand value, or purchase cost. They care about Cost Per Mile. The Sprinter is the cheapest commercial van out there on that metric, and by quite a margin, and it was even more so before Ford and Ram deployed their Eurovans.
Beyond that, though, it has done absolutely nothing to hurt Mercedes image- their cars continue to trade at substantial premiums to comparable luxury cars from other brands, 6 years after Sprinters started carrying the three-pointed star in the US market.
Mercedes has decided to expand its commercial truck business in the US, and the first prong of that assault is the Metris. From a few sources I have heard that they intend to go even further, with the idea of a next-gem Citan making it here, and possibly expansion into the medium and heavy duty truck market- probably with luxury versions of Freightliner trucks to go after Volvo.
But here’s the thing. Mercedes does not here, or anywhere else for that matter, sell a luxury version of the Sprinter. It is seen very much as a purely commercial vehicle- because that is what it is. But the Metris is different- in Europe it is sold by both divisions- by Mercedes-Benz Vans as the relatively Spartan Vito, and by Mercedes-Benz Cars as the sumptuous V-class.
But in Europe Mercedes-Benz Fleet sells a modified and stripped down E200 Bluetec as a taxicab. Mercedes-Benz dealers sell a fairly basic E200 as a (fairly expensive) family car for $42,600, a E350 Bluetec in roughly our markets luxury configuration for roughly (go through a Mercedes of Europe price list sometime- they are mind boggling) $60,000, and the E63 AMG Estate (currently the sedan is not offered due to the model change over) at $103,500. All of those prices exclude tax, by the way.
Here? Well the E350 (the closest car to the E350 Bluetec) starts at $53k. The E63 AMG is the same price- but better equipped. There is no $38k E200 Bluetec taxi-spec model. And nobody knows that Mercedes offers such spartanly equipped cars. And a common criticism about Mercedes is that they are just a German taxi, a sort of overpriced German Crown Victoria.
Since you now have a sense of it based upon passenger vans, lets consider the two common European models of the W447 van platform. In Europe, there are three models I am going to discuss with you. We will choose the Vito Tourer Pro, in both 109 and 116, since that is the closest to an American-spec Metris, as well as the V250d model.
The Vito Tourer Pro has roughly the same interior configuration as the American spec base Metris passenger van. We are only considering the 126” wheelbase extended version, as this is what the Metris is.
The 109 is a model totally different mechanically than what is sold here. It is a 1.6 liter four-cylinder diesel engine, mounted transversely and only offered with a manual transmission driving the front wheels. The engine is Renault sourced, and produces 86bhp, and 169 ft-lb of torque. The base price of this model is $34,290, which is more expensive than the Metris, despite the piss-ant motor, although it is a diesel.
The 116 is a lot closer to a Metris, mechanically. It uses the same version of the soon-to-be-replaced OM651 2143cc four-cylinder diesel as the American market four-cylinder Sprinter, producing 160 bhp and 280 ft-lb of torque. Actually, its eminent replacement with the OM654 is probably why they haven’t deployed a diesel yet. ANYWAY, on the 116 the 7G-Tronic is optional, so the price for the model is $41406.45. Wasn’t someone complaining the Metris was overpriced in the US? Ha.
The model a lot of people have been complaining we don’t get is the Vito Tourer Select, thats the model of the Vito that has such things as rear armrests and reclining rear seats. A Vito Tourer Select in 119 trim, starts at $48665.51 in RWD or $52384.95 in 4X4, a $3700 premium or thereabouts), at current exchange rates. If you want to get one of those fully equipped, its more, of course… $69k US, and that IS before the 19% tax.
Now on to the actual luxury model, the V-class. Like the Metris, it comes in three lengths, and I am only looking at the length we get here, 5.14 meters. Without options, the V220d starts at $54,764. We are going to be looking, however, on the V250d 4Matic, which starts at $59,793. That is a somewhat different 4WD system to the Vitos, by the way- somewhat less rugged, somewhat more sophisticated. I am going to go over every option with you, and then tell you the total for it- by the way, V250 = 119 for engine purposes. I would tend to assume that many of these options would be standard on an American market V250, as per standard practice, by the way.
All of these option prices include tax, by the way, which is 19%. The total price, however, does not include tax.
Metalic paint = Standard
Avantguard Design (* Comfort seats in nappa leather in black, chestnut or Silk Beige * armrests in the door trim leathered * multifunction steering wheel and shift lever in nappa leather * top of the instrument panel in leather look with decorative stitching * wood trim appearance ebony dark gloss anthracite * Optional: trim wave optics anthracite matt * optional : wood trim ash optics gloss dark brown brushed * Sports pedals in aluminum * door trim in the rear in the selected equipment Colour Black, Maron or silk beige) - $2700
Table Package - Includes pop up table in the back - $650
18.5 gallon fuel tank - $86.40
Panaromic Sunroof - $3521
Roof rack - $208
Trailer hitch - $134
Trailer Wiring - $919
Electric Rear Vent Windows - $350
Heated Windshield Washer - $241
Power Front Seat with Memory & Lumbar - $2142.31
Heated and Cooled Front Seats - $755
Heated And Cooled 2nd Row buckets - $1543
Heated And Cooled 3rd Row buckets - $1543
Adjustment Rails - $35
Luggage Net - $261
Floormats, velour - $58
Cargo Shelf - $760
Water-based Pre heater - $1060
Remote Control for Preheater - $395
Media Interface Cable (iPhone connector) $67
Digital Radio - $557
6-disc DVD changer - $322
Full Phone Integration, inc SMS - $535
Rear Cupholders - $58
Alarm System - $528
2 Extra Keys - $162
Distronic Plus (adaptive cruise control) - $1128
Built In Jack - $67
I’m sure your thinking some of these things shouldn’t be optional, but thats the way it is, the way that Mercedes does stuff in Europe. The price tag for that fully loaded V250d 4Matic is $76,511 not including tax or destination. Most of those options would be standard for the US- they, for instance, sell few RWD cars here. The only things I could imagine being optional are the Distronic, 6 disc DVD changer, Pre-heater, luggage shelf, Trailer stuff, and the heated/cooled rear seats, and panoramic sunroof. That brings the base price to $67k. Even if they offered it without the diesel… say $65k base?
The R-Class, which was much more in keeping with American design insensibilities, didn’t sell well. This vehicle is much more European in execution, much more like a Euro-style van, or a minivan. Figure it would start at $65k and run to about $75k here. If they are avoiding diesels, they would likely put the 240bhp version of the Metris engine (as found in the C300), which would make it quite quick, I would imagine.
The question isn’t about them making money on it. The V250 would be nearly free to bring in since the Metris is already certified, so if they sold a few dozen vans, they’d probably find it worth their while. The question is, you would have two largely mechanically identical, similar looking vehicles selling in the American market place, one on as a commercial van for ~$40k, and one as a luxury van for a 50% increase in price.
The American consumer is very quick to feel ripped off. I don’t think the price difference is a rip-off, given all the extra features you get in the V-class. But a lot of Americans would. They also resent the idea that someone could mistake their $75k van for one that starts at $32,500. It also would do image damage with people thinking that a Mercedes is a gussied-up commercial product.
And the dealers, greased somewhat by profit, are still scared of that. As is Atlanta.
If enough people ask for a luxury version of the Metris, I am sure the V-class will eventually come here. If not, I am sure that Mercedes will call far too large a risk to their carefully cultivated brand image.