January 17th, 2021

Commercial vehicles play a pivotal role in the global economy, with two brands, in particular, emerging as key players: Mercedes-Benz's Sprinter van and Ford's Transit. These two models have defined the commercial van market with their distinct journeys and track records. To fully understand the nuances, we delve into the history of both models, their shifts in ownership, and their production process changes.

The Sprinter Van: A Sprint Through Ownerships

Introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1995, the Sprinter van quickly became known for its size, fuel efficiency, and durability. However, its journey has been far from smooth, as it changed ownership and branding several times over the years.

Initially, the Sprinter was produced under the Mercedes-Benz, Dodge, and Freightliner brands. It first entered the US market in 2001 under the Freightliner brand and then in 2003 as a Mercedes-Benz. After the dissolution of DaimlerChrysler in 2007, Dodge lost the rights to sell the Sprinter, and it went back to being exclusively a Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner product in the US.

These frequent shifts might raise eyebrows: why would a product be passed around so much if it were performing well? The answer lies not in the product's quality, but rather in the complex global auto industry, fraught with mergers, acquisitions, and strategic decisions that often shift the fate of a product from one brand to another.

Despite its tumultuous history, the Sprinter has proven to be a strong performer in the commercial vehicle sector. Mercedes-Benz has made continuous improvements to the Sprinter, with upgrades in safety features, cabin comfort, and fuel efficiency.

Ford Transit: A Stable Journey

In contrast to the Sprinter's journey, the Ford Transit has had a significantly more stable journey. Launched in Britain in 1965, the Transit offered both long and short wheelbase versions from the start, with a variety of rear door and cab door options. It quickly gained popularity and by 1966, the Transit’s popularity was so far reaching it could be found at an elevation of 14,000 feet on bus routes in the Andes Mountains.

Ford introduced the Transit "Supervan" in 1972, which was based on Ford's record-setting race car, the GT40. The Supervan could reach a top speed of 150 miles per hour. By 1976, the one millionth Transit was produced, demonstrating its popularity.

The Transit range has grown over the years to include the Custom, Tourneo, Connect, Courier, Kombi, and motorhomes built on the Transit chassis. Ford began production and marketing of the Transit in Nanchang, China in 1997 in partnership with Jiangling Motors.

Production began in North America in 2014, and as of June 2021, one million Transit vans had been produced in the region. The Transit has been a best-selling van and commercial van market leader in the United States and the United Kingdom for over 40 years.

The Transit has won the International Van of the Year award several times, more than any other model range as of 2021. It was named the International Van of the Year in 2001, and subsequent models have won the award in 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014, and 2020.

A Tale of Two Vans

Comparing the Sprinter and Transit offers insight into two distinct business strategies within the same industry. The Sprinter, despite changing hands multiple times, maintained its high-quality production standards and continued to make strides in the market. On the other hand, the Transit, under the consistent Ford banner, has gradually expanded its footprint and built a reputation for reliability and versatility.

The Transit's consistent performance and broad range of models have made it an endearing choice for many commercial vehicle buyers. The Transit has earned the nickname the “Backbone of Britain” due to its range of use cases from commercial, personal, to recreational use. Its recognition and popularity have also led to the name Transit becoming synonymous with any large van for many people.

Ford's commitment to innovation is evident with the introduction of the E-Transit, their first all-electric van. With production set to begin in late 2021, Ford continues to lead the way in what’s possible for both cargo and passenger vans.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz hasn't rested on its laurels either, continuing to improve the Sprinter van's design and performance features. Its commitment to providing a quality product is unquestionable, and its resilience in the face of shifting ownership speaks to the van's robust design and appeal.

Ultimately, both the Sprinter and the Transit have cemented their places in the commercial van market. Despite their contrasting histories, both vehicles continue to push the envelope in commercial vehicle design and performance, providing consumers with an array of quality options tailored to their needs. As the industry moves towards more sustainable and technologically advanced solutions, it will be interesting to watch how these two giants adapt and innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

DLM-Distribution / Campervans is a licensed manufacture and dealer located in Lake Crystal Minnesota serving clients around the country

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