With plans to launch its first fully electric heavy-duty truck, Mercedes-Benz is in the early planning stages for an electrified Sprinter medium-duty van.
Ulf Zillig, head of developing the next generation Sprinter, told The Detroit Bureau that if market demand supports it, the next generation Sprinter would use electric powertrains and autonomous driving.
In the U.S. for the ground-breaking of the new $500 million van plant that the company is planning to build in Charleston, S.C., Zillig said the van engineering teams at Mercedes-Benz are able to share technology across the company’s divisions.
This news follows last week’s debut of the Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck, a prototype fully electric heavy-duty truck capable of hauling up to 26 tons.
The tall, narrow Sprinter van has been a mainstay in Europe and other overseas markets for a number of years.
It was launched in the U.S. in 2001 through the heavy-duty Freightliner brand, which is owned by Mercedes parent Daimler.
Volker Mornhinweg, the head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, told reporters that pressure will likely grow for still other alternatives, with battery-electric versions of the Sprinter and smaller Metris vans under serious consideration.
He noted that there has already been interest from courier fleet companies in Europe, and Federal Express along with UPS are showing interest in the idea of electric vans.
In Europe, Mercedes introduced an electric Metris small van in 2012. It had early success but sales have tapered off.
Mercedes isn’t the only automaker with plans for building electric vans.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently said that the electric-vehicle company is going to enter the electric van market and would use the Model X sport utility as the platform, with more on this to be divulged later.
Mercedes officials say the electric Sprinter vans likely won’t be produced until the end of the decade — about the same time as the Charleston plant begins rolling out the American-made Sprinter.