INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — This fall, Mercedes-Benz will be expanding its line of commercial vans in the Canadian market, with the introduction of the new Metris mid-sized van.
The Metris was revealed at an NTEA Work Truck Show press conference March 4. Just moments before its unveiling, we caught up with Pablo de la Peña, vice-president of the Mercedes-Benz Vans division in Canada, to find out where the Metris fits into the market and how the cargo van segment, as a whole, is evolving.
The new mid-size Mercedes Metris.
De la Peña said the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has seen significant growth each year since its Canadian introduction in 2010 and that the arrival of the Sprinter-esque Ford Transit is not so much a threat, as it is affirmation that the Canadian market is comfortable with the European-styled van.
“I think the market is switching completely towards those new vehicles,” De la Peña said of the European-styled cargo van. “It’s very interesting how it’s really moving on from those customers who used to buy high petrol engines – six, eight cylinders – to these small, European-style vans.”
The arrival of small-sized cargo vans such as the Transit Connect and Chevy City Express has marked a new trend, but left a hole in the market Mercedes-Benz plans to fill with its mid-sized Metris. The Metris is billed as a “right-sized” van that brings the small van convenience of garage-ability and maneuverability, but also the cargo capacity of a full-sized van.
“We always say the Metris is the right size,” De la Peña said. “It’s still a garage-able van. This is one van that can go into a parking space. I think we’re going to get customers from that small van market and from the large van market. There is no mid-sized competitor in the market right now. We’re very excited about it and it’s going to be great for our brand in Canada.”
The real opportunity for growth may be in convincing customers the cargo van is a viable alternative to the pickup truck, especially in the city.
“If you look at other markets, usually the commercial van market is bigger than in Canada, for the population Canada has,” De la Peña said. “I think it’s because the Canadian customer – and even the US customer – is looking for solutions in that pickup truck. Whenever the customer thinks ‘I need a commercial van,’ we want them to think Mercedes, because now we have a smaller product, the Metris, which would be the entry-level model for the line. Then we have the Sprinter with the four-cylinder diesel engine. Then we have the Sprinter with the six-cylinder diesel engine. And then we have the Sprinter 4×4. We really want to have the full solution for the van customer.”
That recently introduced 4×4 Sprinter will allow the company to provide a more pickup-calibre solution to the market and De la Peña said it has been well received in Canada.
“It was something we really needed in Canada. It’s not a new product for Mercedes, because in Europe we always had a Sprinter 4×4, but it’s something we just launched in Canada and we started to deliver the first units to customers this month,” he said.
All 55 Canadian Mercedes dealers sell and service commercial vans, but is it enough?
“We will never have 400 or 350 dealers, as our competitors have,” De la Peña acknowledged. “What we need to make sure of is that those 55 we have are really the best ones at servicing the vehicles. It’s one of our priorities and it’s probably the thing we are working the most on.”
Will a commercial van customer receive the same level of service as an S-Class owner?
“He should get a different level of service, in terms of speed, in terms of appointment time,” De la Peña responded. “The speed has to be very, very good. We don’t want to copy what we have on the passenger car side. We have very good examples in other countries in how to treat commercial customers. I wouldn’t say we’re going to give them the same as we give to an S-Class customer, because our customer needs something very, very different. Through different service contracts, and if it’s warranted, different service plans, we will try to make sure that the customer is coming back and that the dealer knows how to treat that commercial customer. It’s the product and it’s the service. If you have both of those, you have loyal customers who will come back to you.”
The Metris will hit the Canadian market in October.
Pablo De La Pena, head of Mercedes-Benz’s Canadian van operations.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies