Plugging an electric powertrain into cargo vans is a logical progression of EV development. After all, there’s ample space for battery packs and a typical urban delivery route has plenty of opportunity for regenerative braking to harvest electrons and help extend range. Mercedes-Benz has been hawking an electric Sprinter van for some time now in Europe where its battery tech was suitable for their smaller routes and shorter overall drive distances. For the 2024 model year, that all changes. With fresh battery tech in hand, the new Mercedes-Benz eSprinter promises to provide the type of payload, towing, and electric driving range expected by North American drivers – and Canada will be one of the first to get it.
If there’s one thing purchasing agents for large fleets dislike, it’s wholesale changes to important parts of their vehicles. Changing the overall shape of a van, for example, would mean they’d likely need to buy new racking and shelving units for the cargo area – an expense which would need to be calculated into their Very Complicated Maths. With the new eSprinter, Mercedes-Benz chose to retain the body-in-white from the diesel version, meaning fleet owners can yank the upfitter tools out of their old vans and plunk them directly into the new ones. This is no small consideration for companies trying to squeeze the last cent out of every budgeted dollar.
In addition to being, along with America, the first market to receive this new eSprinter, Canada will initially get the van’s largest dimension variant, one roughly equivalent to the current 2500. Packing a high roof and long (170-inch) wheelbase, these workhorses will provide 14 cubic metres of load capacity, a sum which is bang on the nose of today’s internal combustion Sprinters on the same wheelbase. Score one for continuity – and the fleet manager’s blood pressure. Payload of this launch configuration is expected to be competitive and compare favourably with the 1,730 kilos of the current diesel-powered two-wheel drive in equivalent body style. The shorter, 144-inch wheelbase van and standard-height roof option will appear next year.
Hove underneath the van, living in a space betwixt the frame rails and between the axles, is the lithium-iron phosphate battery which will be offered in a 131 kWh size at launch in Canada. This type of battery construction has no nickel or cobalt, and its composition is better suited to the rigors of commercial use. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, these do not balk at being drained then juiced to 100 percent and there’s an argument to be made they are more robust. They do weigh more than lithium-ion, however, though that is off little notice to a cargo van. It wouldn’t surprise us if engineers went in this direction for commercial applications while sticking with lithium-ion for passenger cars; not unlike conversations which were being had umpteen years ago about gasoline v diesel – one’s better than the other depending on application.
Made overseas and plugged into the van at its assembly point in America, the 131-kWh battery weighs about 850 kg (approximately 1870 pounds) and can be charged from 10 – 80 percent in just over 40 minutes when hoovering up electrons from a Level 3 charger capable of belting out 115 kW. The battery itself is contained in that black rectangle you see in these photos, with the silver metal ‘wings’ along its flanks serving as crash protection; shown here is the 131-kWh battery, with the upcoming 81 kWh battery simply being a shorter unit than this one. The eSprinter’s charger port is neatly (and invisibly) integrated behind the Mercedes badge up front.
That noise you hear in the background is drivers furiously asking how much range this all-electric van will offer. Mercedes engineers told us they expect government agencies on this side of the pond to rate the van at up to 308 km of range, based on internal estimates and testing, not the endlessly optimistic WLTP cycle which could peg it at over 400 km of range. An equivalent diesel-powered Sprinter has a 92.7L fuel tank and an NRCan economy rating of 11.5 L/100km. Do the math on the latter’s range.
However, it is worth noting a prototype eSprinter
was driven from the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart to the Munich airport and back on a single charge as part of a development test in late October 2022. That’s a distance of 475 kilometres, undertaken in a mix of urban driving and 90 km/h highway jaunts which is pretty representative of how many Canadian owners use their Sprinters. And before anyone suggests fudging of data, this author confirmed the test van’s tire pressures were a proper-spec 45 psi and there was no aero trickery like duct tape on the headlights.
This feat was likely down to smart use of the van’s regenerative braking capabilities, which scavenge energy being generated during deceleration and converts it into useable power for the battery. There will be multiple regen settings in the eSprinter, including the ability of one-pedal driving, but its “automatic” mode seems to provide the most returns in mixed city/highway environments since it uses the navigation system to read traffic and topographical data, figuring out when it is best to use regen and when it is best to coast. Bottom line: 400 kilometres doesn’t seem unrealistic from a 131 kW eSprinter.
At launch, look for the rear-mounted electric motor in one of two power specs: 100 or 150 kW. For those of us who don’t speak Euro, that’s approximately 135 and 200 horsepower, respectively. Torque is mum for now, but it is worth remembering that electric motors produce all their power the instant a driver flexes their big toe, so the drop from the choices of 165 and 208 horses in today’s diesel Sprinter shouldn’t be that noticeable – especially around town. The single electric motor means this new van is rear-wheel drive only, at least at launch.
It all adds up to an attractive proposition – depending on MSRP, which comes later – for the world’s fleet managers since EVs generally have far less maintenance and running costs. Being able to seamlessly transfer logistics and cargo tools from a diesel Sprinter to an electric Sprinter is also very attractive to those keeping an eye on a company’s bottom line. The Mercedes-Benz eSprinter won’t be right for everyone (like the tradesperson who regularly drives hundreds of kilometres one way for a job) but for the majority of fleets, its numbers will likely make a great deal of sense.
Production begins this summer in Charleston, USA and eventually transition to Düsseldorf, Germany.