DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Daimler AG predicts U.S. sales of its commercial vans this year will match 2009 deliveries after distribution was shifted to luxury retailers from Dodge dealers.
Sprinter's U.S. sales through November at Mercedes and Freightliner dealerships fell a combined 8.1 percent compared with the same period last year at Dodge and Freightliner stores, according to Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based researcher.
“We will get there,” Claus Tritt, Mercedes commercial vans general manager, said last week about 2010 sales equaling the previous year's total. “It's coming together,” he added in the interview.
U.S. Mercedes dealers sold 3,917 Sprinter vans during the first 11 months while deliveries by Freightliner outlets more than tripled to 3,263. A year earlier, more than 300 Dodge dealers accounted for 87 percent of the 7,817 sold.
A total of 8,353 Sprinter vans were sold last year through Dodge and Freightliner stores in the U.S., according to Mercedes, part of Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler.
Tritt oversaw the transition of moving Sprinter sales to Mercedes dealers from the Dodge outlets that had sold the trucks since 2003. The Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands were part of DaimlerChrysler AG until it sold Chrysler Group in 2007. Fiat SpA took control of the group last year and split off Ram trucks as a brand separate from Dodge.
Mercedes dealers are required to have a separate display area for the commercial vehicle and to provide those customers with dedicated technicians and sales staff, Tritt said.
While Sprinter sales at Mercedes dealerships started slowly, they have grown to about two-thirds of monthly Sprinter volume, Ernst Lieb, head of Mercedes' U.S. unit, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month.
Most of the new Sprinter dealers went out and hired a sales force with experience in commercial-vehicle sales, Lieb said.
“The traditional Mercedes-Benz luxury salesman is not the right guy,” he said. “We might have the customer, the owner of the landscaping company or the owner of the hotel who now is interested, but to sell the actual unit” needs a trained sales person.
Daimler began selling Sprinter vans in the U.S. in 2001 at its Freightliner dealerships, which continue to sell the vehicles. Daimler has 84 Mercedes and 49 Freightliner stores selling the vans.
Eventually, Daimler wants 180 to 200 Mercedes and Freightliner dealerships selling and servicing Sprinter vans, Tritt said. Mercedes has 352 U.S. dealers, according to the company.
While Daimler has done a good job keeping sales through the distribution changes, its overall place in the full-sized van market remains small, said Aaron Bragman, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive.
More than 170,000 full-size vans were sold in the U.S. so far this year, he said. Ford Motor Co.'s Econoline Van sold 76,051 units this year, according to Autodata.
Bernie Moreno, a Mercedes dealer near Cleveland, said van sales at his dealership, which sold about 60 Sprinters, met his expectations for the year and that he is still “playing around with the right formula for selling them.”
“The sales part of it is definitely a different model,” he said. “It's not the customer who comes in with their wife and looks at an SL-500 and decides this is the car for them and drives off. We're not getting a lot of people who are buying Sprinters for Christmas.”