Mercedes-Benz may be sitting at a healthy number five in the UK van sales charts, but it has always been hamstrung when it comes to improving its position further – it doesn’t offer a small van.
And bearing in mind small vans make up 45% of the total European market, that’s some problem.
However, things are set to change when the Citan goes on sale in Britain in January 2013 and Steve Bridge, UK van sales and marketing director at Mercedes-Benz, is already confidently predicting that with a full range of vehicles on offer, the German manufacturer will be sitting at number two by 2016.
He said: “At present we don’t have a small van to sell and this puts us at a disadvantage as a lot of fleets want solus deals which include large and small vehicles.
“I predict that by 2016 we will take the No 2 slot behind Ford.”
It’s a brave boast but one which has a ring of truth about it.
After all, in the world of fleet, many operators indeed want to sign big deals with a single manufacturer and at present they may be tempted to look elsewhere if they need a full range of vehicles.
Few vehicle makers have the deep pockets or inclination to design totally fresh vans and so Mercedes-Benz looked for a partner to aid it with its launch into this new sector.
As the company already links up with Volkswagen to produce the Crafter, it would be natural to assume that it would simply rebadge the smaller Caddy.
But, rather surprisingly, Mercedes-Benz has decided to link up with Renault.
The Citan, underneath, is none other than the Renault Kangoo, although admittedly heavily modified.
At the official launch in April, we questioned the bosses at Mercedes-Benz over this rather curious move but we came away with distinctly woolly answers.
We travelled to Copenhagen to drive the new van for the first time recently and in an interview with van marketing director Bernd Stegmann, he revealed more details.
Stegmann said: “It is true that allying ourselves more closely with Volkswagen would have been the obvious thing to do, but there are two main reasons why we did not.
"We do not believe that mirroring our two van ranges too closely is a good idea ultimately – we need to maintain distinct offerings if we are to both be successful.
"Also the Caddy is eight or nine years old now whereas the Kangoo is just three years old and we wanted a newer vehicle to sell.”