The history of motorized freight transport goes back to the early days of the automobile. At the beginning of October 1896, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft delivers the first motorized truck. The vehicle was used to transport goods and had a payload of 1.5 tons. In the spirit of the industrial revolution, competition became the main driving force behind the economy. A start-up spirit emerges. Independent of Daimler, Carl Benz, its largest competitor at the time, built a “delivery van” with a box body only two months later, thus becoming the prototype of the van. In July 1897, Carl Benz presented the Benz Break, a spacious minibus for up to twelve people. In the same year, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft also offered its customers a series of delivery vans for payloads from 500 kg to 2 tons. Thus, the companies of the two automobile pioneers enter into a competition in the van segment that would continue until 1926.
After the end of the First World War, the economic conditions in Germany are difficult. Representatives of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. founded a joint venture in May 1924 and signed the contract to merge the two companies at the end of June 1926. Daimler-Benz AG and its Mercedes-Benz brand arose with the world-famous trademark: A three-pointed star in a laurel wreath. In 1927, Daimler-Benz presented the L 3/4, a 750 kg van that was upgraded to the L 1000 Express in 1929. Its versatility is strongly reminiscent of modern vans. The L 1000 Express was available as a flatbed truck, panel van or minibus with ten seats. In 1936, the Swabian automobile manufacturer then launched the 170 V onto the market. It becomes the Mercedes-Benz model and also serves as the basis for a box van with a payload of 350 kg.
Severely destroyed factories and a shortage of raw materials after the Second World War forced Daimler-Benz to build on what it already had. As the first genuine post-war van “made in Untertürkheim,” the 170 V with simple flatbed and panel van bodies came onto the market. But the country recovered quickly. As a symbol of the German economic miracle, the company presented the L 319 in 1955. The new front-wheel-drive van, with its rounded design, became a bestseller and transported goods and services throughout the country. In 1969, Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and the legendary Woodstock open-air music festival ushered in a new era. The Mercedes-Benz 309 van series had already been on the market for a good two years at this time. The now somewhat angular form with the indicated bonnet is considered to be the forerunner of the Mercedes-Benz van as it exists today. In 1977, a classic makes its debut: The series internally called TN or T 1 as the first Mercedes-Benz new product in the 1-2 ton segment.
Together with the MB 100 in the lighter class, introduced in 1987, the T 1 survives the last decade of inner-German separation. With the reunification of Germany, the 1990s promise to be an era of peace. With Austria, Sweden, and Finland, three new states joined the EU in 1995. And in the spirit of the new Europe, Mercedes-Benz also welcomes another family member: The Sprinter, which replaces the successful T 1. From the very beginning, it was not just on German roads. As a truly global player, it quickly became a European success story “made in Germany.” A good year later, the Vito was added as a completely new successor to the MB 100. It completes the modern van division of Mercedes-Benz for the time being. The Vaneo, presented in 2001, closes the gap between van and passenger car, and the Citan took over its role in 2012.
With Sprinter, Vito, and Citan, Mercedes-Benz Vans ultimately arrived in the 21st century. The continuing global economic boom has also led to a further increase in the sales figures of the vans with the star. At the same time, the world is increasingly longing for sustainability after the turn of the millennium. However, the demand for battery-powered vans offered by Mercedes-Benz remains low for the time being. Today, social interest in alternative drive systems has continued to grow. The stage is set for the eVito and eSprinter. In 2018 (eVito) and 2019 (eSprinter), the Swabian carmaker is expanding its model range with both vans to include battery-electric drive. And so, the success story of Mercedes-Benz Vans can continue in the future.
Photos: Media Daimler