The 1970s are regarded as the beginning of a new era. The Mercedes-Benz van segment also reflects this social upheaval. In 1975, the foundation was laid for a completely new van format, and for the first time it came from abroad. The Spanish carmaker MEVOSA (Compañía Hispano Alemana de Productos Mercedes-Benz y Volkswagen, S.A.), a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, developed the forerunner of today’s Vito, the Mercedes-Benz N 1300. MEVOSA drew on a wealth of know-how. As early as 1952, IMOSA, one of the original companies of MEVOSA, began building the DKW F89 L, the main features of which were also used in the first MEVOSA van with the star. The forward control design of the N 1300 and the atypical front-wheel drive, as well as the non-self-supporting bodywork on a double-tube frame, testify to the pronounced creativity in development and design. This performance was rewarded with sustained demand and a solid production period. Production of the angular van at the Spanish plant in Vitoria continued until 1987.
The next pioneer of the Vito also has Spanish roots. Like its predecessor, the MB 100 was manufactured in Vitoria, Spain. But one of the many differences between the two vehicles is their availability. While the N 1300 was mainly produced for the Southern European and North African markets, the MB 100 was also designed for the parent company’s domestic market. And so, the MB 100’s ample cargo area offered plenty of space for tradesman, craftspersons and services providers in Germany at the turn of the last century. The angular van affectionately referred to by fans as the “Cutter”, was available from 1988 to 1995. The compact van was available in five versions, at least on the Southern European markets: From MB 100 to MB 180. The number refers to the respective payload of 1 ton to 1.8 tons. Another technical highlight: The MB 100 serves as the basis for the NECAR (New Electric Car) presented in 1994, the first vehicle with the innovative fuel cell drive.
A fuel cell generates electricity from the energy released during the reaction of fuel with air. Water and – depending on the fuel – carbon dioxide is produced as a waste material. The most common fuel material for the fuel cell is hydrogen, which only produces water from the air during the reaction with oxygen. The fuel cell works like a battery that is continuously supplied with energy so that it never becomes empty (as long as there is enough fuel available).
Credit where credit is due. Since the production of vans with a star continues in Spain, the successor of the MB 100 also pays tribute to its Spanish heritage by name. The van manufactured in Vitoria becomes the Vito. In 1996 it was launched as a commercial vehicle. At the same time, the new model is also established as the V-Class in the passenger car segment. Technically, both versions are identical in all respects. The Vito is available as a Mixto with two rows of seats and small cargo space, as a passenger van with three rows of seats, as a panel van with one row of seats and large cargo space and, last but not least, as a Marco Polo campervan. The V-Class could be ordered as a passenger vehicle with three different equipment variants. The innumerable versions and areas of application finally helped the vehicle to the title “Van of the Year” in 1996.
Originally, IMOSA (Industrias del Motor, S.A.) was a subsidiary of Auto Union GmbH, which manufactured passenger cars and light vans at its German production sites under the brand name DKW. From 1952, the DKW F 89 L was also produced by IMOSA. After the takeover of Auto Union by Volkswagen at the turn-of-the-year 1964/65, the export of vehicles to Germany was stopped in order not to compete with VW vans. In 1972 IMOSA merged with the Mercedes-Benz subsidiary CISPALSA (Compañia Hispano Alemana de Productos Mercedes-Benz, S.A.) to form MEVOSA. Following the withdrawal of VW, Mercedes-Benz increased its stake in MEVOSA in several stages and in 1981 the company was renamed Mercedes-Benz España.
In 2003, the first generation of the “V-Vans” handed over the baton in the Basque Country and its great legacy to its successor, the 639 series. Like its predecessor, the new Vito also belongs to the category of small vans and minibuses. But otherwise, the differences are considerable. The first thing that catches the eye is the much rounder design. Also new: The freshly developed rear-wheel drive. In addition, the designation V-Class is no longer used. Instead, the passenger vehicle variant is now delivered under the name Viano. With two wheelbases, three overall lengths and two roof heights, there is plenty of scope for a wide variety of customer requirements. The 639 series also offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of engines: The range extends from the economical four-cylinder 65 kW (88 hp) to the powerful 165 kW (224 hp) V6. From 2011, the Vito E-CELL panel van with battery electric drive is also available, which was voted ” KEP transporter of the year ” in 2011 and 2012.
Around 1.2 million units of the Vito have been sold since its market launch in 1996 through the end of 2013. The midsize van made in Vitoria is a real bestseller. In 2014, Mercedes-Benz started marketing the third generation, internally known as the 447 Series. To this end, the Vito was completely redeveloped. This has resulted in significant successes, especially in terms of efficiency. Maintenance intervals of up to 40,000 kilometers make the van the undisputed top of its class. Customers can choose from three different drive concepts: Front, rear and all-wheel drive are available. But the new Vito also plays a pioneering role in terms of safety thanks to numerous assistance systems. The passenger car version of the series will again be marketed as the V-Class, while in the USA the Vito will be offered as the Metris model – adapted for the American market. With the eVito 2018, Mercedes-Benz is adding an ultra-modern van with electric drive to its model range, thus continuing to chart the path into the future.
Photos: Fabian Freitag, Andreas Schmidt, Damaris Riedinger, Daimler