Fiat group Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has said that the Iveco Daily van range will make its North American market debut next year. No more details of the plan were disclosed, for example whether the offering would include chassis-cab variants on which locally-bodied motorhomes could be based.
What is more interesting is how the Daily will be accepted, compared with the existing competition. Because Fiat has no car or commercial vehicle distribution network in the US or Canada, it is safe to assume that the vans – initially, at least, shipped in from Italy – will be sold through Chrysler and/or Dodge outlets, Chrysler now being under Fiat control.
The 350 Dodge dealers who sold the Sprinter no longer do so. The resulting gap in their product line-up is now set to be neatly filled by the Daily.
Accordingly, no discussion about the Daily’s US market prospects can ignore Chrysler’s recent chequered ownership history. One of the big questions which few automotive industry observers or financial analysts have addressed head-on is how Fiat can turn Chrysler into a successful enterprise when Daimler-Benz (as it then was) failed.
Under the DaimlerChrysler banner, before the normally all-conquering German giant walked away from its American partner, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was launched in North America. It was badged either as a Dodge or a Freightliner, being sold through their respective dealer networks. Needless to say the 350 Dodge dealers who sold the Sprinter no longer do so. The resulting gap in their product line-up is now set to be neatly filled by the Daily.
Neatly is an appropriate word because the Sprinter and the Daily are direct competitors in Europe, at least in the important 3.5 to 4 tonnes gvw segment. Each has its particular merits, inevitably trumpeted by Mercedes and Fiat respectively. The Sprinter is arguably more refined in terms of comfort, noise, ride and interior detail finish. The Daily, on the other hand, is sold in Europe on its rugged ‘truck like’ durability. It has a traditional truck chassis frame based on channel-section longitudinals, whereas the steel floor of the Sprinter van is welded direct to inverted top-hat section longitudinals.
The Sprinter and the Daily are direct competitors in Europe, at least in the important 3.5 to 4 tonnes gvw segment
The Sprinter arguably lends itself better to what in the US is described as a ‘minivan’ role – what in Europe would be seen as something between a people carrier and a minibus. For serious load-carrying freight applications, the Daily is available in heavier versions than Daimler’s rival – up to 7 tonnes gvw, as against the Sprinter’s 5 tonne maximum. Both vans face competition from home-grown US product such as Ford‘s Econoline and GM‘s equivalent models. However, the latter are now ‘tired’ designs, as evidenced by Ford’s plans to market its largely European developed new-generation Transit range in North America.
It seems probable that US and Canadian buyers, whose first instincts have until now taken them towards unwieldy bonneted pick-ups, are slowly being made aware, if only for transport productivity reasons, of the practicalities of vans and chassis-cab derivatives designed for serious load carrying, where payload and loadspace are the foremost concerns. The Sprinter and the upcoming Daily and Transit look set to take advantage of that shift.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Alan Bunting has a background in engineering, and has been writing on commercial vehicle and powertrain related topics since the 1960s. He has been an Automotive World contributor since 1996.
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