Sprinter history lesson

There are several different types of vans called “Sprinters” in the USA. Some have badges that say Dodge, some say Freightliner, and some say Mercedes, but they were all made in the same German factory. Here’s a guide to what’s what in the Sprinter world.

Mercedes has been making Sprinters in Europe since 1995. These are the “T1N” Sprinters, which stands for Type 1 New (replacing a previous TN/Type 1 van that had been built since 1977).

2001 – Freightliner T1N Sprinters come to North America

The T1N got a facelift in 2000. These were the first Sprinters imported into the USA, in 2001. They were built in Düsseldorf, Germany by Mercedes to be sold under the Freightliner brand in the USA.

A Freightliner T1N Sprinter
A Freightliner T1N Sprinter

2003 – Dodge joins Freightliner to sell Sprinters

In 2003, Daimler (who own the Mercedes brand) merged with Chrysler (who own the Dodge brand). Now, the Sprinter was also available in the USA as a Dodge badged vehicle. It replaced the old Dodge Ram van.

A Dodge T1N Sprinter.
A Dodge T1N Sprinter.

Just to be really confusing, some owners of T1N vans care enough to swap out all the badging on their vehicles for the original Mercedes logos. So, although Mercedes never sold T1Ns under their own brand in the USA, you might well see one driving around. The logos all have been retrofitted, which isn’t an easy job because it involves replacing the radiator grill and removing trim from the hood.

2007 – New body style (NCV3) comes to North America

In 2006, Mercedes launched the NCV3 Sprinter. NCV3 stands for “New Concept Van 3.” This wasn’t available in North America until the 2007 model year. It was sold under both the Dodge and Freightliner brands.

A Dodge-branded NCV3 Sprinter.
A Dodge-branded NCV3 Sprinter.

2010 – Mercedes starts selling Sprinters in their own name

To comply with new exhaust regulations, the van’s emissions system was changed somewhat in 2010. This is also the year that Mercedes “took back” the brand from Dodge. From 2010 onward, Sprinters were badged as Mercedes vehicles, although Freightliner still sold/sells identical Sprinters under their brand too.

2014 – Body refresh

In 2014, Mercedes did a body refresh. Probably the most noticeable styling difference is that the area under the headlights changed from being metal to plastic, the same color as the bumper.

2014 refresh - bumper plastic extends up to headlights
2014 refresh – bumper plastic extends up to headlights

The future

All model year 2017 Sprinters are still made in Germany. They are shipped across to the USA. The passenger and crew vans are shipped in one piece, but the cargo vans must be disassembled in Germany and shipped in two separate containers on two separate vessels in order to avoid the USA’s “chicken tax.” Once in the USA, the body is re-mated with the drivetrain in Ladson, South Carolina, before the vehicles are sent on for delivery.

This costs Mercedes money, but the cost is still less than the tax would set them back. However, they plan to start producing vans in North America in the near future.

Ladson is the location for a new North American Sprinter manufacturing facility. It’s due to come on line in 2017, probably producing 2018 or 2019 model year vehicles. There’s no indication yet whether these will be the same as the previous model year vans. There are rumors and spy photos showing a body refresh, dash refresh, and the potential for mechanical upgrades like a new 4 cylinder engine.

3 Replies to “Sprinter history lesson”

Leave a Reply