A Sprinter-based cab chassis, built at DaimlerChrysler AG’s Mercedes Benz commercial vehicles plant in Dusseldorf, Germany, and shipped as a kit to the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC) factory in Gaffney, S.C., for final assembly, will be available to U.S. manufacturers some time before next March 31, according to Craig Fisher, director of commercial marketing for DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group.
The first models will be on display at the National RV Trade Show which begins next Tuesday (Dec. 2) in Louisville.
The rear-drive van chassis, with 140- and 158-inch wheel bases, will be imported with a rear cabin wall which manufacturers will be able to modify under conditions established by Chrysler.
“We expect several companies to add an RV to the back, and cut out a portion of the cabin’s back wall so that you can walk from the cabin into the back portion of the coach,” Fisher said. “There is quite a variety of bodies that can go on there.”
Sprinter Class B van campers, equipped with a Mercedes Benz 2.7-liter 5-cylinder turbo-charged diesel engines with GVWRs of 8,550 or 9,990 pounds with a single-axle, dual-wheel option, have been available for two years through a limited number of RV manufacturers.
Because of the Sprinter’s limited GVWR, Class C motorhome lengths are expected to be, at most, in the mid-range for the category.
“The more the manufacturer adds to the unit the shorter it is going to be,” Fisher said.
Fisher foresees no supply issues for either the Class B or Class C variants.
“Capacity is not a problem,” said Fisher, who noted there is a three-to-four month lag time between when a manufacturer orders a Sprinter and when FCCC assembles the chassis in South Carolina.
After Sprinter components, including transmissions, axles, radiators and a few miscellaneous items, arrive at Gaffney from Dusseldorf, it takes about 30 days for them to be assembled into the finished chassis.
“Generally, we ship (components for) a couple of hundred (units) at a time from Germany,” Fisher said. “They are reassembled on Freightliner’s line in Gaffney in a couple of hours.
“Where we run into a problem is when we have an RV company that has a product that became far more successful than they thought,” he said. “There is not a shortage of units. There is a timing issue.
“We are working closely with RV companies to determine their needs to keep a constant flow coming,” Fisher said. “It’s taken awhile to fine tune what that constant flow needs to be.”
Among the RV manufacturers currently building Class B motorhomes using the rear wheel-drive Sprinter-based chassis are: Airstream Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio; Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind.; Forest River Inc. and Elk Automotive Inc., both of Elkhart, Ind.; Xplorer Motor Homes, Brown City, Mich., and Leisure Travel Vans 1999 Ltd., Morden, Manitoba.
The same Sprinter-based Class B chassis is used commercially by delivery firms FedEx and UPS.
Fisher said Chrysler will import 9,000 Sprinter chassis, cargo and passenger vans into the U.S. this year. “Next year that number will be substantially higher,” he said.
The new cab chassis components now are on cargo ships headed to the U.S., Fisher said.
Initially, the Freightliner subsidiary was designated by DaimlerChrysler to market and service Sprinter van campers. Later, however, Sprinter became a Dodge product, and the Sprinter now comes labeled either as a Freightliner or a Dodge.
About 250 Dodge and 70 Freightliner dealers are certified to service Sprinter chassis.
“We expect the number of Dodge dealers to double next year,” Fisher said. “The number is expanding every month because we are adding dealers who are training employees and adding the parts and equipment that are needed.”
Fisher said it’s not likely that many RV dealers will seek to be certified to service Sprinter chassis because of the investment required for diagnostic equipment.
RV OEMs allowed to modify the B-body or chassis must be certified body builders, provide a body warranty equal to the vehicle and meet other stringent construction requirements.
“Essentially, we don’t let them cut anything, and they have to use our multiplex system and add brackets in specific places — things like that,” Fisher said.