Mercedes likely to steer clear of U.S. compact van market

The name Citan is a combination of the words “city” and “titan,” Mercedes says.
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

While the U.S. compact van market is in its infancy, the European market has grown to 700,000 annual sales.

Mercedes-Benz plans to target the European market with the Citan, a new front-wheel-drive commercial van based on the successor to the compact Renault Kangoo.

Mercedes-Benz USA says there are no plans to sell the Citan here -- and probably with good reason.

The German automaker released drawings of the Citan. The vehicle debut takes place at the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in September in Hannover, Germany. Sales begin this fall.

The name Citan is a combination of the words "city" and "titan," the automaker said.

The Citan will be Mercedes' smallest van in a lineup that consists of its biggest van, the Vario, followed in size by the Sprinter and Vito. Mercedes predicts the Citan will capture 5 percent of the European market.

Several commercial variants are slated, including a panel van and a crew bus, as well as several model lengths and weight classifications, Mercedes said. Gasoline, diesel and electric-drive models are planned.

The Ford Transit Connect is the only compact, fwd van sold in the United States. It is assembled in Turkey. U.S. sales totaled 31,914 units in 2011. While it is not a big seller, it is a profitable niche for Ford.

But at least two compact, fwd competitors are poised to enter the United States. Nissan will introduce the NV200 Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show. Sales begin this year. Dodge will introduce a compact van based on the Fiat Doblo in 2013.

Is there space for a fourth entry?

Unlikely. The segment will have plenty of competition with the Transit Connect plus the Nissan and Dodge compact vans, all vying for buyers in what likely will be a small market.