Mercedes-Benz has provided a sneak peak of its plans for the 2019 Sprinter van in the USA this week, revealing it is positioning the new vehicle as a digital platform that will enhance the movement of goods and people as cities grow denser and traffic woes increase.

Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, Volker Mornhinweg cited recent research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Megacity Logistics Lab that indicated that automakers need to ‘design commercial vehicles with the internet and connectivity in mind to meet the increasing demands of urban delivery’.

“The completely reconceptualized Sprinter will be a unique, holistic transport solution: a completely networked van as part of the Internet of Things, where we have already written connectivity into the vehicle’s DNA,”  Mornhinweg said.

Matthias Winkenbach of the Megacity Logistics Lab at MIT indicated that vehicles will have to be connected to shippers and fleet managers to arrange deliveries and they will have to be able to adjust routes in real time to avoid traffic.

“They must become part of an ecosystem for so-called last-mile delivery, the distribution of goods from a central warehouse or depot to the customer an they will have to work more as a device to communicate with all the players,” Winkenbach added.

Volker Mornhinweg echoed those findings saying that is exactly Mercedes’ goal with the new Sprinter.

The new Sprinterwill be unveiled in February, but sales won’t start until later in 2018 in Europe while U.S. deliveries will begin closer to the end of next year. Other markets, including Australia will follow in early 2019.

The new Sprinter will be the third generation since its introduction in 1995 and Daimler has sold more than 3.3 million globally in that time.

Globally, the new van will have options for front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. It will be offered as a regular cab chassis or crew cab chassis and as a van or bus. Mercedes revealed there will be four different body lengths and three roof heights.

The new version will have some autonomous safety features such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking of Mercedes passenger cars.

Benz revealed there will be a battery-electric version and while it didn’t provide details it will have a 41.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack and a range that will probably equate to around 200 km.

Mornhinweg said it will be fully capable and will come with consulting services to help customers discern whether electric drive will work for their businesses and routes. In the US and Europe there will be a rapid-charging system that will be capable of charging the battery in 30 to 60 minutes.

“We don’t simply want to build a battery on wheels,” Mornhinweg said.

“In a densely urban place like Manhattan it makes a lot of sense,” Mornhinweg said to his American audience at the reveal.

“Deliveries there are in a small geographic area and don’t require a lot of range,” he said.

To support U.S. sales, Mercedes corporate parent Daimler is building a new plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, that will start producing the new Sprinter next year.

Making the new van “intelligent” will be the key to its success, Mornhinweg said.

“The market for courier, express and parcel services is characterized by tight delivery deadlines, flexible delivery windows and high cost pressures,” he said.

“This gives rise accordingly to a growing scope of applications for intelligent vehicles, which are required to play an even greater role in helping to keep companies with corresponding transport needs competitive and successful.”

The vans, for example, will be used for both the delivery and return of goods.  Functions such as analysing a repair technician’s service calls can digitally fine-tune the loading and mix of parts inventory that will be required for the route.

There is already not enough capacity to meet parcel delivery demand in much of the U.S. and Europe, Mornhinweg said.

Much of the technology that Mercedes is packing into the new van is designed to fill that gap.

Creating a vehicle that can deliver “more parcels in a time frame was our goal,” he said.

Building vehicles that can be connected to route optimization technology will be increasingly important for builders of commercial vans such as the Sprinter, Winkenbach said.

He cited a UPS study that found that an average reduction of one-mile on its 55,000 daily delivery routes translates into an annual cost savings of more than $AUD75 million.

“A minute gain in efficiency can lead to enormous economic effect,” Winkenbach said.

Logistics systems will have to become more autonomous and intelligent.

“We have to avoid sending a variety of vehicles through town half empty,” he said.