So now Daimler is crowding into the van market with its new midsize Vito to be sold in Europe and North and South America, with prices starting just below €18,000 ($24,000).
Daimler, hardly a household name in the van sector, is poised to make further inroads in a segment dominated by its chief German rival: Volkswagen.
So what should VW do?
Start selling Eurovans again in the U.S. market, the world’s largest for vans and pickups.
VW claims that it never made money with the van, which can be used not only as a transporter but also as a camping vehicle, especially for the upgraded design, which I once owned and which had a so-called “pop top.” This model offered the would-be-camper a chance to ditch the tent, pop the top of the van, and sleep in a crawl space on top of the vehicle.
I suspect the profit woes with the van are due to the fact that it was made in Germany and exported to the United States. An American production base would not only have kept costs down, it might have also increased sales, as these days more and more American consumers are looking for a Made in USA symbol.
Volkswagen also said it didn’t sell enough vans. Figures from VW USA show sales of 41,687 vehicles between 1992 and 2004. The company stopped importing the van in 2003 but there were 209 sales in 2004 from vehicles remaining in stock. The top sales were 6,673 in 2002.
Pricing may have been an issue. In its final year, the GLS model of a Eurovan was priced at $ 26,200, while the MV model was $ 27,700 – more expensive than many mini vans on the market, but this vehicle also offered a lot more.
However, judging from my personal experience with the Eurovan, there is a huge pent-up demand for this vehicle since not a single other van in the American market even comes close. If you wanted a van you could camp in – with sleeping space for up to four people, depending on their size – and still has room for stuff, the Eurovan was it. Plus it was fun to drive.
I owned two Eurovans while living in Portland, Oregon. My first was an automatic that I bought used around 2002 and sold a few years later. It was a 1993 model and maintained its value exceptionally well.
My best experience with a Eurovan was the stick shift model I purchased around 2005. It, too, was a 1993 model. I sold it in 2009 to a nice couple who wanted to do some camping. They paid $ 8,500 for a Eurovan that was 16 years old and had close to 200,000 miles on it.
And if they hadn’t bought it, others would have. Many people answered my ad for the van.
But I regretted the sale. I really loved the car. It is super fun to drive, can hold a ton of kids and gear and the pop top was my precious answer to the dreaded camping dilemma.
I don’t camp. I don’t know how to pitch a tent. I can’t make a fire. I don’t like being eaten by mosquitos and if I want to play the guitar and sing I can do that at home. The Eurovan pop top was my dream. It was camping incognito.
So after nine months of Eurovan withdrawal, I called the people who bought the van and asked if for any reason they might want to sell it back to me. My German friends in Portland thought I was nuts, but I lucked out.
The woman had never really learned to drive a stick shift. The family had some money worries and they were happy to sell it back. I paid $ 8,000 to get it back – and sold it again two years later, this time before a trip to Germany – for $8,000.
This is a vehicle that holds its value because thanks to VW’s decision to stop selling new Eurovans in the United States, the used ones’ price has soared. The business model reminds me a bit of the German Democratic Republic. New Trabants, the ubiquitous GDR vehicle, were cheaper than used ones because you couldn’t get a new one – the waiting list was 20 years long.
So dear Volkswagen, think about it. Find a way to cost effectively produce this vehicle and while you are at it, upgrade its mileage economy, something that wasn’t great on the car and is important to improve – and start selling the Eurovan again in the United States.
Daimler doesn’t have an answer to that one.
Miriam Widman is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. She can be reached at email@example.com