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by Matt Campbell

When a company comes out with a big claim about safety, it’s always pertinent to take a closer look – and that’s certainly the case with the Mercedes-Benz Vito van.

Mercedes-Benz Australia launched the new van this week, claiming – unabashedly – that the Vito is “quite possibly the world’s safest office”.

It is packed with available safety technology such as the full array of airbag protection, a reverse-view camera, and parking sensors front and rear.

There are class-firsts such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and a forward collision warning system with full auto braking. The van can even park itself semi-autonomously using the Active Parking Assist system.

The caveat? Buyers need to pay more – a lot more – to have their vans kitted out with all the available safety gear.

2015 Mercedes-Benz Vito_23

Here’s a list of the prices for the optional safety equipment Mercedes-Benz is offering in the new Vito, which has a number of package deals that the brand claims offer buyers discounts:

  • Reverse-view camera: $900
  • Parking sensors (only available with automated parking technology): $1230
  • Side airbags: $750
  • Curtain airbags: $790
  • Parking Package (semi-automated parking, parking sensors, reverse-view camera): $1700
  • Lane Tracking Package (with blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, rain sensor, leather steering wheel): $1300
  • Driving Assistance Package (Lane Tracking Package + Collision Prevention Assist): $1600

The fact the van can’t match a number of its rivals for safety hardware is worth considering.

For example, you get a reverse-view camera as standard in a Toyota HiAce, parking sensors as standard in a Renault Trafic and six airbags as standard in the Ford Transit Custom. Mercedes-Benz can’t match any of those offerings.

2015 Mercedes-Benz Vito_66

But Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy defended the lack of safety gear, claiming the electronic aids on offer give the Vito its safety status. It’s worth considering that the Vito and V-Class have been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, too.

Benz and McCarthy claim the Vito’s standard electronic offerings better the competition. The items include driver drowsiness alert, and a highly-advanced electronic stability control system – ESP9i – which incorporates: Crosswind Assist, which can brake individual wheels to offset wind gusts affecting the line taken by the driver; Load Adaptive Control, which senses how much weight you have on board and adjusts the ferocity of intervention; rollover mitigation; and Enhanced Understeering Control, which limits the van from pushing straight during cornering.

Most reputable vans have advanced electronic stability control with load sensing and rollover mitigation, but McCarthy defended the lack of standard hardware on offer in the new Vito.

“Mercedes-Benz will not engage in a race to the bottom on safety,” he said. “Some of the vans on the market – quite frankly – I don’t know how they can market them.”

But, in what could be seen as a contradiction, McCarthy also said the company “will not compromise on safety”.

Der neue Vito / The New Vito

“This is quite possibly the world’s safest office,” McCarthy said. “This is a workplace. Vans are a workplace, and the most precious cargo of all is the driver.

“You’ve seen the technology that’s in the van – it’s passenger car technology, it’s truck technology.

“Some of our competitors in the passenger car segment … don’t have this technology in their passenger cars. Most brands don’t even come close to having any of this. It’s really important.”

But when asked specifically if the brand is telling two truths with its safety message, McCarthy claimed the brand can’t justify adding extra cost to the vans to add more gear as standard.

“At the end of the day, people will make an assessment whether they can afford it,” he said of the optional safety equipment the brand is offering.

Der neue Vito / The New Vito

“And the uptake on safety in the past has been pretty high. If we made it all standard, well ultimately the price would be significantly higher, and a lot of people wouldn’t even buy it.

“A commercial vehicle buyer, sometimes they’ll make a decision based on $2 or $3 per week,” he said.

When it comes to airbag protection, the decision to leave out side and curtain protection for the driver and passenger came as a shock to the assembled media, CarAdvice included.

“It is a price-sensitive market – in an ideal world we’d like to [offer side and curtain airbags as standard], but reality is that the vehicle is a tool of the trade,” he said.

“We would obviously love to make [airbags] standard – at the price point it’s really difficult.

2015 Mercedes-Benz Vito_54

“Where safety equipment is an optional fitment, we’ve done that as cheaply as we can to make it more attractive. If you made it standard, you might get – if it’s $1000 [in option costs], and you made it standard on everything, it might mean you’d have to increase the price by $750 if you made it standard.

“We’ve already made it as cheap as we can – the challenge is getting people to pay it.

“Sometimes you have to make a decision based on what is the best possible outcome, and I really believe the electronic aids are really significant in that they will help you avoid an incident,” he said of the advanced ESP system and driver drowsiness monitoring system.

“A lot of the incidents that these vehicles will have will be relatively low speed, so it’s not necessarily an incident where an airbag will deploy.

“But we could discuss it all day, but you have to make a call and I still think – don’t discount the electronic aids.

2015 Mercedes-Benz Vito_44

“If we didn’t put the [electronic aids] in, and instead we put in the airbags – would we sell any more vans? No.”

Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr told CarAdvice that the brand is always looking to improve the value for money aspect of its offerings, particularly when it comes to safety.

“It’s certainly noted,” she said when asked about having a reverse-view camera fitted as standard. “We’ve had discussions with Germany about that.

“We are trying to bring the product to the market at the right position, and part of that is to also monitor [demand for such items]. If the request for uptake increases … we will definitely look at fitting that as standard,” she said.

“We would ultimately like to get to a point where it is offered as standard.”




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