There is a lot to celebrate if you’re a van enthusiast in the UAE as we turn into the new decade. There has never been more choice or more excuses to invest in a vehicle type that offers arguably the greatest amount of choice and variation out of all the movers in the market.
Earlier this month, Mercedes-Benz Vans’ Abu Dhabi dealer EMC threw-on a party to celebrate its own line-up of vans including the much-admired Sprinter and the limo-bus V-Class at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. After an afternoon of test drives, the distributor – known for its willingness to think out of the box when it comes to showcasing the very best the German marque has to offer – opened the doors to the Vanchella Festival, a night of good food, company and entertainment on the lawns of the hotel.
In the hours leading up to the party, Bilal Al Rabi, general manager, EMC (commercial vehicles), sat down with T&FME and it soon became clear that the keen-eyed firm has spotted a potential for the vehicles in the hospitality sector. The Vanchella Festival, then, was both a great excuse for a get-together and a sign of where EMC thinks Van-based vehicles are heading in the market.
“At EMC, we started early with the Sprinter but most of the applications were more commercialised, like cargo, ambulances, etc. With our new bodybuilder partnerships, we have shifted towards people moving. And you will see the theme of tonight’s presentation is mostly about that. We believe that this is a sector that is not being tapped into in the right way.”
To Al Rabi, EMC now has an opportunity to configure its vehicles to match the requirements of customers that may not find a larger vehicle desirable or practical. Leveraging on Mercedes-Benz Vans’ large choice of van designs it can fill the gap between limo and coach or bus depending on what the buyer needs.
“Even in public transportation,” he adds. “We have managed to be successful in public transport because we have seen high demand. You know, sometimes you don’t need big buses to do your transportation. The portfolio that you see at Vanchella is gonna start from six-seater taxis, 16 seaters, 19, 22-seater school buses. We believe that this is a sector that we need to bring the Sprinter into. You will see some VIP transportation for six passengers up to 19.”
During the event, T&FME was given the opportunity to take both the Sprinter van and the V-Class through their paces on a near-by facility close to the Al Forsan International Kart Circuit.
Dodging in and out of cones on the specially laid-out course, this was the perfect opportunity to test features such as their driver assist features such as Active Parking Assist, Collision Prevention Assist and the impressive Distronic adaptive cruise control which uses radar to match the speed of the car ahead (in the case of a sudden brake ahead the adaptive Brake Assist (BAS) intervenes to protect both driver and passengers).
These are all features that can be seen on some coaches but seem better-suited for creating more comfortable driving in short-distance, urban driving conditions. Think of a shuttle journey between an airport and a hotel a lobby, and the V-Class’ full suite of features should come into their own.
“Versatility of the van, the price, the number of seats” underlines Al Rabi when asked to compare the benefits of a ‘van’-based vehicle like the V-Class with potential alternatives.
“There were a lot of applications that were missing in the UAE, especially in Abu Dhabi, such as hotel shuttles, airports, even now we have some 4×4 vans that you can use to go to the desert. You can have VIP seat so going into the desert doesn’t have to be in an SUV all the time. You can take your family with you; you can can even watch TV and it is still a 4×4!”
Another factor, he says, is the changing demographics and needs of customers in the automotive market.
“Plus, the new generation that we see now is shifting the mentality from owning a car to more renting,” he says, adding that EMC has formed partnership with digital application companies and has placed its vehicles into those fleets to be potentially used on ride-hailing or car-sharing platforms. “We want to see how this market is developing.”
He tells T&FME that EMC will continue to focus on the Sprinter’s cargo line but feels it will be concentrating more heavily on the people mover segment going forwards.
“We believe it is going to be significant,” he adds.
T&FME asks him whether the holding of Vanchella Festival is a deliberate play to show that when people think of vans from now on they need to be thinking about people rather than goods sitting in the back.
“Yes it’s about people and that’s why we want people to see these vehicles. You can own a sprinter and drive it on a short wheelbase. You can even put your family in there. If you don’t want that, you can go with the V-Class. But both of them are options for you. And we’re even thinking of partnering with some digital platform companies; so that if you don’t want to buy a Sprinter but want to take your family to RAK for two days you can rent one and then bring it back.”
He continues: “All the features for the Sprinter, the anti-roll, active brake assist, the distronic system qualify it to be a good people mover.”
Underlining his point, he says that EMC encouraged families to join the Vanchella Festival. EMC is once again striving to be different.
“We are very close to our market, we know the culture, we try to be very open with our customers and listen to them. But we don’t want to repeat ourselves and every time a new concept we try to be different. And our customers don’t want to do the same thing every time.
“Today is an interactive event rather than one where you just sit take a look at the vehicles. This is also the first time we have held a Sprinter event and invited families along. Normally, you just invite the guys interested in cargo or ambulance applications but with this we wanted to show what other options we have. We have music, food…. different stuff from what we normally do.”