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All too hard for Mercedes Citan van Down Under

Not coming: Mercedes’ French-built, Renault Kangoo-based Citan small van initially scored just three stars in the European NCAP safety tests.

Benz’s small urban van dropped from Australian wish list due to lack of diesel auto

28 Jan 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia Pacific (MBPA) has abandoned plans to import the smallest van in its global range, the Citan, because it can’t get an appropriate specification for this market.

The van, based on the Renault Kangoo and built in France by a Renault subsidiary under a model sharing deal with Mercedes, is offered in Europe with an 81kW 1.5-litre diesel engine and a range of four-cylinder petrol engines up to 84kW.

However, one of the main sticking points for MBPA’s product planners is that the diesel comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox – a shortcoming for an urban-focused van in this market.

MBPA senior manager for public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy confirmed to GoAuto that the Citan was now off the launch list for Australia, mainly because Mercedes-Benz could not deliver an appropriate mix of powertrain options and other specifications.

He said the decision had less to do with the safety rating for the Citan, which he said was now a respectable four stars.

The Citan attracted headlines for all the wrong reasons last year when it was given a mere three stars in the European New Car Assessment Program (ENCAP) crash safety ratings, embarrassing Mercedes and denting its safety record.

Mercedes swiftly revamped the Citan’s safety equipment and resubmitted it for follow-up testing, convincing ENCAP to amend its rating to four stars.

Although the safety rating was not a deal breaker for the Australian arm, it did delay a decision on its release here, which was originally scheduled for 2013.

When the Citan was unveiled in Germany in 2012, the company’s Australian arm announced plans for its release here, saying the line-up was expected to include “a high-torque, turbo-diesel direct-injection engine and a nippy forced induction, petrol engine both with close to 200Nm of torque”.

However, the European tradition for manual-only diesels has helped to skittle the deal, even though an auto is available with a petrol four-cylinder powertrain.

Australia’s top-selling van in the class, the Volkswagen Caddy, offers a 2.0-litre diesel engine with automatic transmission in its long-wheelbase Caddy Maxi variant.

The Caddy last year accounted for more than 60 per cent of the segment, which is only tiny in Australia, amounting to little more than 3000 units a year.

Renault’s Kangoo, on which the Citan is based, achieved just 360 sales in 2013 for 12 per cent of the segment.

Mercedes-Benz will press on with its mid-sized Vito van – which achieved 986 sales and 6.3 per cent share of its segment last year – and larger Sprinter.

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