Mercedes’ German slogan for their Vario model is ‘The One for Everything’ and it is marketed as their most variable vehicle surpassing most other models when it comes to design options. But in this increasingly efficiency-driven market, is this the kind of variability that is demanded by the consumer?
First, it is necessary to define variability, which now, and especially in the context of the Vario, has very different connotations than at the time of the van’s first introduction to the market as ‘Transporter 2’ in 1986. Variability in 1986 described the kind of flexibility provided by a basic, stable truck, which could be used for a variety of purposes. Most vans could be used for basic tasks such as the transport of goods of whatever specification from A to B. Even earlier than 1986, most vans could and were used for all kinds of tasks involving the transport of items that could not be fitted into an ordinary car, from wood to wheelchairs to foodstuffs.
The Transporter 2 was first available as a minibus, a box van, and a flat-bed light truck with either single or double cab. The chassis, added in 1977, came in only two different widths. This comparatively limited variety of vehicles all sold under the name of ‘Transporter 2’ were used for everything from delivery, post, and builders’ vans to fire-brigade and rescue vans.
Variability in 2012 means something very different. The Vario, the successor of the Transporter 2, is now available in two main body styles, the Panel Van and the Chassis Cab. Both body styles can be used as a ‘blank canvas’ and built on to create highly individualised vehicles designed specifically to serve complex commercial needs.
For instance: The Vario provides a popular base chassis for mini buses, and is available with a wheelchair-lift. UPS trucks use the same model with a very different configuration specifically suited to commercial transport. The body shell can be adapted for the transport of foodstuffs at constant temperatures, wheelbase lengths and roof heights are adjustable. In addition to this, there are around 500 optional extras, such as an all-wheel-drive. In the same way the Mercedes Sprinter begins as a simple basic model which can be built upon and customised.
Variability now is no longer about delivery a single all-rounder vehicle. It has become about delivering a vehicle that can be modified for different uses economically.