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How can Daimler’s delivery van boom be made sustainable?

According to an article published in the Rheinische Post on 2nd January 2016, the motor manufacturer Daimler reported that it had built 180,000 Sprinter vans in 2015 – 5000 more vehicles built than in the previous year – at the company’s manufacturing plant at Derendorf in Düsseldorf. The boom in sales of Daimler’s Sprinter van is the result of an increasing demand for parcel and package delivery services, driven by the expanding market of online retailers such as Amazon and Zalando.

However, this increase in productivity and sales has not led to greater job security for the workers at the Düsseldorf factory. The management of Daimler has decided to build a new Sprinter factory at Charlestown, South Carolina in the USA, which will produce Sprinter vans for the United States, Canadian, and Mexican markets. Up until now the company’s factory in Germany has been manufacturing vans which have been exported to North America. The result of the Daimler’s new manufacturing plant in the United States will be the redundancy of 650 workers out of a workfore of 6500 at the factory in Düsseldorf.

Daimler seems to have been distracted by the short term boom in logistics services both in Europe and North America, without considering the long term sustainability of its business model. Once a delivery company buys a new van, it has that van for use for perhaps five or more years. So demand will suddenly drop once the market is saturated. A thriving logistics industry could also be threatened by another recession. At the moment Germany’s economy appears to be in a strong position, but that could change if more jobs are lost in traditional industries. The online retail industry depends upon the wages of customers, who work in companies like Daimler, to buy the products that are delivered to the customers’ homes.

The price of crude oil may be very low at the moment, but as more consumers in the world feel the effects of climate change, then there will be grater demand for vehicles driven by cleaner fuels. Daimler is already committed to the transition from fossil fuels to other fuels such as hydrogen produced from renewable forms of energy. The company is a partner in the Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME) project, which aims to expand the network of hydrogen refuelling stations across Europe, and at the same time increase hydrogen-fuelled transport. In five years time, when the Sprinter vans with diesel engines made during the boom year of 2015 come to be replaced, then all of the vans manufactured by Daimler at the Düsseldorf factory should be hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Instead of making 650 workers redundant at the factory in Germany, Daimler should retrain and redeploy these workers along with the rest of the workforce at the factory to build the new vans with hydrogen fuel cells.


Breitkopf, Thorsten (02.01.2016) ‘Daimler meldet 180.000 Sprinter gebaut’, Rheinische Post.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2016

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