Together with my enthusiastic travel companion through life & travel for over 30 years, I had the unique opportunity to enjoy a VIP Tour of the Mercedes Sprinter Factory in Düsseldorf just before they closed for their six week summer break. Our expert guide, Lothar Reimann, kindly spent the whole afternoon on a hot July day to show just the two of us around the vast production site – patiently answering all our questions. After all, we're on the threshold of starting an exciting new chapter of life.
A real overland adventure awaits us!
So this visit was for two reasons. Firstly, our very own Sprinter Panel Van 4x4, V6 Automatic, left-hand drive came off the line in Düsseldorf that week and secondly I thought a factory visit to Mercedes-Benz would be the best birthday present this year for my charming co-pilot and Captain of the Road. This picture is from our visit to the Caravan Salon last August – the biggest trade fair of its kind in this sector. This is where it all began…
Both of us know Düsseldorf well having presented my fashion jewellery collection THE LONDON COLLECTION here on the QVC shopping channel for many years. It seems a very long time ago now.
We’ve always liked the look and flair of the Gehry Buildings at the Neue Zollhof near the River Rhine.
Impressive is the sheer size of the Düsseldorf Sprinter Factory with more than 680,000m2.
Not for nothing locals say: “Düsseldorf is the Sprinter and the Sprinter is Düsseldorf”.
Since 1st April 1962 this plant has produced robust and reliable transporters like our Sprinter under the Mercedes-Benz brand on the road in over 100 countries. We learned that there are approximately 1,000 base models as well as 240 different build types divided into panel vans and combis, four lengths, three heights including the relatively recent high roof, left- and right-hand drive versions and various engines.
From next year onwards Mercedes-Benz will launch a new model design (all still top secret) plus the Sprinter will also be available as a cheaper front-wheel drive version.
Some readers might wonder why a London-based couple are ordering a Sprinter from Germany?
Well, one of the reasons is the excellent expertise of companies like Mercedes-Benz and CS Reisemobile, north of Hamburg, who are now working their magic on our Sprinter van converting it into a proper off-road expedition vehicle. Germany is unrivalled when it comes to engineering firms in this sector. We are keen to start off our BIG adventure in 2018 with a “maiden drive” (not to be taken literally) through Scandinavia and Iceland as a “practice run” in spring.
And this is how it looks right now with holes cut into the sides and roof. Lots to do before we ship the completed Sprinter 4x4 to North America for the even bigger adventure of exploring the Pan American Highway all the way from Prudhoe Bay Alaska right down to Ushuaia Patagonia.
We're planning to spend a year visiting all the beautiful National Parks in the USA. Travelling without time restrictions is what we look forward to after decades of corporate life and often rushed
Mercedes-Benz is the largest employer here with over 6,600 people in the Sprinter Factory; 4% of which are women plus there are over 500 industrial robots in the impressive construction halls where 80% of the production is automated. Not a bad idea given 7,650 welding points is just one example of the many repetitive tasks.
The average cost of one of these impressive KUKA robots is 33.000 EUR not including
A place of superlatives!
By the way, the Sprinter factory in Düsseldorf has the world’s largest windscreen fitting facility.
16 new Eiffel Towers could be built with the amount of steel sheet used annually in this factory!
A different kind of 4x4…
The 50,000m2 production area is arranged over mainly two levels. Shiny chassis zoom along fast above our heads. It's remarkably quiet in this part of the factory and very tidy and clean.
There are many quality checks along the way.
Depending on the model, each transporter consists of 13,000 to 14,000 parts. Production takes two days. Five days a week, three shifts work around the clock - Monday to Friday - producing 740 Transporters every day.
There’s a daily average of 280 supply trucks arriving at the factory with 2,850 tons of material and 315 transport trucks leave with finished Sprinters.
The workers display a sense of humour calling one important task “engagement” (when the chassis is lowered into a hanging device) and there is also a “wedding” (the connection of the drive train
to the chassis).
At present there are almost 370 shades of body paintwork available for Sprinters. Outside the hall we spot a raspberry coloured transporter – Herr Reimann shares a chuckle with us – and a trendy turquoise Sprinter van drives past us. Everything seems possible: Benz is best!
Two-thirds of all Sprinters are white; consequently there is a separate spraying section or “lane” just for this work-horse colour.
Two other sections are taking care of different single colours and the slightly more costly metallic shades which require an additional clear lacquer which is applied manually. Herr Reimann explains that many customers want their own individual colour finish.
No wonder Sprinters are so popular as company fleets for large international firms like UPS, DPD, Hermes, the Police in countries like Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland, Berlin Taxi as well the Royal Mail, ambulances and big supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s here in the UK.
And the social element is not missing either. Düsseldorf is one of the three major centres of German carnival and the Mercedes-Benz factory provides 30 Sprinters every year supplying sweets and snacks for the local Shrovetide festivities and processions.
The “Good Night” Sprinter offers homeless people in Düsseldorf donations like warm clothes, sleeping bags and hot drinks during the chilly winter months.
At Christmas time, Mercedes-Benz delivers gift parcels wrapped by their staff for the Childrens’ Hospice “Rainbowland” to make Christmas Eve a bit more pleasant.
Feeling enriched with the knowledge gained we are more than happy with our choice of a Sprinter 4x4.
We’re in good hands (Benz Hands ) plus Mercedes is represented in all the countries we intend to visit soon - currently there are more than 30 on our overland expedition list.
In summary, our Sprinter Overland Adventure simply has to be with a good star. On the bonnet from Mercedes-Benz! A lucky star from Düsseldorf…