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Benz readies Citan for crash-test recovery

Bouncing back: Mercedes-Benz says a series of soon-to-be-announced changes to its Citan van will help improve crash safety.

Engineering tweaks in line for Mercedes-Benz’s three-star delivery van

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Mercedes-Benz logo26 Aug 2013

MERCEDES-Benz is poised to roll out engineering changes to its Citan light van that it hopes will improve the underperforming crash record of the vehicle.

The Citan, a city-friendly delivery van, shares its underpinnings with the Renault Kangoo, and was due to go on sale in Australia about now.

However, a less-than-stellar three-star crash rating awarded to the Kangoo in European New Car Assessment Program crash testing has delayed the van’s sale here for at least another six months as Renault, and Mercedes-Benz, scramble to fix safety problems identified in the test.

Klaus Maier, Mercedes-Benz’s global vice-president of sales and marketing for the car-maker’s commercial van division, said the German company was “not really happy” with the Renault-sourced Citan’s crash result.

He said Mercedes-Benz had teamed up with Renault in the light commercial vehicle joint venture because at the time, the French brand’s previous-generation Kangoo had earned four stars – the best crash rating in the segment.

“We’ve almost finalised now the technical solution (to fix problems identified in the crash test), and we also decided to do a recall,” Mr Maier said during a short visit to Australia late last week.

The recall will involve about 3500 Citan vans already sold in Europe, and will fix a side-curtain airbag that snagged on a seatbelt anchorage in both a front-on and side impact test.

However, other engineering changes flagged by Mr Maier will help to prevent a gap from opening between the rear sliding door and the major structural pillar behind the front seats, posing a hazard to occupants’ limbs.

Mr Maier said it was still too early for the car-maker to go into details about what changes would be made to the van.

“I think it will be too early to release all the information (about the changes being made to the Citan), but we are in the early stage” he said.

“We also have to work together now with suppliers to get enough parts ... to recall the 3500 vehicles.” He said Australia would get a “corrected” version of the Citan when it goes on sale here early next year.

Mr Maier said Mercedes-Benz would reconsider having the Citan re-assessed for its crashworthiness once the changes had been made on the vehicle, although it was unlikely to receive a four-star rating.

“We don’t need to retest it, but we will consider it,” he said. “In order to get a four-star rating we need to include some assistance systems (such as seatbelt reminders) because EuroNCAP, since 2008, has ... tightened their criteria (for higher crash-test-ratings),” he said.

“Safety for us is the most important issue, and we are consistently working on it.

“If you launch a vehicle with a joint-venture partner, to a certain extent ... you’re limited – you can’t make changes to the car how you would like to do it.” He said the van would still launch in Australia with a three-star rating because “there is no better safety rating in this car segment”.

“There are a lot of cars in the market in Australia, so of course we always try and be better in safety than others, and I’m sure we will be better, but I don’ t know if this will be enough to get four stars,” Mr Maier said.

He said the changes made to the vehicle to improve its safety would not add to the cost of the Citan once it is launched here.

Mercedes-Benz has previously taken a stand in Australia, electing in 2009 to sell the Vito trade van with optional side-impact curtain airbags.

The move earned the Vito the title of the first commercial van to earn a five-star rank in locally assessed crash test ratings.

Mercedes-Benz Australia had said previously that delays to the Citan’s arrival in Australia were linked to the difficulty in equipping the van for the local market.

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