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With the addition of rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive vans and chassis cabs, Volkswagen is pushing for growth at the heavier end of its van lineup. (all images: VW Commercial Vehicles)

VW completes launch of new Crafter commercial van range

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has completed the European launch of an all-new Crafter light commercial van range. The company, a division of Volkswagen Truck & Bus, unveiled the vans at last year’s IAA Commercial Vehicles exhibition in Hanover, Germany. Sales of front-wheel-drive models commenced earlier in 2017 and now, with the addition of rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive vans and chassis cabs, Volkswagen is pushing for growth at the heavier end of its van lineup.

In total, the company will offer European buyers 69 derivatives of the Crafter panel van and chassis cab. Crafter vans are available in three body lengths, with three roof heights, offering load volumes of 9.3 to 18.4 m3 (12.5 to 24.6 yd3). Chassis cabs come in two wheelbases with three body lengths, providing overall lengths of 6.2 to 7.2 m (20.3 to 23.6 ft).

Front-wheel-drive Crafters can be ordered at 3000 and 3500 kg (6615 to 7715 lb) gross weight, while all-wheel-drive 4Motion models are only available at 3500 kg. The 4Motion vans are based on the front-wheel drive’s transverse engine layout with a Haldex coupling transferring drive to the rear axle if the front wheels lose traction.

Rear-wheel-drive Crafters are available at 3500 and 5000 kg GVW (7715 and 11,020 lb), with a 5500-kg (12,125-lb) model to come in the future. The lighter 3.5-t (3.9-ton) rear-drive models have single rear wheels, while the heavier vans and chassis will come with twin rear wheels. A super single rear tire will be offered as an option on the twin rear wheel vans toward the end of 2018.

VW 2.0-L diesel, ZF 8-speed option

All Crafter vans are powered by Volkswagen’s EA288 four-cylinder 2.0-L diesel engine, mounted transversely in front- and all-wheel drive models and longitudinally in the rear-drive vans. The engines are equipped with a diesel particulate filter and an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) catalytic converter to meet Euro 6 emission levels. All Crafter vans have an 18-L AdBlue tank, for SCR.

Four power outputs are offered, depending on engine layout and vehicle weight. Single turbocharger engines deliver 75 kW (100 hp), 90 kW (121 hp) and 103 kW (138 hp), while a twin-turbocharged engine comes with 130 kW (174 hp). Torque outputs are 300 N·m (220 lb·ft) for both the 75- and 90-kW engines; 340 N·m (250 lb·ft) for the 103-kW; and 410 N·m (302 lb·ft) from the 130-kW engine.

Volkswagen is offering a choice of standard six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which is available with all three driveline configurations.

The company is expecting around 55% of European buyers to opt for the front-drive Crafter, with 30% taking rear-drive and 15% the 4Motion all-wheel-drive layout. Up to 10-15% of buyers will pay a £1650 ($1840) premium for the eight-speed automatic transmission.

ADAS laden

As there is a driving license cut-off in European countries at 3500 kg, above which car drivers are required to take an additional test, this is a particularly popular weight category. With that in mind, the rear-drive van loses around 100 kg (220 lb) of payload to the front-driven model. All-wheel-drive vans are up to 150 kg (330 lb) heavier than front-drivers. Front-drive vans also boast a load floor that is 100 mm (4 in) lower than rear-drive models, providing easier access to the load area.

All Crafter models have electro-mechanical steering, contributing to reduced fuel consumption. The system also allows VW to offer a wide range of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). As standard that will include City Emergency Braking, Driver Alert, Crosswind Assist on panel vans, Adaptive Cruise Control on higher trim models, and Post Collision Braking.

Optional systems include Lane Assist, plus there is a sensor-based side protection system. Customers can also specify Park Assist, which can park the van parallel to other vehicles or in a line of traffic, and Trailer Assist, which makes reversing with a trailer much easier. This system allows the driver to steer the van using the electric mirror adjusting toggle on the door, rather than the steering wheel, so the driver can lean out of the window to see behind the van while maneuvering.

Crafter vans are offered in three trim levels: Startline, Trendline and Highline, with chassis cabs initially only available in the Startline trim. However, VW’s bottomless extras box ensures that a host of additional options are available, including an ergoComfort air suspension driver’s seat, LED headlights, navigation systems, Apple and Android smartphone integration, and even a heated steering wheel.

The company claims that many popular telematic solutions can be integrated into Crafter, using a fleet management interface. VW also will offer its own ConnectedVan mobile fleet management system. This uses a DataPlug module that reads vehicle data via the van’s diagnostic interface, transmitting it by Bluetooth to a smartphone app. Drivers and fleet managers can use the app as a digital logbook to retain fuel records and other data.

Electric van undergoes trials

Volkswagen is preparing to trial an electric Crafter—the e-Crafter—over the coming months with selected customers in Germany. Powered by a 43-kW·h lithium-ion battery pack, the e-Crafter uses a 100-kW electric motor delivering 290 N·m (214 lb·ft) and a potential operating range of more than 200 km (125 mi).

Volkswagen claims that the van has been designed to account for future battery development, which could see possible ranges of up to 400 km (250 mi).

The battery pack is located beneath the van’s standard height load floor and with rapid 40-kW charging capability should be able to recharge to 80% in just 45 minutes. With a gross weight of 4250 kg (9370 lb), the e-Crafter offers a load volume of 11.3 m3 (15.1 yd3) with a payload of 1709 kg (3768 lb).

U.S. bound?

Crafter was previously built in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz, alongside the company’s own Sprinter model. Having split with Mercedes, this all-new model is put together in a totally new Volkswagen facility in Wresnia, Poland. VW will build up to 100,000 Crafter vans each year at the plant, of which 20% will be badged as the MAN TGE and sold through MAN Truck & Bus dealers across Europe.

At present, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is not present in the U.S. market, though the company has acquired a stake in heavy truck manufacturer Navistar. There is also a growing demand for European-style vans in the North American market, with Ford producing Transit in Kansas City; Mercedes building Sprinter at its Charleston plant; and Fiat offering the Ducato van as a Ram ProMaster.

Volkswagen would have to look at some form of local production, potentially from kits, to avoid heavy import duties. However, the company has not ruled out future sales of vans in the North American market.

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