MUNICH -- The Mercedes-Benz Citan small delivery van has been given three out of five stars in a EuroNCAP crash test. It is the worst safety score for one of the automaker's vehicles in more than 15 years.
The van is a derivative of the Kangoo from Renault, which formed an alliance with Mercedes parent Daimler in 2010 that includes commercial vehicles, small cars and powertrains.
The Citan is built at the French automaker's plant in Maubeuge, France. The engines, which Daimler upgraded, are from Renault.
The low score is a blow for Mercedes, which prides itself on the safety of its vehicles and promoted this strength when it introduced the van to the European market in the third quarter of 2012.
"The poor results are all the more surprising since the Renault Kangoo was not impressive in the crash test in 2008," ADAC, Germany's largest auto club, said. The Kangoo scored four out of five stars when tested in 2008. The last Mercedes to score as poorly as the Citan was the C class, which earn two out of five stars in 1997.
The Citan is the first and only small minivan to be tested this year by EuroNCAP, which has made it progressively more difficult to earn a top score of five stars since 2009.
"The competitors in the small van segment have all been tested before 2009," a Daimler spokeswoman told Automotive News Europe.
While direct rivals such as the Citroen Berlingo have not been crash tested since 2009, EuroNCAP has tested a number of small minivans that are aimed at private customers rather than delivery firms. In 2012, the Fiat 500L and Ford B-Max both earned top safety scores of five stars from EuroNCAP.
EuroNCAP said the Citan revealed weaknesses and safety shortcomings during the crash tests, especially in front and side impacts as well as in its active safety equipment. (Click here for the full report.)
Crash test experts in particular criticized hard structures in the instrument panel, the high risk of chest injuries for drivers and passengers, and the lack of a seat belt reminder for the front passenger and rear seats.
The experts said the side curtain airbag became entangled during the side barrier and side pole tests, rendering it almost ineffective. In its report, EuroNCAP said, "Mercedes have indicated that they will improve the performance of the curtain airbag."
The Daimler spokeswoman confirmed that the company is in talks Renault to remedy problems identified with the airbag.
The test also found shortcomings with the pedestrian protection offered by the van and concluded that the designers had only improved certain sections of the bumper and the rear area of the hood.
Citan is an important model for Mercedes brand. The company returned to the city delivery van segment with the Citan last year after a nearly seven-year absence. Its predecessor, the Vaneo, arrived in the market in 2001. The Vaneo was too expensive for the market and was phased out in 2005 after poor sales. Barely 55,000 units were built at Daimler's factory in Ludwigsfelde, Germany.
With the Citan, Mercedes has targeted a market share of 4 percent to 5 percent or 28,000 to 35,000 units in the small van segment, which has annual sales of about 700,000 units in Europe.
Overall, Mercedes is aiming to expand sales of its vans to 400,000 units by 2015. Last year, the company sold 252,418.
David Jolley and Douglas A. Bolduc contributed to this report