FRANKFURT -- Encouraged by the success of brands such as Ford and Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen Group is weighing whether to enter the U.S. commercial van market with its all-new Crafter, sources at the automaker say.
Volkswagen has invested 800 million euros (about $871 million) in a plant in Poland with capacity for 100,000 vehicles annually in 2018. It shouldered the development cost for an exclusive platform. Previously, the Crafter was developed with and built by Mercedes-Benz Vans, which supplied VW with only 50,000 of the vehicles per year.
Ford began building its European Transit van for U.S. customers in Kansas City, Missouri, in mid-2014, while Mercedes is expanding its Charleston, South Carolina, site at the cost of $500 million after record sales of 194,000 large vans globally last year. Fiat's Ducato was reborn as a Ram ProMaster equipped with a 3.6-liter Penta-star gasoline engine.
"No decision has been made but the option is being analyzed," said a VW source. "The problem is the chicken tax [a 25 percent tariff on light trucks imported into the U.S.], so whether a [complete knockdown] assembly or full production is the most sensible depends on the volume."
Another problem is distribution, but the acquisition of a stake in U.S. heavy-truck maker Navistar in September may give VW access to a sales network.
Asked by Automotive News, a sibling of Automotive News Europe, VW's commercial vans chief, Eckhard Scholz, didn't rule out the idea. He replied, "We'll discuss that at an appropriate time."