Mercedes-Benz has introduced the next generation of its light-duty workhorse, the Sprinter van, with more configuration choices and many enhancements – including an electronic stability system that adjusts braking and steering to compensate for cargo distribution.

At the unveiling of the new Sprinter lineup, company officials said that the combination of three wheelbase options, four length options and a new "super-high" roof option, plus variations in weight ratings, body types, engines and transmission can be packaged to build about a thousand different models.

The truck can be "made to measure," said Georg Weiberg, head of development for Mercedes-Benz Van.

The Sprinter, which has been on the market since 1995 and is sold all over the world, is available in the United States as the Dodge Sprinter. It also is marketed through Freightliner, although that distribution outlet will be closed at the end of this year, said Randy Jones, spokesman for Dodge Sprinter.

In order to keep up with strong demand for the truck in the U.S., Mercedes-Benz intends to shift assembly from its plant in Gaffney, S.C., to another facility in Charleston, S.C. U.S.-bound Sprinters are manufactured in Düsseldorf and Ludwigsfelde, Germany, disassembled and shipped to the U.S. for reassembly – a process necessitated by U.S. tariffs, said Heinrich Weiss, head of Sprinter production in Germany.

With the Charleston assembly plant, Mercedes-Benz will be able to increase U.S. production by 50 percent by 2007, Weiss said. Last year approximately 25,000 Sprinters were sold in the U.S. Perhaps 20 percent of U.S. Sprinters are in the fleets of major trucking operations such as FedEx, UPS and DHL, Weiss said. The balance – including passenger vans as well as cargo vehicles – are in vocational and utility operations.

Dodge has not yet said which models of the new-generation Sprinter it will offer through its 300-plus commercial dealers. But here's an outline of what Mercedes-Benz has put together:

• Wheelbase options of 10.6 feet, 12 feet and 14.2 feet. Four van-length options between 17.5 and 24 feet. GVW ratings range from 3.3 to 5.5 tons. Cargo space in the vans runs from 247 to 600 cubic feet.

• A range of diesel engines, including a four-cylinder turbocharged model rated from 88 to 150 horsepower, and a V6 rated at 184 horsepower. The diesels are fuel-efficient (Jones said the current diesel gets 25 mpg), come standard with a particulate filter and feature an oil change interval of 24,855 miles. Also available is a V6 gasoline engine rated at 258 horsepower.

• The standard transmission for the diesels is a six-speed manual, with three options for a final drive ratio. The gasoline engine comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission, which also can be specified for the diesels.

• All of the new Sprinters come with Adaptive ESP, a new-generation Electronic Stability Program. The enhancement here is the system's ability to determine mass and center of gravity, for greater control of braking and steering during exaggerated maneuvers.

• New to the lineup is a seven-foot "super-high" roof, up from the 6.3-foot "high roof" option. The standard interior van height is 5.4 feet.

• Sixteen-inch wheels are standard, with large-diameter disc brakes. Smaller trucks have ventilated brakes in the front, while larger models have ventilation front and rear. Super single tires are an option on the five-ton truck.

• All seats have three-point belts. Driver front airbag is standard, and thorax and window bags are available for both the driver and passenger. Load-securing rings are standard.

• Other features: electric windows, radio remote control locking, more storage options for the driver's gear, variable height adjustment for the driver's seat and a flip-up passenger seat. Also available is a keyless entry system so the driver doesn't have to free his hands to open the sliding door. The system automatically closes and locks the door when the driver walks away.

• Halogen headlights – Bi-Xenon lights are an option – with the capability of shining light in the direction a driver is turning.

• Also available is the Parktronic system, which uses sonic sensors to warn of obstacles while parking.