Mercedes-Benz loaned seven of its vans to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust to help support the trust during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The vans – a pair of 3.5-tonne Sprinters and five mid-sized Vito models – were allocated to staff engaged in a variety of roles.

‘It was the height of the pandemic and we were extremely hard-pressed,’ said Head of Fleet Strategy & Sponsorship Chris Rutherford.

‘Our Vehicle Resourcing Centre used the vans to move people and all sorts of materials including PPE around the organisation. In logistics terms, as with everything else, the pressure we were under was unprecedented, and it was “all hands on deck”.

‘The loan of these vans meant we didn’t have to go to the additional expense of renting, which was very welcome. We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received.’

Most of the vehicles were returned to Mercedes-Benz HQ in June, but the loan period on one was extended so it could be used to complete a programme that entailed updating the IT systems at ambulance stations throughout Greater London.

The trust runs a fleet of 538 front-line, accident and emergency ambulances, every one of which is based on a 5.0-tonne Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Last year alone, it took delivery of 112 new 519 CDI chassis with 190 hp 3.0-litre V6 engines and automatic gearboxes, which are fitted with purpose-designed box bodies by leading specialist Wilker.

These ambulances operate from a network of 69 stations, all but a small handful of which have received visits over the last three months from the trust’s Covid-19 IT Response Team.

The Vito 119 CDI they used is a Tourer variant, and capable of carrying a driver and up to eight passengers in comfort and safety. However, the flexible, quick-release rail system meant the two rows of seats in the passenger compartment were easily removed, so the extra-long L3-bodied vehicle has proved ideally suited to the task of delivering new equipment and removing old hardware for recycling.

Finished in metallic black with alloy wheels, the van is powered by a fuel-efficient 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel which produces a sprightly 190 hp. This output is transferred to the rear wheels – other Vito models are available in front-wheel drive form – via a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission.

Its top-of-the-range SELECT specification, meanwhile, includes chrome detailing in the instrument and door panels, the Multifunction steering wheel with trip computer and paddles for making gear changes, TEMPMATIC air conditioning, and Headlamp Assist with rain sensor which automatically adjusts wiper intervals.

Steve Bridge, Managing Director at Mercedes-Benz Vans UK, added: ‘The people of this country owe a huge debt of gratitude to the front-line ambulance crews and all of their NHS colleagues who have worked so bravely in the face of the pandemic.

‘Against the backdrop of their heroism ours was only a very modest gesture, but we were nevertheless delighted to have the opportunity to support the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust which bore the brunt of infections in the early stages of the outbreak, by providing additional vehicles on a loan basis. It’s gratifying to know they were put to such good use.’