How can we know today what our customers will need tomorrow?

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customers will need tomorrow

Pointing out at a recent press briefing in Frankfurt that the transport of the future will be electric, automated and connected, Stefan Buchner, Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks posed an interesting question. “How do we actually come to conclude everything that a vehicle of tomorrow could be? Of course I can’t answer this question for our competition, but I can raise the curtain a bit for Mercedes-Benz Trucks.”

“We rely on many sources; our future research department, our advanced engineering, our customers, our drivers and our sales and service network.”

“We focus on three topics in particular. Because that’s what matters most in trucks; efficiency, safety and uptime.” Under efficiency he included fuel consumption and emissions together with increasingly stringent CO2requirements or imminent entry bans in many of Europe’s cities. “With a little effort we can achieve great savings by further improving not only the powertrain, but the overall vehicle – including aerodynamics. For example we could easily get rid of wind catchers like exterior mirrors.” A point to note when the next generation Mercedes-Benz Actros is launched later this month.”

“Another point of departure for more efficiency is ‘Intelligence.’ We already support our drivers today with Predictive Powertrain Control. That means the truck proactively brakes and accelerates.”

“A next possible step would also be for the truck to process high-resolution road maps to use Predictive Powertrain Control in the inner city as well. Or imagine the truck recognises traffic signs and engages the appropriate shifting strategy.”

“Of course we’re also thinking about alternative drives fully concentrating on the electric truck and our eActros innovation fleet.”

“That brings us to the second topic: Safety!” Although the number of people killed by truck accidents has fallen by over 60% over the past three decades, Stefan stated that more needs to be done relating to protecting the vulnerable road user and the long distance driver.

“The answer to the first question is to give the driver a better field of vision, done by removing existing visual barriers, we think once again of those very large exterior mirrors.”

“By intelligently linking data from sensors and radar systems, we can further increase the field of view. The driver could then see to the end of the trailer and not only the first third.”

“[This technology can also] counteract rear-ended collisions and drivers unintentionally leaving the lane, for example due to tiredness. This means the steering wheel takes over driving on monotonous stretches, substantially reducing [the burden] on the driver. In doing so, we no longer just allow the truck to accelerate and brake – we also let it keep its own distance and drive curves.”

“Level 2 of automated driving in our mind is definitely possible in the next truck generation, because every minute the vehicle is not in use, the customer loses money. Therefore, the key question in the future continues to be how we can further increase the uptime of our trucks? [The answer is] through the intelligence use of data.”

“For over 18 months Mercedes-Benz’s uptime has been helping customers to significantly increase the availability of their trucks by means of real-time data analysis, as the system detects a critical condition in the vehicle and makes a maintenance or repair recommendation. Software updates via WLAN could be used for so much more in the future, for example, to automatically program in maximum speeds when crossing the border – or to disable stolen vehicles.”

“With connectivity there’s much more to come. Connectivity also helps with another question that our customers now ask. How do we counteract the impending lack of drivers?  There are already around 45,000 more truck drivers required in Germany alone. That number is expected to triple by the beginning of 2020.”

“We can help here by making work in the truck as comfortable as possible. Above all, we want to reduce the complexity of operating the truck. The number of digital applications will increase significantly, especially due to assistance and safety systems such as fleet management and logistics tools. The driver does not have the time to spend hours reading and wants to operate intuitively.”

“In order to fulfil this wish, we want to make all operating elements similar to a tablet or Smartphone. In addition, the driver of a Mercedes-Benz truck should also be able to arrange displays and controls in a way that makes the most sense to him or her. The whole thing is saved as a profile – and can be assessed in any fleet vehicle.”

“The truck of the future will be more efficient, safer and more reliable than ever. Above all, it will score points with intelligence and inner values. That may be the key difference from before.”