The cost of designing and tooling for a new truck cab is immense, and with European Union regulators still drafting new specifications to better protect vulnerable road users, the main OEMs are keeping their powder dry. For this reason the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz Actros looks to all intents and purposes the same as the outgoing model, with of course one major alteration – the external mirrors – or lack of them in this case.
As expected ‘Mirror Cam’ is the headline grabber and Actros will be remembered as the first truck to have this feature as standard. These new mirrors, mounted internally on the cab’s A-pillars, automatically adjust to give the optimal field of vision on the straight and then turn with the truck as it negotiates corners and roundabouts to ensure the best possible view at all times. An important feature is the night vision where the driver can activate the mirrors to see what is happening around the truck at night. It is particularly useful that this can be done from the bunk.
One point worth noting is that Mirror Cam is not currently approved for ADR transports, though it is hoped that this will change in the near future.
However there are a number of other features on board Actros which may not grab the headlines though are arguably more important or at least more significant in the realms of automotive evolution. One high on the list is what Mercedes-Benz claims is the world premiere of ‘Active Drive Assist’ (ADA).
A DA is an important step towards autonomous driving and the Level 2 (Partial) automated system is able to operate in almost any conditions. In simple terms, ADA integrates a number of the driver assistance programmes currently available such as Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Adaptive Brake Assist into one system. ADA achieves this by using a camera and radar system to maintain the truck’s position within the lane markings. While this is already done to a degree with standard Lane Keeping systems, the difference with ADA is that the system will intervene and correct a wayward vehicle.
ADA includes an enhanced version of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) which will slow the vehicle as it approaches traffic. The enhancement for ACC is that it’s now linked to the Mercedes-Benz Proximity Control Assist with Stop-and-Go function. The combination of these systems allows the truck to slow down on the approach to other vehicles in traffic, and to accelerate again as the preceding traffic moves away.
Traffic moving away is usually not a problem – traffic moving alongside is, and here is where Mercedes-Benz Sideguard Assist comes into its own. Although Sideguard Assist was launched a few years ago it has now been combined with Mirror-Cam. This means it can identify potential hazards alongside the truck and trailer including drawbars and will alert the driver with audio and visual warnings. It is also quite remarkable that the system can alert the driver when there is a possible risk to others with tail-swing from the trailer.
Also notable is the now 5th generation of Active Brake Assist (ABA 5). The automated emergency braking system has been further developed with improved pedestrian detection. ABA goes from an initial warning to the driver of a potential hazard to full activation of an emergency brake response in a number of stages. Importantly, as the truck is being brought to a full emergency stop the hazard warning lights are activated, and once the vehicle is halted ABA 5 then applies the parking brake. The system is by no means fool-proof and Mercedes-Benz does not in any way claim otherwise. These are driver assistance systems that are there to assist the driver, and if an unfortunate event occurs the systems can make a valuable contribution to mitigating the outcomes.
We mentioned that if activated, ABA 5 automatically applies the parking brake when the vehicle is halted. This latest Actros features a new electronic parking brake with advanced Hill Hold function, and the Parking Brake is automatically applied any time the engine is turned off.
There are a number of features on Actros that have been enhanced, and one in particular is Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC). This was nothing less than revolutionary when launched, and its popularity with operators has exceeded all expectations. Now the latest version ‘PPC+’ benefits from advances in digital technology with better mapping of road networks and topography. This now allows the use of PPC on winding country roads and roundabouts where previously this was not always the best driving style to adopt. PPC+ will now assess the bend and set the required speed. This speed setting can then be adjusted from Stage 1 to Stage 5 as is appropriate for the load being transported at the time. Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz has now widened the application of PPC+ to include heavy transports up to 120 tonnes.
Whether operating at 120t or at more normal weights, getting the right specification on the truck is paramount to it operating efficiently. Mercedes-Benz is now offering Actros with a standard rear axle ratio of 2.412:1 – which improves on the previous version of 2.533:1. The 2.412:1 was previously offered as an option, and the Stuttgart headquartered commercial vehicle producer has now decided to introduce it as standard. It claims that this ratio will lower engine speeds by up to 5% and is available across Actros models using the six-cylinder OM471 and running on 315/70 R22.5 tyres.
Few companies are more engaged in connectivity than those in the automotive industry, and no more so than Daimler. Once inside the Actros cab there is a new 10” or 12” driver interface (dashboard), which hosts a variety of multi-media features including Apple and Android Car Play, telephone, and full navigation. Actros comes with a new interior lighting system including a three pointed star puddle light. The air con will switch automatically to recirculation once the truck enters a tunnel, and mirror cam will compensate for light changes.
Although the mirrors (or lack of them) may grab the headlines, they are only a small part of what the latest Actros is all about. In presenting the new Actros, Member of the Divisional Board of Daimler Trucks & Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks Stefan Buchner said: “We have delivered what we promised to deliver.” He stated that in delivering the new Actros: “We have made a tangible difference for our customers and drivers.” There is plenty to appreciate and while the systems are as easy to use as a smart phone “they need a professional introduction” and this is a critical point.
If the systems are not used correctly they will not deliver what would be an expected reasonable return on the additional investment. Mr. Buchner said that innovations of this kind come at a cost, and while no specific figures were mentioned, an increase of 4% to 5% was estimated.
In a curious way one of the best features of the launch was the ‘unplugged’ MercedesBenz Top Fit Truck. The Top Fit package incorporates some simple fitness and muscle relaxing aids with a series of 33 exercise videos for drivers to do in the privacy of the cab. The lightweight foam aids and stretch bands are contained in a carry-bag and can be transferred to and from any truck. Credit is due to Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles for providing a practical solution to an increasingly worrying problem – driver health and well-being.
While there is a slight dichotomy in encouraging drivers to keep fi t in a truck with Level 2 Autonomous capability, MercedesBenz’s new Actros will in future be viewed as a landmark vehicle. It is the truck that clearly signals that the race to fully autonomous road going trucks is well and truly underway.