Mercedes-Benz SUSTAINEER: New innovations for more quality of life and driving safety in cities

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Last-mile vans that are locally emission-free, produce their own green electricity and can actively improve the air quality in cities: back in 2021, with the technology platform SUSTAINEER (SustainABILITY PIONeer), Mercedes-Benz Vans gave a specific preview of what sustainability in urban delivery traffic of the future could look like. Now the further improved all-electric van based on the Mercedes‑Benz eSprinter features four new, innovative solutions to improve the quality of life in cities, to conserve resources and protect the climate, and to improve the health and concentration of the driver. These include new close-range heating elements, automatic radiator shutters, the mobilisation seat and the Driver Coaching App.

Features already familiar from the predecessor, such as fine dust filters on the front module and underbody, a solar panel on the roof and components made from recycled materials, can still be found on board the technology platform. The innovations and technical solutions fitted in the SUSTAINEER have been designed with the possibility of series production in mind, so that their use in future vehicle generations from Mercedes-Benz Vans is conceivable.

Because of the high heating energy demand caused by the large driver’s cab and the constant opening and closing of the doors during delivery stops, conventional vehicle heating systems have a noticeable effect on the range of electric vans. The Sustaineer goes one better by putting the warmth exactly where it is needed – the driver’s body. In addition, there are other efficient thermal management measures that can further increase the range of a battery-electric van like the eSprinter – a major benefit for courier, express and parcel services (CEP sector).

In addition to the seat, the steering wheel and the seat belt, surfaces on the driver’s door, in the footwell and on the steering column trim can also be heated electrically in the further improved SUSTAINEER. The close-range surface heating elements consist of an electrically conductive silver-carbon coating printed on a fleece. By virtue of their high surface temperatures, thermal comfort is ensured by radiant heat close to the body, thus significantly improving the thermal efficiency of the heating system. There is another advantage in contrast to the usual heating of vehicle interiors in winter, where the interiors cool down relatively quickly during unloading processes: the surfaces stay warm – an invaluable benefit when re-entering the vehicle in cold weather.

Whether in our free time or at work, we are seated too often and for too long. Long periods spent sitting down can increasingly cause damage to health, ranging from back pain to psychological impairments such as fatigue and a reduction in cognitive abilities. Such consequences can be prevented by regularly changing the seating position. Movement Scientist therefore recommend frequent small changes in position to protect the body from prolonged, one-sided stress. With the mobilisation seat, Mercedes-Benz Vans has now transferred this principle to the driver’s seat in the van.

To this end, air chambers are integrated into the seat surface and backrest of the mobilisation seat in the further improved SUSTAINEER. These are specifically inflated and deflated to induce movement and rotation in the driver’s body. Different sequences that imitate asymmetrical or symmetrical walking and tilting of the pelvis activate different areas of the air chambers and thus form the basis for a varied mobilisation program.

Doctors, physiotherapists and sports scientists, among others, were involved in the development of the mobilisation seat. As a result, muscle stiffness in the back can be reduced and a positive effect on the high physical load of the drivers can be achieved.

Moreover, the mobilisation seat not only promotes the driver’s well-being, but also feels pleasant at the same time. Like many interior components, the seat surfaces are made from high-quality recycled materials. The use of these recyclates conserves resources and reduces the carbon footprint.

The Driver Coaching App helps drivers to optimise their driving behaviour

Every driver knows that if you accelerate often and hard, you increase the fuel consumption of your vehicle. But of course things are not quite that simple – the issue is complex. In addition to the way the vehicle is used, and particularly the behaviour of the driver, the load, the operating conditions, the type of vehicle body and climatic and topographical factors, etc. also have an impact on energy consumption and therefore the cost-effectiveness of a vehicle or an entire fleet. Especially in the van sector, these factors play an important role.

The Driver Coaching App developed by Mercedes-Benz together with WITTE:digital – part of WITTE Automotive GmbH – records and evaluates all these factors to ensure comparability of driving behaviour and objectivity within a fleet. In everyday operations, this tailor-made solution for van fleets acts as an “intelligent co-driver” and aims to give drivers specific assistance in optimising their driving behaviour. The aim: a significant improvement in operating range as well as the conservation of resources. In addition to specific feedback on individual driving behaviour, the program includes training and gamification approaches that motivate more efficient driving. In addition, users have the option of personalising the app and adapting it to their needs with the help of various modules – for example for load and route planning, ERP integration and freight document handling. The product vision of this future app will be presented in the SUSTAINEER. The solution is currently under development and is not yet a marketable product. In the course of further development, changes may therefore be made to the product shown. The app must not be operated while driving.

Modern filter technology to reduce fine dust emissions

Air quality is a key factor for urban quality of life. Along with CO2 emissions, road traffic also produces significant levels of particle pollution. In order to further minimise the entry of particles through tyre, brake and asphalt abrasion, the SUSTAINEER has already had two fine dust filters since 2021, which were developed in cooperation with the filtration specialist Mann+Hummel. The front module and underbody filters reduce fine particle emissions in the direct vicinity of the vehicle up to a particle size of ten micrometres (PM10) by over 50 percent – 30 percent when charging and 15 percent while driving. The effectiveness of the filtration is further increased when there is a higher fine dust density in the environment. This means that in urban areas with poorer air quality, far greater quantities of particulate matter can be filtered out.

More range and lower operating costs through aerodynamic optimisation

Two innovations from the field of aerodynamics also contribute to the greater efficiency of the further improved SUSTAINEER. On the one hand, the technology platform now has almost complete underbody panelling, something more likely to be encountered in motorsport. It consists of recycled polypropylene as well as bio-based plastic from household waste and tyre remnants. In addition, automatic radiator shutters close automatically from a speed of 60 km/h and thereby reduces air resistance. This brings multiple advantages: drivers and vehicle operators benefit from more range and lower operating costs.

Sustainable business strategy covering the full life cycle

Mercedes-Benz is convinced of the ecological and economic advantages of battery-electric vans, and is preparing to go all-electric before the end of the decade – wherever market conditions permit. In addition, as part of its sustainable business strategy “Ambition 2039”, Mercedes-Benz Vans is pursuing the goal of making the fleet of new private and commercial vans CO₂-neutral along the entire value chain by 2039 – from development, the supplier network, in-house production and the electrification of products to renewable energies for the use phase of electric vehicles, and eventual recycling. Production will be carbon-neutral at all company-owned van plants worldwide from 2022, and only use electricity from renewable energy sources.

Locally emission-free in every segment, from “electric first” to “electric only”

Mercedes-Benz Vans has firmly anchored its leadership aspiration for electromobility in its strategy, and is systematically electrifying all model series. Today, customers, fleet operators and body manufacturers can already choose from four battery-electric models: the eVito panel van, the eSprinter, the eVito Tourer and the EQV. By the end of 2022, the electric portfolio will also be expanded to the small van segment with the eCitan and the EQT. And that is only the next step on the way to a fully electric future.