In recent years the arrival of a completely new truck from top to bottom has become increasingly rare. Most new models are simply evolutions of the previous generation of trucks with improved safety, environmental or comfort features. The cost of developing an all-new commercial vehicle has become so high the manufacturers have had to be satisfied with gradual change from year to year.
With the release of the new Actros in Europe, Mercedes-Benz has broken the mould. The company has come up with a completely new design for the Actros truck with a new engine to boot. Although we are unlikely to see these new models appearing on our shores any time soon we can look forward to their appearance in a few years time and examine the latest trends in the kind of features customers expect to be fitted on a modern truck.
The introduction of a completely new model has been forced upon Mercedes-Benz with the advent of the Daimler heavy-duty engine platform which has been rolled out around the world in the last few years. We have seen the new engines arrive in Australia this year with the introduction of the Detroit Diesel DD 13 and DD 15 engines in Freightliner and Western Star models. The engine has also been introduced into heavy duty Fuso models on the Japanese domestic market.
The Actros model was introduced back in 1996 and the truck was designed around the Mercedes-Benz V6 and V8 engines. With the introduction of an in-line six cylinder engine to be used throughout the Daimler Group of truck manufacturers, a completely new engine compartment was required, thus leading to a complete redesign of the Actros frame and cabin to accommodate a radically different driveline to the original.
The project to develop the new Actros look has taken over 10 years and ‘sneak’ preview images of the new design have been appearing in the European truck media for over two years. The redesign has given Mercedes-Benz the opportunity to build a truck to suit modern technology requirements as well as adapting it for a new engine.
The resultant look is the first genuine 21st century truck design to be launched onto the market. Most of the other trucks available in the world may have been modernised but the roots of their design lies squarely in the 20th century. In contrast, the new Actros looks like it could audition for a part in the next Transformers movie, with plenty of angles and curves and very few straight lines.
Mercedes-Benz has taken the opportunity to pack as much as it possibly can into the envelope created by the strict European height and length regulations for trucks. The company has crammed the maximum amount of interior space into a cabin shape limited to 4m in height and 2.3m in depth. The new model surpasses the internal capacity of any other standard length truck on the European market.
At first appearance, this is a completely new truck style and the design of the front panels is completely different to its predecessor. The new grille sweeps down in a curved V shape from the bottom of the windscreen low down to the front bumper. The shape of the headlights is described by Mercedes as being ‘like a boomerang’ forming the corners of a giant U shape on the front of the cabin.
The front windscreen leans back a little further (15 degrees) than its predecessor but the whole cabin is essentially a large rectangular shape. The door design is much deeper than in the previous Actros, covering all of the steps except the bottom one. This has been done to improve the aerodynamics of the cab. The style of the door is reminiscent of those used by the Volvo on the FH model.
Elements of the design, both on the front and side, tell us the design of the model spent a long time in the wind tunnels of the Daimler Truck Group. The shapes used have been designed to make the air travel as cleanly as possible over the vehicle skin. Management of air to cool the engine has also been taken care of as the wide gaps between the blades of the grill are augmented by perforations on the blades themselves to allow even more air into the engine compartment.
Roof lights and cabin width varies throughout the seven choices being offered to the European market. When the truck finally arrives here in a few years time we can expect to see the level of choice limited to perhaps two or three. The cabin designs vary from a small day cab with a flat roof to a wide, 4m tall full width cab, five of which have flat floors.
The engine used to power the first release of the new Actros is the Mercedes-Benz OM 471. This engine is the German version of the Detroit DD 13 with control systems and technology similar, but not exactly the same as the engine currently on sale in the US market in Daimler trucks. The engine is being sold in a Euro 6 version in anticipation of the new exhaust emission regulations to be introduced in Europe over the next few years.
The first engine to be released is the 13L version but we can expect the Mercedes-Benz modification of the Detroit DD 15 to follow relatively soon. The 13L is available, on the European market, from 421hp to 510hp with torque peaking at 2500Nm. Performance parameters controlled by the engine's electronics have been recalibrated to suit the tastes of the European market.
Maximum torque is available at 1100rpm but the engine is approaching that maximum as it reaches 1000rpm. Mercedes-Benz engineers claim there will be usable torque available to the driver, at around 800 to 900rpm, in some situations.
The engine uses what Mercedes-Benz is calling the X-Pulse fuel injection system along with the Blue Tec SCR emission control technology plus EGR and a particulate filter. This is similar technology, calibrated differently, to that being used by Detroit Diesel in the US to meet the country’s strict EPA 2010 exhaust gas restrictions.
The introduction of the new engine also introduces a powerful and effective engine brake to the Mercedes-Benz range. In the past, engine braking on the V8 and V6 engines has been relatively ineffective and often bolstered by the use of a transmission retarder. The retarder option will still be available on the new truck. The three stage engine brake is able to achieve 544hp of retardation with the optional retarder able to increase this even higher.
The gearbox on offer in the new Actros is the third generation of the Mercedes-Benz Powershift with two fully automated options available, the G 211 and G 281. The 12 speed transmissions use a direct drive top gear, which Mercedes-Benz believes improves fuel economy. The system also uses the Eco-roll system to further maximise fuel use. As has happened with the automated manual transmission control in other truck manufacturers, the gearbox control system has moved to a steering column stalk.
With a new cabin body to work with Mercedes-Benz has completely redesigned its cabin interior. It has developed a modular system to cope with both 2.3 and 2.5m wide cabs and four roof heights. The new flagship cabin to replace the old Mega-space is to be called the Giga-space with a cubic capacity 920L larger than its predecessor. Mercedes-Benz claims to have created the European truck cab with the largest internal volume.
For the driver, some of the luxury items available to buyers of the high-end Mercedes-Benz cars have migrated across to the new Actros. A new driver seat has been developed, wider than before and with improved adjustment. From 2012, the top of the range is available with a massage function at the push of a button with seven air cushions enabled to pulse in the back rest for 10 minutes. This is claimed to relieve the tension on long journeys.
The new instrument display travels down a road already taken by many of the major truck manufacturers with large circular instruments either side of a central LCD information screen. The screen will be available in two sizes and if a reversing camera is included in the trucks specification the image will appear on this LCD display.
Mercedes-Benz has also chosen to go down the route it has with the rest of its vehicle range, introducing a start to stop button rather than using the ignition key to perform this function.
The redesign of the cabin cannot get over the strict dimensional restrictions imposed on trucks working within the European Union. As a result, one of the options often sought by Australian truck buyers will not be available in the new Actros, a wider bunk. Even with the much increased cubic capacity of the new cabin, the widest bundle available is still just 750mm wide.
Considering the recent release of the 2011 Actros in Australia, we can expect it will be some time before this all-new Actros will start to appear on our shores. The new truck is rated at Euro 6 and this level of exhaust emission control will not be required until at least 2015 or later. However, Mercedes-Benz in Europe is saying it will have a Euro 5 version available in the future and this should give the Mercedes-Benz organisation here in Australia the opportunity to introduce the all-new model when it feels it would be most effective for the company’s purposes.
All-new trucks arriving on the market are becoming increasingly rare and the unveiling of this new Actros has engendered a great deal of interest in the European trucking press. Here in Australia, the combination of an unknown release date in this country, as well as a relatively low market share for Mercedes-Benz, mean the level of excitement about this release will be somewhat muted. However, looking at the new technology and new design available, this truck does give us an idea of what we can expect from the global truck manufacturers over the next decade.