Lights, Cameras, ACTROS


Nearly four years after the latest Actros arrived in Australia, the big Benz is taking another step forward

 

The new Actros on a roll in the outback

Mercedes-Benz has launched the new Actros; the first ever truck in Australia with cameras for mirrors. Of course, those lucky enough to have attended last year’s Brisbane Truck Show were given a view of this marvel.

But the fact remains, the new Actros is the first vehicle on Australian roads to replace traditional outside mirrors with cameras – full stop.

No carmaker has yet managed this technological feat, not Tesla, not Rolls Royce and not even . . . Mercedes-Benz. So much for the idea that truck technology has to lag behind that of cars.

The MirrorCam feature, which is not standard, but an option on the Benz heavy hauler, is the headline grabber for the updated version of a truck the manufacturer continues to put through its paces on the open road. 

That said, there are plenty of other improvements Mercedes-Benz says will ‘markedly’ reduce fuel consumption on a truck that was already seen to be pretty good on that score after its 2016 Australian introduction.

And it’s not all in the mechanics.

One key fuel saver is the Predictive Powertrain Control system that uses topographic map data to anticipate terrain and select the optimum shift pattern and engine response for maximum fuel economy.

The brains behind the brawn have been improved, but the Actros engine HDEP hardware remains largely unchanged. All Actros models are Euro 6-rated and the heavy versions run 13-litre or 16-litre with output peaks of 530hp (395kW) and 630hp (470kW) linked to fully automated transmissions with 12 or 16 gears.  

MirrorCam is a marvel. It opens the driver’s window to unencumbered forward and side vie, while placing the screen on the A-pillar means the eye loses less time glancing at the rear view

READY TO RUMBLE

The newly-appointed Mercedes-Benz Trucks Australia Pacific director, Andrew Assimo, says the company is ready to roll out the new Actros after an extensive local validation program focused on the new fuel-saving technology and safety features.

"We’re excited about bringing our Australian customers the world’s best heavy truck innovations to give them an edge by driving down costs and helping increase their profitability," Assimo says.

"The existing Actros has been great on fuel, but the new one is even better. That’s certainly the message we’ve been receiving from our validation fleet participants; with and without MirrorCam."

Mercedes-Benz is adding more bait for the bean-counters by introducing the new Actros with an offer of five years/500,000km of free Best Basic servicing. It’s banking on that keeping them on their toes.

But according to insiders, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t want the appeal of the new Actros to be determined by an abacus alone.   

The Stuttgart engineers have done a lot of work to make the interior of the Actros a nicer place to work.  

Predictive Powertrain Control taps into topographical information to inform the truck of the best point to make or not make a gear shift

SCREEN GENIE

The biggest change in here is a new driver information display system featuring two large flat panel screens replacing the traditional instrument cluster – one above the steering wheel and one to the left.

The high-resolution iPad-like screens come standard and Mercedes-Benz says drivers have responded well to the feature during the validation program it has been running in the lead up to the local Actros launch. Even with the advanced average age of the truck-driving workforce, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, smartphone use is near universal and newer industry entrants will accept them as a matter of course. 

The left display is a touchscreen unit. Perhaps sensing that some truck drivers might not want to tap and swipe all day long, the Mercedes-Benz engineers also included a row of traditional touch buttons below the screen, including high-use controls such a volume, temperature control and climate controls. Not a bad idea when you hop in a truck in a hurry and just want turn down the volume or turn down the heat without having to swipe through a bunch of menus. 

This centre screen has been designed to also run third-party apps that customers may wish to use, such as non-manufacturer telemetry systems, which would be certified through MB Trucks App Portal. Local validation for this function is currently underway.

The display above the steering wheel is not a touch screen. It’s a more traditional screen with drive-related data including speed, engine rpm and cruise control settings. Both screens can be controlled through the simple steering wheel buttons. These have a small sensitive pad that can be controlled with your thumbs, just like the latest Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. 

The Predictive Powertrain Control data can be viewed on the centre control screen, which also indicates when the Automated Manual Transmission flicks into neutral as it coasts in order to save fuel. 

The idea behind PPC is that the truck’s control unit taps into topographical information, including pre-mapped three-dimensional GPS data. Mercedes-Benz says Australia’s A and B roads and many more are already in the system and the truck additionally learns the routes it travels on. 

This data is then used to inform the truck of the best point to make a shift or, in many cases, to not shift and hang on to a gear just a little longer in order to crest a hill. PPC can be used in conjunction with cruise control at speeds between 25km/h and 100km/h. 

The new Actros retains its adaptive cruise control function that can modulate the speed of the truck in heavy traffic, even when the traffic grinds to a halt.   

Anything fingers are need for are close at hand on the bent dash

ON THE SAFE SIDE

It also sees the introduction of the latest generation of standard safety technology with Active Brake Assist 5. 

This system uses a radar and camera that work together to try and prevent avoidable collisions.

The news with ABA 5 is that it can now bring the truck to a complete halt when it detects moving pedestrians. It can also stop completely for moving or stationary vehicles when the driver may be distracted, something that is proven to save lives and reduce road trauma. 

Given the title Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) by safety authorities, this technology is the easiest way to avoid or reduce the impact of collisions including heavy vehicles.

While you can’t put a price on a human life, or reducing road trauma, you can put a price on crash repairs.

Importantly for those bean counters, AEB technology has also seen repair costs for frontal damage to trucks drop remarkably. Last year, a massive fleet based in Salt Lake City, Utah, have a graph representing crash costs over the last few years. Benz insiders insist the drop when AEB was introduced across the fleet was striking. "It was less of a drop and more of a plummet," they say.   

The drive is faced with two screens – one for instrumentation and a touch screen on the left that controls the vehicles various information media.

VISION THING 

While it is undeniable that AEB is a crucial element for modern fleets, the new MirrorCam system does not have such universal acceptance at this stage. 

Mercedes-Benz has decided to make it an option rather than standard. Why? It has been a big hit in Europe so far after all.

Some drivers in the local validation fleet disliked the slightly convex vision displayed on the screens when reversing into a loading bay. Other test drivers got used to them straight away and wouldn’t ever go back to traditional mirrors.

Mercedes-Benz listened and decided to take the horses-for-courses approach; the customer can decide which horse they’d like to ride. 

The case for MirrorCam can be broken down into two elements; safety and economy.

You don’t have to be a SpaceX aerodynamicist to realise that removing the almost elephantine mirrors from the Actros cab is going to reduce drag and save some fuel. How much will it save? 

According to Mercedes-Benz Australia, the European numbers suggest a decent improvement, but we run heavier loads in Australia and at higher speeds, so Benz really needs to do some long-distance local testing before there is a definitive answer. 

The amount of fuel the MirrorCams save could certainly help the case for the technology, especially as fleet operators look for ways to save money, it adds.

What is clear is that there is a visible safety advantage by removing the large mirrors out of the driver’s field of view. Come up to an intersection or roundabout in a standard truck and you can easily lose the view of a car or motorcyclist behind the mirror. Approach in the MirrorCam truck and there is no blocking of vision with the mirrors as the screens that show the rear-view are placed on the A-pillar.

Mercedes-Benz will also point to the MirrorCam’s improved rear vision at night and also in the rain. 

So what about complexity and cost of repair of the camera wings? Benz says that it has tested the units extensively and have not had any issues. It also points to the simplicity of automotive camera/display technology, which has worked for years in millions of cars around the world in the form of reversing camera systems.

As for the issue of repair, it says that drivers are less likely to damage the mirrors because they don’t extend as far out from the cab as traditional mirrors, they are also higher up and can bend to an extent.

But it’s only to be expected that someone, somewhere will smash one on an awning or tree branch.

The company confirms the replacement cost of the mirror is actually a smidgeon less than the traditional mirror it replaces, which will surprise many. 

A test Actros B-double ambles into town

INTERNAL FLEXIBILITY

Mercedes-Benz is also making available its new SoloStar cabin concept that was first presented at last year’s Brisbane Truck Show and subsequently introduced for the final run of the soon-to-be-replaced Actros.

This concept introduces a new way for the driver to rest in the cab. By moving to a fold-down bed instead of a permanent bed, there is ample space to spread out during rest breaks or before sleeping using the café-style lounge seat, which is positioned at the back of the cab on the passenger side.

The idea is to create more useable space for the driver during the day.

When it is time to sleep, the driver seat pushes forward and the passenger seat back folds forward to allow for the drop down bed, which has a decent 850mm-wide mattress. 

The chrome-coloured camera wings are the biggest external visual indicator of the new Actros, but they aren’t the only ones. You would have to be a truck-spotter to notice, but the new Actros also has new LED daytime running lamps for increased visibility.

An adaptive headlight function, which automatically drops the high-beam to low-beam for other vehicles, is also available as an option.

The interior is more obviously different, thanks to the mirror displays and the two information screens, but there are other changes too.

There is a new electronic park brake system, which features a chrome-look lever and sits in the middle of the dashboard. There is also an engine push-start button to the left of the steering wheel. 

The driver doesn’t need to insert the key into the ignition; just have it on your person, or in the cab, and all the driver needs do is hit the button to stat the ignition and engine. The key itself is a smart and compact unit that includes a feature to test the lights outside the vehicle as part of a pre-drive check.

Mercedes-Benz has fitted out the interior with neat LED ambient lighting, like an airline. There is a combination of blue ambient lighting in the working part of the cab and dimmable amber background lighting. More adventurous customers can also choose an option to change the ambient lighting colour, to red, white or green. Each to their own.  

Customers can also choose to upgrade with brushed alloy trim sections that come with the StyleLine option for a more upmarket look.

The big StreamSpace cab comes standard with two draws that slide out between the seats, with one containing a 36-litre fridge. It’s standard, so there is no need to head off and buy an after-market unit to bolt in.

Stayed tuned for more on the new Actros, with Owner//Driver planning an extended drive to see how this exciting new technology translates out on the open road.

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