What do you when you are hosting 6 media personnel on an international trip to Germany? Mercedes-Benz South Africa Bus, Trucks and Vans was recently faced with this dilemma when it hosted us (and other media colleagues) to the 67th IAA Commercial Vehicles Exhibition in Hanover, Germany between 15 September and 22 September 2017.
The IAA is an international exhibition where manufacturers showcase their product offering of commercial vehicles, and that seek to demonstrate how these vehicles can offer efficient and effective transport solutions for businesses and the transport industry in general. The motto for this year’s IAA Commercial Vehicles exhibition was, “Driving Tomorrow”, and this was quite fitting based on what we got to see at the exhibition.
Our hosts at MBSA decided on the scenic route as the best method of travel and we certainly did not complain. We departed from the O.R. Tambo International Airport on the evening of 15 September 2018 and made our way to the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey where we landed at 5:00am on 16 September 2018. The landing time certainly did not deter us from exploring the city of Istanbul immediately upon our landing.
We got ourselves a tour guide and a Mercedes Benz Vito Tourer (of course!), and hit the city just before the sun came up. True to the hard working nature of the city, we stumbled on fishermen of Istanbul who had been up all night fishing. As the sun came up, our tour guide took us to the famous Blue Mosque which is a major tourist attraction, and it was already full of visitors by 9:00am. We explored more of the city and had lunch in Istanbul before heading back to the airport. We had to have lunch in Istanbul because we were promised that their kebabs were delightful, and we can definitely confirm this as a fact.
In the afternoon, we made our way to the airport to catch our flight to the Frankfurt International Airport and we landed the same evening in Frankfurt where we had our driver waiting for us at the airport to transport with the luxury Mercedes Benz Travego bus to our hotel at the Radisson Blu in Karlscufe. Karlscufe was our first city destination in Germany but was not to be our final destination if our hosts had anything to do with it.
On the morning of the 17th of September 2018, we were united with other journalists from across the world and our delegation was particularly paired with our BRICS counterparts, being the Russians and the Chinese. Daimler trucks had organized a side programme for us before the commencement of the IAA on this day, which involved us getting a tour of the Mercedes-Benz truck manufacturing plant in Worth – the home of the Actros and driving experience of the new Actros. Notice we were in our second German city now?
This was quite an experience as we not only got to see how the Actros is manufactured and assembled in Worth but we also got a tour of the Completely Knocked Down (CKD) plant of the Actros. Believe it or not but the truck manufacturing plant in Worth is equivalent to approximately 400 European soccer stadiums in size, so it is quite a big plant and we only got to see certain portions of it. The manufacturing plant has a loading deck as well as a harbour to load vehicle easily from the plant to their destination.
Prior to touring the plant, Daimler took us on the public road with the new Actros to experience the new technology that has been deployed in the truck. During our driving experience we got to see the active lane assist in action, which actively monitors and ensures that the driver stays in his line during the drive. The driver also showed us how the active brake assist technology works in practice – the active brake assist essentially monitors the distance between the truck and a car (or object) in front of it to minimize the risk of collision.
We were also taken to the research and development facility racetrack where we saw the new Actros in action and we got to see it deploy its active brake assistance technology on a stationary vehicle within a 50m distance of it. The technology works the same and detects pedestrians as well. The new Actros comfortably sits 7 people, with 4 passengers at the back and 2 passengers, and the driver in the front.
We were then taken to the Completely Built Up (CBU) plant of the Actros, being the plant where the Actros is manufactured and assembled to its final form for the customer. The CBU plant works seamlessly and efficiently, with automation and people working hand-in-hand to manufacture the Actros. We were taken to the paint shop and learnt that the new Actros comes with 400 different colours to choose from for customer needs. For instance, the Actros has approximately 16 different variants of white, 56 different variants of red and 76 different variants of green.
The CKD plant manufactures and packages Actros parts that are destined for assembly plants such as the East London plant, in South Africa which assembles the Actros. At the CKD plant, we were to find the pilot assembly for South Africa, where they were doing pilot packaging on how the new Actros parts would be sent to South Africa for assembly when the new Actros comes to South Africa.
The exercise at the CKD plant is to measure how parts would be packaged to be exported to any assembly line (in East London for our purposes), and to assess whether it is feasible to export the parts to the assembly line. These feasibility studies are done in conjunction with Daimler personnel in Germany and their South African counterparts who have to be trained on the assembly of the vehicle. We were also shown various types of packaging that are used to ship parts to various assembly lines and these include, amongst others, boxes, bubble foil, wooden foil, etc.
In the afternoon, we had to leave Worth for Hanover and this involved a 7 hour bus ride which gave us a chance to see a bit more of Germany. As fate would have it, we found car treasure in Einbeck where we stopped over for dinner. We found well-conditioned classic cars that date back to Second World War era in a warehouse in Einbeck where we had our dinner before we got to Hanover. We arrived in Hanover just after 12:00am on 18 September 2018 and slept at the Maritim Hotel which made up for the 7 hour bus ride.
Daimler invited us to their product experience in Hangar 1 at the Hanover Airport for a chance to experience their latest technologies for trucks, buses and vans before these are unveiled at the IAA which was due to start the following day. At the Daimler product experience we got to see the new technological products Daimler is bringing into the commercial vehicles market such as the Sprinter City 75, the eVito, the new Sprinter, the Concept Sprinter F-Cell, the Citaro and the new Actros. There was so much to see of Daimler’s product offering and laboring over everything will simply turn this article into a novel.
We will mention that the star of the show was the new Actros, everyone was excited about its unveiling and looked forward to it. We don’t intend this article to be a vehicle review, however, however it is worth mentioning a few features of the new Actros that have everyone excited about this new truck. The new Actros brings 6 new innovative features that have never been seen in the trucking world:
• The multimedia cockpit that has touchscreen function, a navigation system and easy to use for the driver. The multimedia cockpit is based on the S Class multimedia cockpit function and a first of its kind on a truck and as a simple to use as a smartphone;
• The active drive assist, assists the driver in ensuring he keeps to his lane and it warns the driver by vibrating and making a noise when the driver goes off his lane.
• The active brake assist 5 which warns the driver when he gets within 50m of an object. Should the driver fail to react in time to the warning, the active brake assist 5 deploys 50% brake power to ensure that the vehicle slows down and the driver has to deploy the brakes to bring the vehicle to a complete halt. This technology also senses side objects and deploys warning signs to the driver and senses pedestrians as well.
• The mirror cam technology which removes side cameras on the new Actros and simply replaces them with side cameras that has a full view of the vehicle surroundings (even when the vehicle is off). The inside of the vehicle has two screen pads that are connected to the side cameras that give the driver a view of his surroundings and the cameras have night vision during night time.
• Better fuel efficiency compared to its predecessor by consuming 3% less fuel (in long distance drives) and 5% less fuel (in city driving).
• The introduction of the electric hand brake system.
Day 4 and 5
19 and 20 September 2018 were our official days of the IAA and we had seen most products of Daimler at the product experience that was held for the invited press the previous day. Daimler did, however, have an ace up its sleeve during the first day opening of the IAA on 19 September 2018 that was not unveiled at the product experience. The Daimler group unveiled the strides it has made to autonomous driving technology and showcased its latest milestone being the Urbanetic. The Urbanetic is the first autonomous vehicle of Daimler vans and it is an electric vehicle.
MBSA arranged for the South African media to have a roundtable discussion with the Executive of Daimler Trucks, Southern Africa – Jasper Hafkamp. The question on everyone’s lips was whether the new technology we had seen at the IAA and specifically the safety features on the new Actros truck would be making their way to South Africa and when. Mr. Hafkamp informed the South African delegation that there are still discussions on what technologies will be brought to South Africa and no firm decisions have been taken at this stage.
He did highlight that the previous model Actros was only launched in South Africa in May 2018, after 6 years of its introduction to the European market but assured us that the technology of the new Actros is unlikely to take such a long time to arrive in our shores. Therefore, the short answer is that we still do not know at this stage what of the new Actros will be introduced in South Africa and by when. We will just have to keep our ear on the ground.
On the second day of the IAA, the Daimler group did not have a jam packed programme for us and allowed us time to explore at stalls at the exhibition. Our observation from seeing other stalls at the IAA exhibition was that all manufacturers are alive to the challenges of global warming and are certainly making strides to producing cars that will not harm the environment. In almost every stand we visited, we saw that manufacturers have either hybrid trucks, vans, buses or electric trucks, buses and vans in their product portfolio offerings and more work and technology is being developed in this field. This was good and refreshing to observe as it shows that manufacturers are conscious about the environment and want sustainable growth.
On the afternoon of the 20th of September 2018, the South African delegation made its way to Berlin for a Vans side programme that was specifically arranged by MBSA for us to see the plant of the new Sprinter. We spent the night at the Scandic Hotel in Berlin. That night we got to explore the cosmopolitan city with a conference bike along with some of our media colleagues.
On the morning of the 21st of September 2018, we made our way to Ludwigsfelde, near Berlin, at the manufacturing plant of the Sprinter. The Sprinter plant employs 2000 employees and is one of the largest employers in the small town of Ludwigsfelde. The Ludwigsfelde plant is responsible for manufacturing the chassis variations of the new Sprinter, including open model design variants of the new Sprinter based on customer needs. The new Sprinter has added the front wheel drive chassis variation in the new Sprinters.
The plant manufactures both left and right-hand drive vehicles. The Ludwigsfelde plant has modernized its way of doing things (and it is conscious of the impact the process has on the environment) by going paperless. It has reduced the use of forklifts inside the plant by deploying automated guided vehicles to deliver parts to the various parts of the plant. This also ensures efficiency. We were assured that this did not affect the headcount at the plant, as forklift employees were re-skilled and given alternative jobs within the plant. The entire plant is equivalent to approximately 75 European soccer stadiums and it has a railway link for transportation.
We are grateful to Mercedes-Benz South Africa for the opportunity to experience the IAA and see their finest technology in the space of commercial vehicles in its home country. We cannot wait to see some of the safety technology on the new Actros being introduced to South Africa as our roads users will benefit immensely from them, especially with the safety challenges facing the sector. Some of the safety technology of the new Actros will certainly go a long way in mitigating fatalities and ensuring safer road conditions for all.
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