The urban future?

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As I write this in a hotel room in Hannover, Germany — where 400 other trucking journalists are also lodged — I’m anticipating the opening of the 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicles Show tomorrow morning. Ultimately there will be some 2500 motor noters like me descending on the Hannover exhibition grounds and then rushing about this way and that like pen-wielding ants, all of them looking for a story that nobody else has discovered.

A competitive game we play? Nah.

I’ve been attending this massive show held every two years since some time last century, and it never ceases to amaze me. The size, for sure, but also the buzz. Even when things in the industry are looking awful, it’s lively here. Journalists come from literally every corner of the globe, and it’s just plain fun to be in their midst.

The shy Chinese, the curious Japanese, the stylish Italians, the jaded Brits, the enthusiastic Mexicans, the lively Australians, the gruff Russians… they all make for a wonderful mix of sight and sound.

There was a time, and it lasted a fair few years, when the North American journalist IAA contingent was very small. Then trans-Atlantic OEM ownership became a progressively bigger thing, the truck-making map changed outright, and now nobody can miss this show.

While the show hasn’t yet opened, I do have all the news from Daimler Trucks after their regular IAA media night, so let’s dive into that. A full report on IAA 2016 will have to wait a couple of weeks, but I’ll post things online at in the meantime. Do not expect tweets.

THE STAR AT THE DAIMLER TRUCKS PAVILION will be the very cool Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck. A star among several contenders, I should note, among them the all-electric Fuso eCanter. We won’t see the former in North America, at least not in this form, and maybe not even in Europe, but the Fuso is a possibility. It won’t be offered in North America quite yet but its proponents within Daimler are hopeful.

The Urban eTruck illustrates the fascinating possibilities of connectivity, electric drive systems, future display and control technologies, telematics, and a largely self-sufficient power supply. It defines the latest developments in all-electric vehicles in the heavy short-radius distribution sector, which will be increasingly full of innovation, in my view.

The  three-axle truck with a maximum gross weight of 26 tonnes (about 57,230 lb) produces zero local emissions and runs silently, yet it’s the equal of an equivalent diesel truck in terms of load and performance. It’s also economical to run, says Daimler. Buying it might be another matter.

It adds weight, of course, about 1700 kg or 3750 lb. The EU Commission is in favor of increasing the gross vehicle weight of trucks with alternative drives by a maximum of 1.0 tonne (2200 lb), so on these Euro shores the weight gain will be partially cancelled out.

The Urban eTruck’s drive axle sports electric motors directly adjacent to the wheel hubs. Their maximum output is 2 x 125 kW (168 hp), while torque is 2 x 500 Nm (368 lb ft). The standard version of this axle has already proven itself in buses.

The truck’s battery system is modular. The basic arrangement is a battery pack consisting of lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of 212 kWh, which results in a range of up to 200 km – normally enough for a typical day’s delivery round.

CONNECTIVITY IS WHERE THIS TRUCK gets really interesting. The Urban eTruck uses the possibilities opened up by connectivity to create a seamlessly integrated system that incorporates range and load management, vehicle information, and peripheral data.

The modular construction of the batteries is the first step towards perfecting the interaction between drive control and power-supply management to maximize performance and range. The additions of Predictive Charge Management, proactive Predictive Powertrain Control cruise control, and FleetBoard telematics for urban distribution take the Urban eTruck to another level.

The FleetBoard component connects the telematics system with the drive control. It starts with the scheduling — instead of conventional fixed delivery runs there’s a flexible system. It ensures that all the planned work can be completed by the fleet without over-extending or under-utilizing the range of the trucks. The variables used include space in the trucks, the weight, the range, and the driving times. Virtual monitoring intervenes if unforeseen events force the truck to the limits of its range.

The driver is assisted by a nifty-and-then-some display and operation system, with two displays taking the place of standard instruments. The central display shows a wide range of information in an easily assimilated form. The focus is on detailed data and facts about the route, so the driver can see the bends on the road — and any accelerating or braking maneuvers ahead!

THE URBAN eTRUCK CAN OPERATE in three different modes, which optimize the way it’s driven and the use of the energy available. On a standard journey, the truck is set to ‘auto’. It automatically adapts ‘auto’, ‘agile’, and ‘eco’ settings to conditions within a certain target range. For special cases there is a power mode called ‘agile’, and for maximum range there is an ‘eco’ mode.

A tablet provides the driver with additional information about the trip, as well as continually updated and precise details on range and batteries. These are presented on a local map with a clever graphic known as the ‘range potato’ and a target range. The calculations are based on the driving strategy, the three-dimensional map, and the trip planning.

The power supply, the price of energy, and the correct charging strategy are important factors for the overall economy of electric trucks, and Daimler says it has developed a solution for this, too.

With smart energy services they determine the most economical solution for every application. Depending on individual circumstances, stationary battery storage units (they make their own) can further improve economic efficiency and enable quick recharging without overloading the power supply. The storage units consist of lithium-ion batteries, and the capacity can be adapted individually to the requirements of the fleet.

The most straightforward way of supplying power to electric vehicles is also the most expensive. The energy bill will be lower with regulated charging and, where suitable, with the addition of a stationary battery storage unit. Whether a storage unit will improve economic efficiency further depends on the circumstances in each case, in particular the cost of electricity and the vehicles’ usage. A unit of this kind can be charged on a continual basis when electricity costs are at their lowest. The fleet’s batteries can then be charged as and when required.

Daimler says the costs of an electric vehicle in combination with smart energy management can be considerably lower than those of a conventional diesel truck, despite the higher purchasing price and the additional investment in the storage capacity.

I’d love to see this one on the road, or something like it, but that won’t happen tomorrow. Some of its technology might be there a lot sooner.

THE ALL-ELECTRIC FUSO eCANTER is the third generation of the world’s first fully electric-powered light truck, which used to be called the Fuso Canter E-Cell. It’s now in a small-scale production run which is an important step on the way to full production. IAA is its maiden showing.

Technically, the eCanter is radically different from its predecessor and benefits from the findings of extensive customer trials with the second generation and the reduced costs of battery and component technology.

The Fuso eCanter’s locally zero-emission drive system will not only reduce the impact of emissions on city centers, but will also be an economically attractive alternative to diesel engines, says Daimler. Thanks to lower technology costs the eCanter will be launched to market at “a competitive price”. Lower running costs compared to an equivalent diesel model mean that any additional expense can be repaid in less than three years.

The new eCanter uses a permanent synchronous electric motor with an impressive output of 185 kW (250 hp) and torque of 380 Nm (280 lb ft). Power is transferred to the rear axle by a standard single-speed transmission.

The vehicle premiered at the IAA has a battery capacity of 70 kWh. Depending on the body, load, and usage, a range of more than 100 km without stationary recharging is possible. The truck’s GVW is 4.63 tonnes or 10,200 lb.

Individual battery packs with three to six sets of batteries of 14 kWh each are planned for the upcoming small-scale production run. This allows the eCanter to be adapted to customer requirements with regards to range, price, and weight. That’s a clever idea, the concept being based on the results of customer tests that show that for some operators, payload is more important than range, while others are happy to sacrifice payload for longer range, i.e. more batteries.

Equally adaptable are the charging options: up to 80% capacity within an hour with direct current at a quick charging station, or 100% in seven hours with alternating current. In the future, you’ll see 80% in just half an hour. That’ll be a selling point.

The results of a year-long fleet test with the second generation electric Canter have shown that around 1000 euros per 10 000 km — that’s presently C$1475 — can be saved with this vehicle compared to a diesel version. Coupled with a reduction in maintenance costs of around 30%, this makes the Fuso an economical solution, Daimler says.

The projected sales price means that any additional expense will be repaid in less than three years.

VW BUILDS BUGATTIS? Yep, they sure do. Well, at least the German giant owns the Bugatti brand and the company. You’d be surprised at what else it owns.

With all the brouhaha about the Volkswagen Truck & Bus investment in Navistar, and of course the outrageous emissions scandal that now looks like ending in criminal charges being filed against VW executives, there’s no shortage of questions to ask and things to know. But one big question remain so I thought I’d expand a bit on it…

Like, what the heck is Volkswagen?

Well, of course folks will say, that’s the German outfit that makes Beetles and Rabbits and cheats on emissions, but it’s rather more than that. A lot more. In fact its list of shareholdings is 19 pages long.

Sticking to the car side, Volkswagen AG also owns Audi and Porsche. Lots of people will know that much, but did you know that it also owns England’s Bentley brand? And Italy’s Bugatti and Lamborghini. And the CzechRepublic’s Skoda. And Spain’s Seat. All of them VWs in a way.

Even the famous Italian motorcycle brand Ducati is in the stable.

Many people will be surprised to know that it also makes VW-branded medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses too, sold outside Europe but in some 35 countries, from a base and factory in Brazil (more on that in a bit). That company is Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus Ltda, which produced its first truck in 1981. But VW also owns Sweden’s Scania and Germany’s MAN, and the latter will be especially important in helping Navistar move forward on these shores.

All told, Volkswagen Truck & Bus (spun off from the mother company last year)  produces trucks at 25 sites in 17 countries.

As I wrote two weeks ago, both MAN and Scania produce their own engines. Scania also makes transmissions, a second version of its respected Opticruise automated manual being in the works now. Jointly developed with MAN, by the way.

Navistar’s own 13-liter diesel is the result of technology sharing with MAN, a long-established relationship that paved the way in some respects for the new alliance. That link will likely be at the core of the new partnership with Navistar. 

To confuse matters, Scania has also had its own long-standing co-operation with Cummins, particularly on fuel-injection technology. If you were to look at those 19 pages of VW holdings, you’d find Cummins-Scania XPI Manufacturing, LLC based in Columbus, IN. It’s a 50/50 partnership.

Going back a bit, VW also produces a truck engine, the 9.3-liter NGD 370 for use in its flagship truck, the very tall and attractive Constellation, designed in Germany and built in Brazil. The engine is good for up to  370 hp, and the truck can handle gross weights up to 125,000 lb or so. You can also power that truck with an 8.3-liter Cummins ISC. Transmissions are by ZF and Eaton, axles mostly by Meritor.

But let me clarify, if that’s the right word to use. VW did indeed design that NGD 370 engine but it’s actually built by MWM International Motores which is the Brazilian subsidiary of… wait for it… Navistar International.

Now, wait for this one… VW’s Brazilian truck-building operation was sold to MAN in 2008. But VW Truck & Bus in Germany has been busily buying an increasing share of MAN and now owns it all.

Is everything clear now?

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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