Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles last month introduced the new generation Atego and Axor trucks to the market. FleetWatch correspondent Dave Scott was there and came away impressed not only with the trucks themselves but equally so with the package of services that surround the products.
While gross vehicle mass (GVM) is much what it was and payload may have improved, prices have changed dramatically over 44 years. One of my first retail deals as a Mercedes-Benz truck salesman was to Gideon Mogai who delivered coal in Soweto. It was a Merc 1413/48 with steel dropside body and sold complete without discount for R6 800 – free of VAT, GST and any other Government plundering of the vehicle industry. That was in 1967.
Fast forward to 2011 and now a 13,5t GVM Mercedes-Benz Atego with a steel dropside body goes for over R500 000 – and that’s exclusive of VAT. In other words, prices have increased 73 times over to still carry an eight ton payload , eisssshhh! Granted that fuel consumption and productivity have improved, but not by 73 times in 44 years!
Today’s modern Atego and Axor models would compare to the Merc 1413 and 1418’s of the past, while the latter were overloaded legends of their time. Even though the 1967 Merc trucks had steel dashboards and minimal driver comfort, they were still considered by some operators to be ‘˜too comfortable for a driver’. Not much has changed , the ‘˜new generation’ Atego and Axor models are very driver focused and to use the word ‘˜comfort’ is too old-fashioned. It’s really about productivity and safety.
But…..the new Merc trucks do require a more literate driver and a different mindset as all variants are now equipped with a multifunction steering wheel to operate the on-board computer, telephone and radio. The Axor comes standard with a communications centre, including new radio with Bluetooth capabilities, and CD player with control functions integrated through the multi-function steering wheel.
State-of-the-art visibility is ‘˜reflected’ in the mirror system. Heated exterior mirrors also come as standard so there is no risk of misting over, while the aerodynamic exterior mirrors are electronically adjustable (standard on the co-driver’s side), as is the wide angle rear view mirror located below the main mirror. A new bumper view mirror also provides assistance when manoeuvring in tight places.
The antilock braking system (ABS) which is standard across both the Atego and Axor range, is a safety feature that prevents lock-up of the wheels during braking. The system is based on a dual-circuit brake system. In addition, a select number of Axor trucks are fitted standard with the “Turbobrake’ engine brake, a wear-free auxiliary brake which increases the boost pressure and, therefore, increases the engine braking effect to as much as 300 kW.
Two proven engines designed to Euro 3 standard cover the Atego range from 130 kW (177 hp) with 675 Nm of torque in the 4-cylinder guise and 170 kW (231 hp) and 810 Nm of torque and 205 kW (279 hp) and 1 100 Nm of torque in the 6-cylinder models.
The Axor is mated to the 6-cylinder in-line engine with a displacement of 6-litre and 12-litre. Peak torque ranges from 1 100 Nm for the engine with 205 kW (279 hp), 1 850 Nm for the 260 kW (354 hp) engine to 2 000 Nm of torque for the engine with 295 kW (401 hp) of power at 1 250 r/min and 1 100 r/min respectively. Both these engines are also Euro 3 compliant.
Most extra-heavy 6 X 4 trucks are equipped with automated manual-shift transmissions. In line with this trend, the 9-model Atego range (GVM’s ranging from 9,5 to 15t) offer an optional Telligent® automated gearshift that enables the driver to concentrate fully on driving in heavy distribution work. This automated gearshift is also kind to the transmission components and will lengthen driveline service life. Axor is standard with a 3-pedal manual shift transmission.
Reverse warning what?
What many people are not aware of is the OHS Act Construction Regulations 2003 – Regulation 2, which states: All vehicles used to transport persons or material on or off site for construction work must be equipped with a reversing alarm and daily vehicle inspection by a competent person is mandatory. In line with a focus on the construction segment and safety, all Ategos and Axors are equipped with a reverse warning buzzer integrated in the reverse light. This safety feature applies equally to the distributive trades where these vehicles are used extensively.
Euro 3 technology at the limit
It has always been an unwritten boundary among some engine manufacturers that 11 litres of diesel engine should not have to deal with more than 50 000kg gross combination mass (GCM) to ensure longevity. In the Axor range, some models are rated at 65 000kg GCM and with an engine capacity of 11,967cc it’s on the edge. But this range has been maturing since the introduction of Actros so we can safely assume that lessons learnt have been implemented.
Exhibiting product confidence
While a one-year unrestricted warranty applies to the whole truck, Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles offer an extended warranty on the power-train of three years or a specified maximum kilometre limit for all models.
Warranty on the Atego powertrain is three years with a 250 000 maximum kilometre limit. The warranty kilometre limit is valid up to a mileage of 450 000 km/3 years for Actros and Axor across the board, with the exception of vehicles in start /stop operations, where the kilometre warranty limit is 250 000 km/3 years. These units are primarily tippers and concrete mixers used for heavy duty construction, where mileage covered on a per annum basis is minimal.
Christo Kleynhans, Mercedes- Benz product manager, points out that “where a vehicle’s performance and service intervals are based on hours such as in-quarry operations or concrete pumping or crane trucks, then a limit of 5 000 engine hours would apply to the outer limit of the driveline warranty. Engine hours can be read off the engine electronic control module by a qualified technician using their proprietary software.’
A real difference – purchase the package and not the truck
Some motor industry guru said it and this remains true today: “You cannot hold an advantage in price or technology for very long. The real differentiators lie in service and people , they are difficult to copy and take time to create.’
The Japanese really have caught up fast in heavy 4 X 2 trucks to dominate the 8,5t to 16,5t segment , but they have not quite reached the stage of the packages that Mercedes-Benz can offer.
So many truck operators are not really interested in driver health, comfort and safety but the package of services that are included in CharterWay Service Leasing, Fleetboard and Mercedes-Benz Driver Training make using a Merc truck really attractive. Let’s look at some of the features and benefits.
This is a suite of vehicle leasing, maintenance and servicing products tailored specifically for the truck fleet owner. CharterWay is supported by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (the OEM’s in-house bank) and is modular in design, offering flexibility to transport operators in terms of lease duration and maintenance cover. CharterWay is supported by FleetBoard, a telematics system designed specifically for the Actros truck range.
In the new Actros 3, this system comes as standard equipment but can be retro-fitted in all Actros 1 or Actros 2 models and selected Axor or Atego trucks. The system relays relevant vehicle data in real time via satellite to Mercedes-Benz’s data centre in Stuttgart, from where it is processed and made accessible to authorised password-enabled users on the internet. Fleet managers have immediate access to the most important information for each of their vehicles; it offers a clear picture of the whereabouts of their vehicles, as well as exact driver and vehicle data. Other features of the system include:
- Service Tele-diagnostics
This function displays the technical status of the truck, such as oil and cooling levels, brake wearing, faulty lights, etc. The tele-diagnostics are also constantly monitored by technical personnel at Mercedes- Benz South Africa and can even warn workshop managers of potential problems in advance!
- Trip records
Trip records show the position of fleet vehicles, trip and pausing times, current tachograph data and driving hours , even the fuel tank level.
This function maps the position of the fleet, tracks and traces trucks, and also shows points of interest.
An important element to CharterWay is the curriculum offered by Mercedes-Benz where professional truck drivers are taught in their operating environment to drive more economically and safely in the trucks they work with. Mercedes has entrenched the perception that they are committed to driver training.
30 000km services intervals for long-haul applications
The only pre-condition is the use of synthetic lubricants. This has shifted up from 22 500km service intervals. When one invests in a truck , purchase or lease , it’s not the engine output or the driver comfort that is acquired. Rather, it’s the transport solution and that’s the real differentiator. It’s not the sale that counts , it’s what happens afterwards.
Kobus van Zyl, Vice President, Commercial Vehicles, Mercedes- Benz South Africa and his team have a challenge on their hands for a share in his 24 000 forecast for trucks and buses in 2011 because their competitors are fast learning this lesson and differentiation is a journey, not just a station.