Ready to make right!

14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineFebruary 1, 2017

It‘s been a long time getting to the antipodes, and even when it did they kept it and took it away to boot camp for over a year before they set it free. But now the first wave of the new Mercedes-Benz Actros has been released – and it‘s ready to set the record straight. 

If the look of excitement was evident on Andrew Assimo‘s face when we drove the new Actros evaluation unit in Australia last July, it was almost uncontainable at the launch of the new model in Cairns in October. The senior manager for Mercedes-Benz Trucks has eaten, slept, and breathed this new model on its four-year journey to our part of the world. His belief in these trucks is total and you can sense it when you‘re sitting in the cab with him. Andrew and the Mercedes-Benz family throughout Australasia have poured their heart and soul into ensuring the new model has every chance of re-establishing the threepointed star where they believe it should be in this part of the world, a peer to the best products produced by global heavy truck manufacturers, if not the best of the best. 

We all know the most meaningful lessons learnt are the hard ones, and Mercedes-Benz certainly approached the deployment of the new model with a whole lot more diligence than some of its more recent predecessors. More than 35 test customers subjected evaluation trucks to a million kilometres of shake-down in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, a huge chunk of preparation has gone into the aftersales backup and support networks on both sides of the Tasman, increasing coverage and improving technical training. 

Part of their strategy was to make sure we all knew they were doing all this. The presence of the evaluation fleet, and the methodology and timeframe allocated to the task was open and well communicated. It‘s a strategy that ‘s worked very well because already hundreds of pages have been printed on models, specifications and features. Journalists, enthusiasts and most importantly interested parties with chequebooks at the ready know more about this new range and the exhaustive testing programme than probably any new truck of recent times. It‘s a master-stroke of communication and information dissemination. But it needs to be. This truck‘s success is critical in the bigger picture looking forward. 

Photo above: The 2653 will be a significant model looking forward.

What did they find? 

The base product was none too shabby. The new Actros has won Truck of the Year awards overseas three times and a Truck of the Decade title also, but the ANZACs always double-team to subject product, proven elsewhere, to new levels of hardship. 

The target markets for this first launch is 6×4 inter and intra-state B-double, regional line haul and full load/ pallet metro distribution. Andrew and the Daimler team on both sides of the Tasman have been super impressed with how the evaluation trucks stood up to what our corner of the world threw at them. A lot of the process centred around tailoring components already available from Germany, rather than just taking what others used and releasing it here. As for bespoke regional tweaks, tank capacities, local GPS maps, and a proper inner-sprung mattress in all sleepers top the list (significant in the context of safety and fatigue management). 

Uptake and acceptance on the part of companies that hosted units has been on the mark too according to Andrew, and many have expressed an interest in buying. But the single most valuable asset Daimler got from the evaluation vehicles is data – real, substantiated local operational data. There‘s a world of difference between projected or forecast and actual when you‘re trying to seal the deal with a potential buyer, and the data may be as influential in the truck‘s early sales stats as a bit of extra bracing around bigger fuel tanks. 

Without the ‘Jammies‘ on 

Put a truck in matt black wrap and you‘d think the deception would be minimal. Everyone in the industry knew the second we saw an evaluation truck on the road but the black wrap certainly did its job. The new range is the slipperiest Mercedes-Benz yet and aside from improved radiuses and panelling, including under the front bumper to sharpen up the aero underneath, the removal of the wrapping shows just how raked these new trucks are. In operational ‘flesh‘ they ‘re a very smoothlooking customer indeed. 

Forget the numbers, what‘s it mean? 

Listing endless power and torque figures is pointless, you can get it all within a minute on the web, but knowing how they transpire at the wheel is what counts. We walked away from our drive of evaluation truck No 142 last July mightily impressed (Ref NZ Trucking Aug 15), and since then Howard Shanks has taken a 2658 for a drive (Ref NZ Trucking Oct 16). This time we honed in on the 2653 with the 390kW (530hp) Euro6 13-litre OM471 motor and the 2.5m wide L-Stream Space flat floor cab. Looking forward as the clamps come on CO2 production, this motor becomes significant in the grand plan as engines with really big lungs begin to see the sun set on their era in all but the most arduous of applications.

Loaded with concrete, the GCM was somewhere in the mid-40s according to those we quizzed. The 2653 is good for a 70 tonne GCM so its relevance to New Zealand becomes even more apparent. Lift-off and progression through the gears is effortless. There are two main reasons; firstly the torque curves on these new Euro 6 motors are incredibly flat. Max torque of 2600NM (1918lb/ft) is available from 1100 to 1400rpm but there‘s 30% more torque at start-off over anything previous and the tail of the curve stays flat and long. Combine that with change speed improvements of 20% on the PowerShift 3 12-speed transmission, and acceleration appears disproportionate to pure numbers. 

Mercedes-Benz wanted a 20% improvement in the operational life of all components on the new trucks, inspiring new and simpler approaches to old problems. The newly developed in-house asymmetrical turbocharger is a great example. Instead of the complexity inherent in variable geometry style units, Daimler has developed a system where a small pipe feeds the turbo at low rpm and a larger one at higher rpm; the result is constant pressure on the veins and fewer moving parts. As a result of these factors plus improved injection and EGR tailored combustion environments, these cooler running engines have realised fuel consumption improvements of around 7% on like-for-like models in like-for-like applications (real numbers following evaluation), as well as a 40% reduction in DEF usage. All of this new technology, packaged with whole of life service and care packages, make the new Actros a compelling option when buying on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). 

Back in the L- Stream Space cab and it ‘s no exaggeration to say you could live in this truck no trouble at all. MercedesBenz has wrapped the dash and blackened the cockpit fascia to distinguish the operations apart from the lighter toned areas in the rest of the cab – which we love. The truck has everything from fridge to fold-out desk and of course that inner-sprung mattress. The flat floor means standing and walking around is no issue. 

From a driving perspective the way these big Euro cabs – and we mean big – don‘t roll and thrash around like they used to years ago is a testament to man‘s ability to improve things. This huge shed sat firm and strong through the corners (yes there were some on this road), and gave no impression of independence from the chassis or road. It‘s still a truck I think you have to get used to in the steering department (ref my drive last year). There‘s nothing weird about it and it could be attributable to the stiffening of the rear chassis area on the new model. From a driving standpoint you can‘t fault the controls or their operation, and progressing the truck is easy. Like all modern Euros anyone could drive it, but only the professional will drive it well. The features at your disposal are numerous and if you‘re going to invest in a truck that could bring much to the bottom line, then you need to ensure you spend the money training the operator so he can deliver that expectation. 

Safety technology is prolific, and includes electronic stability, lane keeping assist, proximity control assist, adaptive cruise control and even attention assist. Such devices are tremendous but they are aids to driving the truck and not a mandate to exonerate accountability. 

Photo above: An excellent driver‘s department and a home in which to live

What about Godzone? 

New Zealand‘s ticket to ride can‘t come soon enough… meaning the expo at Mystery Creek next March. Attending the Australian launch was Pieter Theron, senior manager Freightliner Trucks and acting senior manager Mercedes-Benz Trucks New Zealand. Pieter took time out to speak with the kiwi contingent present about the New Zealand timeline, saying the full gambit of what was on offer in Australia was available to the kiwi market, but that Daimler NZ was still in the process of refining what our final model range would look like as well as finalising pricing. The 8×4 configuration represents the single biggest separation from the Australian market, accounting for 65% of local sales. Pieter said that by the time Mystery Creek opens its gates there would be a healthy number of wheels on the ground, including one 8×4. Because the 8x4s have the second steer axle fitted at MercedesBenz‘ Custom Tailored Trucks (CTT) facility in Germany the lead time is a little longer, hence the first orders wouldn‘t be here until April. Key customers have already put down deposits. 

Like Australia, Pieter‘s focus has been on ensuring local support networks and roadside assist programmes are well in place prior to the first keys being handed over. 

The only thing left to say is we can‘t wait to run a full kiwi test at home!