The launch last week of the updated Mercedes-Benz Actros heavy truck in Germany saw the long-touted concept of the MirrorCam finally make its production debut.
Gone are the large exterior side-mirrors in favour of two cameras, located outside the vehicle, and two 15-inch in-cab tablets that provide a clear, weather-free view of the truck’s surroundings, as well as electronic guidance on the distance of approaching vehicles and obstacles.
The MirrorCam enables manoeuvering these heavy beasts down to the centimetre – often a necessity when loading and unloading goods in tight spaces, such as on mines or in retail loading docks.
MirrorCam offers “an enormous improvement” in terms of aerodynamics, safety, all round visibility, fuel efficiency and vehicle handling, says Mercedes-Benz Trucks head Stefan Buchner.
“Air resistance is significantly lower,” he notes.
Aided by the absence of exterior mirrors, the new Actros uses 3% less fuel than its predecessor on long-distance routes, and 5% on inter-urban routes.
The MirrorCam is not the only innovation on the new Actros.
In 2014, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its Future Truck to the world – a vision of what trucking would look like in the future. Now, four years later, many of these technologies have found their way to the production line.
“There are 60 new features on the Actros,” says Buchner. “It offers more safety, more fuel efficiency, more comfort and more uptime.”
In fact, the new Actros is quite a digital, intuitive beast. The updated Active Drive Assist feature sees Mercedes-Benz Trucks put partially automated driving into series production.
Active Drive Assist can brake, accelerate and steer independently. It enables the driver to drive partially automatically in all speed ranges, and around curves, for the first time in a series-produced truck.
While the driver remains responsible for monitoring the traffic situation, the system significantly reduces his or her workload.
Another highlight of the updated Actros is Active Brake Assist 5. This system supports the driver with full emergency braking, if required, if there is the risk of an accident with a vehicle ahead, or a pedestrian on the road.
Another significant assistance system of the new Actros is Sideguard-Assist.
When turning right, this system helps the truck driver to avoid collisions with cyclists, pedestrians or stationary objects in what is normally a significant blindspot.
The cabin of the new Actros is also now almost completely digital, with two large screens dominating the instrument panel.
The question remains whether any of these new and updated systems can find their way to South Africa.
The new Actros – already launched in Europe in 2011 – was only introduced to the South African market earlier this year.
The truck had to be adapted to the local market – especially the available engine range – due to South Africa’s dirty fuel. South Africa is stuck on Euro II fuel standards, while Europe is already moving beyond Euro VI.
However, as the innovations launched on the updated Actros this year are not linked to fuel quality, some of the new technology may indeed be made available locally.
“The Actros that is available in South Africa now is a huge step forward,” says Daimler Trucks & Buses Southern Africa (DTBSA) executive director Jasper Hafkamp.
“We don’t want to wait another six years to introduce these new features to the market.
“We have not yet made a decision on what to introduce and what not, but we can imagine that the MirrorCam and digital interface are feasible for South Africa.
“MirrorCam is really safe. You have to get used to the screens so close to you, but after ten minutes it is very easy. It offers a good view of the trailer.”
Hafkamp says DTBSA sells more Actros trucks with add-on safety systems than expected.
“For me what is frustrating is this Euro V thing. We are really behind with our Euro II legislation. We are not able to offer South Africa the best technology out there. We must create bigger pressure, together, as an industry, to get things done.”