Daimler Trucks: From the horse carriage to global market leader

The Daimler DNA. It’s made up of so much more than “just” fast and fancy cars. We not only invented the passenger car, but also the bus, the truck and the van. For more than 120 years, we have been actively co-designing not only mobility, but also transport and logistics. And, today, it’s about exactly these vehicles. The focus is on the past, present and future of commercial vehicles.

Retirement for the horse carriage

Today, we can see the past on the roads only rarely, the reason why our journey starts in the Mercedes-Benz Museum. We can already find out about the first mainstream drivetrain in the elevator – from the loud sound of a horse carriage coming from the loudspeakers, which accompanies us on the way up.

And there, we can also learn about the main problems of the nineteenth century. Emissions problems of a different kind – horse droppings! Splattered over the entire carriage, polluting the air and transmitting disease.

A fun fact on the side: The carriages of the time already had wheel covers in order to protect the passengers from the dung on the street. The term used for this, “fender” or “mudguard” (literal translation “dung guard”), has remained an important part of the vehicle body until the present day.

This is followed by the well-known story about the patent registration by Benz on January 29, 1886. Today, this is considered as the birthday of the automobile. In 1895 and 1896, Benz delivered the first passenger bus and the first vans with a gasoline engine. His competitor at the time, Gottlieb Daimler, built the first motorized truck in 1896.

By the way, our founding fathers were already innovative at the time: While electromobility is a new trend at other manufacturers, it is already a part of our tradition. As early as in the beginning of the 20thcentury, the Daimler Motoren-Gesellschaft produced passenger cars and commercial vehicles with battery-electric drive of hybrid drive.

These were used for the fire brigades, for example. Vehicles carrying gasoline in their tanks presented safety risks that would simply be too great during firefighting. That is why, in 1908, the first electric-driven fire truck was put into operation in Berlin. With battery-electric vehicle from Daimler.

One thing after another

The final victory parade of the motorized commercial vehicles came later. After the 1926 merger of the former competitor Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and the Benz Company and the final establishment of the combustion engine. In the early 1920s, the diesel truck, which convinced with its excellent economy, began to take on an increasingly important role

The subsequent development was characterized by increasingly stronger differentiation of the model range and new technologies After that, one thing quickly led to another, mainly towards the end of the 1990s: lane keeping assist – vehicle distance speed regulator – intelligent stability – active brake assist.

Daimler is bringing out one serial innovation after the other in the commercial vehicle sector. The standard: Transport logistics – The driver, the freight and all other traffic participants are to be as safe and economically effective as possible.

From 0 to 100 in – halt stop

This is where our tour really takes off: On the Daimler test track  (in-house referred to as “the run-in track”) in Untertürkheim, we are awaited by an Oldtimer truck from the year 1966. This truck must have delivered quite a few barrels of beer to customers. Now, I am really starting to get excited. I have never ridden in a truck before, should my first time be in an Oldie?

The three of use take our seats on the undivided front bench of the vehicle. A brief query of the technical data: Odometer reading? No idea, at the time the meter stopped at 99,999 kilometers. To make up for it, with the 126 PS we get up to a racy 75 km/h before the first sharp curve. In the middle of the curve, our driver Oliver suddenly lets go of the huge steering wheel.

I don’t think my pulse could get any higher in a touring car in the middle of the racetrack. Our driver only smiles at our distraught faces and explains the physical phenomenon of the trick: From a certain speed, due to a combination of centrifugal power, gravity and cornering force, any vehicle will remain inside the curve without any intervention from the driver.

Actros – now also electric

The present of commercial vehicles is also a glimpse into the future. The main focus is on electromobility. And on the new eActros. The first ten electric trucks will go out for customer testing in the course of the year. This means that they will be sent to different companies – for example to shipping companies, to the trading business, or to package service providers.

These companies will get the trucks for testing purposes and in return will share their experiences. Thus, Daimler relies on learning together with the customers in order to cover all their needs most optimally.

Of course, the eActros will also be tested and I now move on directly to the next truck. What is immediately obvious? In any case, the huge size of the truck. With my height of 1.61 m, I have problems getting into the passenger seat even with the steps. To make up for it, there is an excellent view of the road from above, and: total silence. Even though we are already accelerating! In the Oldtimer, we almost had to yell at each other, but things here are totally quiet. “That’s the electric motor for you”, explains the driver with visible pride.

My personal highlight: You can brake manually with a lever and the braking energy is converted into charging electricity in a recovery process. After that, we go into the sharp curve with the huge truck (25 tons gross vehicle weight). Here, too, you hear – nothing. Surprisingly, the truck glides on the road very quietly.

The music of the future is playing softly

I have already learned about the many innovations in Daimler’s DNA in the past. And, they are to be the core of our corporate structure in the future as well. Goods transport is to become even safer and more eco-friendly for everybody. One way to achieve this is the so-called “Truck Platooning”.

By connecting the vehicles, they can drive behind one another at a constant distance. The communication among the vehicle enables anticipative driving. This saves fuel and brings the reaction time to 0.1 seconds. Reaction time – this sounds like something from driving school: That was the time you needed in order to react to a signal. A brief search in Google: The fastest reaction time is 0.2 seconds, recorded only during experiments. Wow, this can really make a difference in the worst case.

Another trend that (not only) our commercial vehicle have to deal with: Urbanization and mega cities. Here, too, Daimler is thinking ahead: E-Commerce is a fast growing field and customers want to get their merchandise delivered as quickly and easily as possible.

Pilotprojekt “Vans & Drones”

We are looking at impressive images and videos, in which small robots and drones unload Sprinters and bring the packages directly to the customer’s door. This is also a way of saving emissions, fuel and time. The small helpers are currently in the pilot phase.

Nothing is as constant as change

Our small field trip is rounded off by a vision of the future from the year 2030. Steffen Kaup is a futurist at Daimler. Together with his team he develops concepts of how our tomorrow might look. No easy task: Foreseeing trends, contribute ideas for changes and equip the group for the future.

In his bag, he is carrying a graphic presentation, showing the team’s idea of the Stuttgart Olgaeck in the year 2030, which we can view with the 3D glasses. I see: a lot of space! Public transportation vehicles are driving, suspended in the air, and cars are driving autonomously on the road. And, the air as the third level plays an increasingly important role for passenger transport.

The Daimler DNA will continue to develop further through innovations in the future, as well. Perhaps, flying commercial vehicles will also become a part of it sometime  – who knows.

Julia Wierk currently works as an intern in communications. When she is not testing trucks, she supports the Daimler Blog team.