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When I passed my truck driving test as a member of the German armed forces in 1978, I couldn’t have dreamed that one day I would be leading a convoy of five 40-ton trucks to Barcelona. And I certainly couldn’t have imagined that I would be driving this route in the new Actros, the flagship vehicle of Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
The new Actros: A dream for thoroughbred truckers
But now I’m about to drive exactly this route, which is around 1,300 kilometers long, from Wörth am Rhein to Castellolí near Barcelona. Because I’ve had a truck driver’s license for 41 years, truckers could call me an old timer — “old” in the sense of “experienced,” of course.
Together with four colleagues, I’ve been assigned to drive five new Actros trucks to Spain, where about 30 Actros semitrailer rigs will be used in a driving presentation as part of the vehicle’s market launch. We expect the road trip to take three days.
My vehicle is a new Actros 1846 in Arctic white hat delivers a whopping 449 hp. Together with a loaded semitrailer, it weighs almost 40 metric tons, so it’s a real heavyweight. The Actros is equipped with an ultramodern digital multimedia dashboard and all the assistance systems that Mercedes-Benz currently has to offer. Testing this truck out on the road is a dream come true for any full-blooded trucker.
Brake assist system and semiautomated driving: Let’s go!
Our first stop will be Beaune, a small town in the middle of the wine-growing region of Burgundy in eastern France. We have to drive 460 kilometers to get there. So we fill up the fuel tanks before we get going. The 720 liters of diesel in the tanks should enable us to get all the way to Barcelona without any problems. On the basis of my experience, I know we shouldn’t have anything to worry about during the first leg of our journey. The low traffic density on the A5 autobahn going down to Basel will work to our benefit. We cross the French border before we’ve even taken our first break.
Over the past few years, I’ve probably traveled more than 200,000 kilometers on long-distance roads in Europe. And yet I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for driving. Being on the road in a new Actros is an extraordinary experience, even after having driven so many kilometers. Nobody can outdo the Actros when it comes to safety. You have to experience the feeling of driving this truck to believe it. If somebody had told me back in 1978 about semiautomated driving or a brake assist system that stops for pedestrians, I’d probably thought they were crazy.
Now, 40 years later, I’m sitting in a series-produced semi-automated truck myself. On well-marked highways, the Actros takes care of both the longitudinal and lateral guidance, thus staying in its own lane at exactly the right speed. This is very impressive, and theoretically I could even take my hands off the steering wheel. But of course I’m not allowed to do that because, as the driver, I’m still responsible for the vehicle in spite of all the safety assistance systems it contains. After you grow accustomed to the new system, it gets more relaxing to drive, especially on long routes and in dense traffic.
We reach our first stop at 5 p.m., and we stay overnight in the Hotel Adelie. We receive a warm welcome at the reception desk, and the parking lot is very Actros-friendly too. It provides the five semitrailer rigs with lots of space. It’s not the first time that I’ve spent a night here. Manuel Gonzales greets me at the reception desk in somewhat broken German.
With the MirrorCam through the traffic chaos of Lyon
We hit the road again at 8 o’clock sharp. Our destination on the second day of this trip is Lunel. It’s not the first time I’m driving this route, so I’m well aware of the possible problems. To make sure nobody in our convoy gets lost, we stay in touch at all times over our CB radios. The route in Germany and the first hundred kilometers in France has been rather routine — nothing to write home about. Things will get more interesting now that we’ve reached the environs of Lyon, where many trucks coming from Paris are joining the highway traffic. As always, keeping a minimum distance of 50 meters is wishful thinking.
Here, I’ve often experienced a real tussle after leaving the closely spaced toll booths or having to change lanes or dealing with other lane changers. It’s the perfect opportunity to fully experience the Actros’ assistance systems. In this situation, the MirrorCam has been great. I’ve seldom had such a good overview of the chaotic traffic around Lyon. The weather is also fantastic, and after leaving all the turbulence behind us we can take a break and enjoy the sunshine of southern France. Before we get going again, I quickly check the tie-down straps on the semitrailer, because there’s nothing more annoying during a drive than hearing flapping noises right behind you. On the second day as well, we reach our destination right on schedule.
Active Brake Assist 5 supports in a huge traffic jam
The third (and last) daily stretch is ahead of us. The route runs along the coast from Lunel to Castellolí. What I initially thought would be a short relaxing drive turns into a huge traffic jam around lunchtime near the Pyrenees Mountains.
The traffic hardly moves for a whole hour. The mandatory driving time regulations require us to take a break after traveling only 250 kilometers. After it’s over, I suddenly have to devote all of my attention to a driver who’s in a big rush and creates a tricky situation by simply swerving his car in front of my truck. But at this point the Actros once again amazes me. By means of audible and visual signals, Active Brake Assist 5 immediately warns me about this pushy driver so that I can brake at lightning speed. If I hadn’t reacted fast enough, Active Brake Assist would have taken action on its own. The truck is surrounded by cameras and radar sensors that supply Active Brake Assist 5 with the information it needs for such maneuvers.
By contrast, traffic conditions are perfect on the AP7 highway. There are no traffic jams and no lines in front of the toll booths. As a result, we head unimpeded toward Castellolí. At the end of our route, we pass the picturesque Montserrat Mountains. Unfortunately, hail and heavy rain block the view — but only our view of the beautiful mountains, not of the MirrorCam.
Not a single drop of rain falls on the MirrorCam, which provides me with a perfect image even in this storm. But it’s a pity that our route goes along the highway, because I would have loved to try out the improved Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC). Besides saving substantial amounts of fuel, the system is supposed to make driving on winding country roads a lot of fun. PPC detects curves, traffic circles, and traffic signs in advance and optimally adjusts the truck’s speed accordingly.
Although I can’t try out the system, this doesn’t dampen my mood because we reach our final destination, Castellolí, on time despite the storm and the traffic jam.
All’s well that ends well
The next task is already waiting for me when I arrive in Castellolí. But this time I’ll be in the passenger seat, where I will assist the participants of the driving event so that they can try out the features of the new Actros for themselves on a test drive. As a safety instructor for Mercedes-Benz trucks, I will provide the drivers with all the information and explanations they need concerning the new assistance systems. This is an easy task, because I’ve experienced these systems in action myself over the last three days.