Get ready, things are about to change dramatically for transport and logistics. Mercedes-Benz have just announced Urban eTruck. It’s time to clean up our cities and transporting our goods from warehouse and factories to commercial and residential premises is one of the biggest contributors of pollution, both emissions from the exhaust and noise. Well all that’s set to change as Mercedes leads the way to an all electric truck that’s capable of a 200km range.
Electric motors adjacent to the wheel hubs are powered by a modular battery pack. This puts the Urban eTruck on a par with conventionally engined trucks when it comes to payload and suitability for everyday use. Mercedes-Benz say they expect this to be a standard-production vehicle within 10 years, much faster than many thought possible.
One of the main technical factors is the electric drive placement to achieve a great weight balance. This is important as electrically-powered commercial vehicles need to perform similarly to a traditional diesel-engined truck as the commercial realities don’t afford any get out of jail free cards. The Urban eTruck does add 1700 kg, but being able to deploy all of this means the power is available for hauling freight.
Electric motors: full torque from very low revs
For the Urban eTruck, the original low-floor axle has been provided with a liquid-cooled high-speed asynchronous three-phase motor on each side. The rated voltage is 400 V, while the maximum output is 2 x 125 kW. The motors have a peak torque of 2 x 500 Nm. In combination with the gearing, the torque at the wheel reaches 11 000 Nm.
A key advantage of electric motors is the full pulling power is available from the start and of course you can skip on the 20 gear changes to get the power to the road. Otherwise the driving dynamics of the Urban eTruck are on a par with a diesel truck with comparable output.
200 km range
Sure this isn’t going to be the truck that delivers your next couch from Sydney to Melbourne, but for delivering in a defined area, like that of a distribution network.
An important factor in the everyday practicality of an electric drive is the range, which is decided mainly by the battery capacity. In an Urban eTruck it is of a modular configuration, which means that it can cater for a wide range of different requirements. The Urban eTruck comes with a basic battery pack of three modules with a total capacity of 212 kWh. This provides a range of up to 200 km, which is normally enough for a day’s delivery round. The batteries are of the lithium-ion type. They are powerful and durable in equal measure. The batteries are additionally charged during operation by regenerative braking, i.e. by converting the braking energy into electricity. When braking, the Urban eTruck’s electric motors act as generators and charge the batteries. This also reduces the strain on the service brakes.
The well-thought-out design of the Urban eTruck allows different variants of the battery pack. If a lower range is required, the Urban eTruck can be fitted with a compact battery pack with reduced capacity. Where customers require a longer range, the vehicle can be fitted with an additional battery pack. This enables each user to configure the Urban eTruck to suit their own usage profile and achieve the right balance between range, payload and acquisition costs.
When it comes to design, Mercedes have gone with a design philosophy which focuses the sleek and fluid contours with minimal detailing and no visible joints. Across the roof, a three-dimensional spoiler connects the cab with the body of the truck. The wide vent acts as air inlet for the cooling unit concealed behind the spoiler. Just like the roof spoiler, the aerodynamic skirting panels on the side of the cab fit almost flush with the body. The windscreen has been extended downwards. The mirror cams that replace the conventional outside mirrors are another distinctive feature on the truck.
Instead of conventional instruments, the Urban eTruck features a completely new display and control system consisting of two screens. The central 12.3 inch display shows the driver a wide range of information in an easily assimilated form. Instead of the usual data for controlling and monitoring the vehicle, the Urban eTruck gives detailed information about the route.
This is based on a road sign recognition system and on three-dimensional maps with all the essential information about the journey, including the physical features and bends. This information is connected to the drive control of the Urban eTruck.
The middle section of the central display shows the speed on the left-hand side. The central display shows a visual representation of a road and combines a great deal of information, starting with the route. The shape of the road on the display reflects the actual course of the road ahead, including any bends. It also shows the vehicles in front, their distance from the truck and their current speed.
Thanks to the stored map data, the automatic drive control also receives prior warning of braking and acceleration phases and road features such as traffic lights. The Urban eTruck automatically adjusts its speed in line with the road sign recognition system.
Range anxiety be gone
On the upper section of the display, a coloured horizontal line shows the driver whether the actual battery capacity corresponds to the planned capacity. Should it fall below a predefined tolerance level, the colour of the display changes from green to red. If this happens, the Urban eTruck can automatically introduce countermeasures and change the driving strategy. If the power reserves fall to such a level that there is a risk the truck won’t reach the next charging station, an additional warning light comes on. Both the driver and the vehicle co-ordinator can intervene in good time and set the engine management system to eco mode, which is geared towards maximising range. The vehicle co-ordinator can also optimise the route schedule.
There’s also a graphic that forecasts the energy required during the delivery run. It shows a target range marked by two lines. As long as the electricity consumption level moves between these two lines, the Urban eTruck will have sufficient energy to complete the journey. If the truck stays within the green area, it means there are no risks. Should the actual energy requirement move outside this band, the red markings warn the driver. These calculations are being made continuously based on the current operation strategy, the three-dimensional map, the route schedule and the traffic conditions.
This announcement is an important step forward for the electrification of our transportation network. This year we’ve seen automotive companies get serious about EV with cars, buses and now trucks making a serious surge forward to challenge and one day replace our existing fuel-guzzlers. There’s definitely still much work to be done on range and cost, but with the smartest people on the planet working on battery technology, this will happen faster than many of us imagined.