By: IOL Motoring Staff

Hannover, Germany - Mercedes-Benz' Urban eTruck concept, on display now at the Hannover commercial motor show, brings together connectivity, telematics and electric drive systems in a fascinating demonstration of what is possible right now, with imaginative use of existing technology.

It's a big three-axle vehicle, with a 125kW/500Nm electric motor built into the axle directly adjacent to each rear wheel - a system that has already proven itself in buses. Between the chassis rails is a modular lithium-ion battery pack with a total capacity of 212 kWh, giving it a range of up to 200km, which should be enough for a day's worth of deliveries.

Since it's electric, the e-truck doesn't have a conventional air intake in front; instead there's a black panel, backlit by LEDs, that can be used to display the Mercedes-Benz logo, indicate whether the truck is parked or just standing there waiting for a gap in the traffic - or, when driving on a freeway with a schedule to keep to, the acronym T1 3VOM*.

The eTruck is 1700kg heavier than a diesel-powered truck with the same power, built on the same chassis - but the EU Commission is in favour of increasing the maximum allowable gross vehicle weight for fixed chassis, three-axle electric trucks from 25 to 26 tons, so the eTruck's payload will be only 700kg less than those of its conventionally powered competitors, and it has the dual advantages of zero emissions and silent running - which means it can deliver to local shops in residential areas at night without waking anybody.

Geek alert!

This is where it gets interesting: The e-truck uses internet connectivity to manage range and load management, using the modular construction of the battery pack as the key.

The FleetBoard programme connects the telematics system with the drive control; instead of conventional delivery runs it swops the delivery loads around from one truck to another, on a day-to-day basis, according to the weight of each pallet, where it has to go and when it needs to be there, so that each run makes the best possible use of that truck's range.

Fleetboard uses two displays in place of the standard instrument panel to give the driver detailed information on the route - very important since it's likely to vary from day to day - so the driver can see the bends in the road far enough ahead to plan the most power-efficient braking and accelerating manoeuvres.

Like a sports car, the eTruck also has three drive modes - Auto, Agile for maximum performance and Eco for maximum range - and Fleetboard will also warn him which one he needs to be driving in at any given time, to be able to complete the day's route on schedule, without running out of amps!

A separate tablet gives the driver more information about the trip, as well as continually updated details on range and batteries, superimposed on a local map.

Smart energy supplies

We've mentioned before that in the cities of the future most deliveries will be at night, which is why they'll need to run silently. This will keep big trucks off the road during the day - but that's also when the electrical power to charge their batteries is at its most expensive.

So Mercedes-Benz has developed a way to use one battery to charge another. Fleet operators will be able to buy stationery lithium-ion battery storage units with built-in 'smart' timers, which will charge themselves when mains power is cheapest, and can then transfer the power to the batteries of their vehicles whenever it's most efficient in terms of scheduling.

* When the truck comes up behind a slow-moving vehicle, this display will appear in his rear-view mirror as "MOVE IT".

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