New Mercedes Actros pioneers MirrorCams and more

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Four years after stealing IAA (Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung) Hannover show headlines with its Future Truck 2025 concept vehicle, Mercedes-Benz was at it again.

But the company’s surprise unveiling for the 2018 IAA Hannover show last month was no mere concept vehicle, but the real thing: a new heavy truck range which goes into production in Germany next April.

As always, the word “new” demands some qualification. The extent of the newness of this latest Actros is nothing like as great as that of seven years ago when the current cab, engine and chassis frame were brand-new designs.

It is hardly surprising that even a global vehicle manufacturing giant like Daimler, with all its financial muscle, sees no need to replace or radically change the Actros cab yet, given that it remains one of the most modern in Europe.

Mercedes-Benz Actros side view

Not all-new but still innovative

Does this make the launch of the new Actros last month scarcely more than a minor facelift? Not a bit of it. There is genuine innovation here, much of it developed from systems tried out on the Future Truck concept.

“With more than 60 innovations, the new Actros brings the future of heavy-duty trucks to the roads today,” says Mercedes-Benz Trucks boss Stefan Buchner.

The most eye-catching of these innovations is what Daimler calls MirrorCam: a camera system to replace conventional mirrors. This “indirect vision” system uses 15-inch screens attached to A-pillars inside the cab.

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Mercedes-Benz is the first truck maker to adopt such a system on a production vehicle, although several coaches were on display in Hannover with a rival MirrorEye system made by Orlaco of the Netherlands.

The Actros MirrorCam system is said to “significantly exceed legal requirements” and bring a host of benefits to drivers and fleet operators alike, including improved fuel economy resulting from reduced drag and a better field of vision for the driver.

Even a short test drive of an Actros fitted with MirrorCam is likely to prove thoroughly convincing for most drivers. Gone are the blind spots normally unavoidable with conventional mirror heads and their mounting arms, no matter how slender.

The rearwards view in the Actros in-cab screens is much like a driver would expect from conventional mirrors when the truck is moving forward in a straight line. But the system brings significant benefits when cornering or reversing, especially with an articulated rig.

The image on the screen on the inside of a curve automatically adapts to provide the driver with a clear view of the full length of the semi-trailer: impossible with conventional mirrors. A guidance line in the displays also shows where the end of the trailer is, making pin-point reversing a doddle.

Fleet engineers may worry about the cost of replacing what looks like a costly piece of camera equipment mounted outside the cab. Mercedes engineers are a little coy when it comes to the exact cost of replacing a damaged MirrorCam unit, but they are confident that this will be uncommon anyway and that the system will quickly pay for itself through lower fuel bills as a result of lower drag.

The camera mounting arms hinge against springs both forwards and backwards to minimise the risk of serious damage if they hit anything at low speed.

Added security benefits

One of a host of clever MirrorCam features allows a driver to check along both sides of the vehicle at night without even opening the cab’s curtains. Switches on the door and next to the bunk allow a driver to turn on the cameras even when the truck is stationary with the engine switched off.

The typical situation envisaged by Mercedes engineers is a truck parked up for the night when the driver in the bunk hears a noise outside. This system allows the driver to quickly visually check along both sides of the vehicle without risking opening a door or even curtains.

Another nice touch is that conventional mirror mounting points on the doors are retained so that that mirrors could easily be retrofitted if required – when a truck is put up for sale, for instance.

Like all the latest Actros innovations, the MirrorCam is also available as an additional cost option on the Arocs range of construction sector trucks.

Familiar drivetrains

There is no fundamental mechanical driveline change with the new Actros. At its heart remain the Euro VI OM471LA (12.8-litre) and OM473LA (15.6-litre) diesel engines driving through the familiar Mercedes PowerShift 3, 12- or 16-speed, automated manual gearboxes.

But the latest Mercedes diesel engines are among the first to meet the new Euro VI emission limits that come into force next September. And there is the promise of worthwhile fuel economy improvements compared with current models as a result largely of refinements to driveline control software and reduced aerodynamic drag.

On long-haul operations, the fuel economy gains promised are “up to 3%” (with about half of this coming from the MirrorCam’s lower drag). On more congested, rural routes, the promised fuel economy gains are greater still, surprisingly, “up to 5%”.

The explanation for this lies mainly in refinements to the Mercedes Predictive Powertrain Control system (based on satellite data telling the engine and gearbox control software about the road ahead, including traffic signs) which is now extended to rural roads for the first time.

A new, taller rear axle ratio (2.412:1 compared with the previous tallest of 2.533:1) also helps. This new ratio is available with all Actros models shod with 315/70 R 22.5 tyres and powered by the OM471 engine driving through the G211, twelve-speed gearbox.

A gas engine, the 302hp M936G, is an option to diesel with new Actros 4×2 and 6×2 rigids.

Whether powered by diesel or gas engines, the new Actros is claimed by Daimler to be “the safest, most efficient and best connected truck ever.”

What lies behind much of this bold claim are control and driver information systems adapted from that Future Truck concept vehicle from four years ago.

The two display screens facing a driver are certainly radically different from those in any other current truck. Mercedes calls it a “multimedia cockpit”.

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Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.

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