Copters on the roof, digital cargo bay: Daimler's future van

September 07, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
No, the next generation of Daimler’s vans does not have an autopilot mode. Nevertheless, in the vehicle study introduced by Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans business section, almost everything is different. The study shows how digitization will not only affect the vehicle itself but also the entire transportation procedure - and the underlying business model.

Mercedes-Benz has introduced not only a new city transporter (more of that later) but a technology initiative named adVANce. The goal: getting the most possible productivity out of digital transport models. The scope of the initiative covers the development of commercial cars – vehicles that leverage digital communications, automation and robotics at the utmost level.

The company plans to invest about €500 million (about $550 million) over a time span of five years to drive development in the abovementioned technology fields. The activities are bundles in the new business unit Future Transport Systems that starts with a headcount of 200, with teams at the Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart (Germany) as well as in Berlin and in the Silicon Valley. As part of the development, Mercedes-Benz Vans will transform its business model from a car manufacturer to a transport technology services provider. “To meet the requirements of the dramatic change in our industry, we expand our business focus significantly beyond selling products and entering new markets”, said Volker Mornhinweg, Mercedes-Benz Vans general manager. Mornhinweg’s goal is developing digital solutions for the entire transport value chain including the digital business environment of Mercedes-Benz Vans’ customers.

Basically, this means that the vehicle as well as the goods to be transported become integral part of the Internet of Things. How such a solution can look like demonstrates the Van study introduced at Daimler’s announcement.

The vehicle has an electric propulsion system. So far this is not a surprise – everything else would. With its 75 kW powertrain, the vehicle has a driving range somewhere between 80 km to 200 km, depending greatly on the operation conditions. This range does not exactly appear overwhelming at first sight, but it indicates the mission profile as an urban transporter. In this, the van study resembles the electric urban truck recently introduced by sister operation Mercedes Benz Trucks . As the first van worldwide it connects all persons