Mercedes-Benz product manager Dennis Kowa Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner
Mercedes-Benz product manager Dennis Kowa demonstrates the fleet functionality of Mercedes PRO connect.

Sheet metal to logistics management: Benz looks to serve more of fleets' needs

Can a vehicle improve your business? With extended fleet management options on the way, Mercedes-Benz wants to answer that question in the affirmative.

Set to launch later this year in the United States along with the new Sprinter van, Mercedes-Benz will now compete in the telematics and fleet management services space with its Mercedes PRO product offerings. The idea is to deliver not only a vehicle but a "holistic transportation solution" as the one company handling multiple fleet needs including logistics, maintenance and driver management and more.

"Mercedes PRO will be the umbrella brand to offer services to all of our commercial customers — not just connectivity services but also financing, leasing, maintenance and more, all under one brand," said M-B product manager Dennis Kowa at the first international press test drive of the Sprinter in the Netherlands. Mercedes PRO connect will be the first of those services offered.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

Rather than just making vehicles, Mercedes-Benz is transitioning to offer

Mercedes PRO connect is designed to provide simpler fleet management and communication between fleet manager and drivers. It includes a docket of vehicle management tools for the fleet and a downloadable driver app.

The customizable system can locate any Sprinter in the fleet, providing even satellite views and maps of their precise whereabouts, as well as the usual vehicle routing functionality. Beyond communication and mapping/routing, a geofencing function allows fleet managers to select a certain location, for example, to tell drivers to avoid a particular area like a traffic-jammed city center. Geofencing can be custom-set by drawing lines on a map or using a variety of shapes.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

The fleet manager's Mercedes PRO connect dashboard displays a range of vehicle information, from very specific location to fuel/DEF levels remaining to whether the doors are locked.

Mercedes PRO connect also monitors vehicles' average mileage and condition with any maintenance alerts, plus shows real-time information like fuel and DEF levels and average fuel consumption. The information available to the fleet manager gets very specific.

For instance, during a demonstration of the services, Mercedes-Benz product manager Frederik Ruhm showed reporters that a particular Sprinter was unlocked and had the driver's side window down. All the information the driver can see in the vehicle is also available — tire pressures, battery condition and so on.

"I have a complete overview of my fleet," Ruhm said. Eight service modules will be available at Mercedes PRO connect's launch to provide that overview and operations control including Vehicle Supervision, Vehicle Operations, Fleet Communication, Maintenance and Repair Management, and electronic logs for drivers.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

The Mercedes PRO connect driver app provides a number of services also available to fleets like vehicle finder and range with remaining fuel and adds other business tools as well.

All Sprinters will have connectivity built in and fleets can opt for the Mercedes PRO offerings at any time, but the services pair up well with the OEM's new MBUX multimedia system. The upcoming Sprinter, which will be available first in Europe in June, is only the second Mercedes-Benz vehicle to have MBUX available.

The telematics and fleet management services and functionality are intended to be updatable and can be further developed going forward. Kowa noted that gives an advantage to the OEM as the provider of those services and fleet features, since Mercedes-Benz as the vehicle manufacturer has access to all the vehicle's data as well as the engineering behind all its components.

The Sprinter also gets a host of advanced safety features that aim to reduce the burden on fleet drivers. A reverse camera can display an image in the rear-view mirror, for example, and an available parking package provides a 360-degree view around the van.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

The Mercedes-Benz MBUX media center/user interface complements the available Mercedes PRO services well. Navigation and location functions are quite advanced: even if you don't have a specific address, the system can navigate to any 3m by 3m space using what3words.

The active cruise control includes a DISTRONIC system that monitors traffic and maintains a safe distance between vehicles, while a blind spot warning system alerts the driver when vehicles are in driver or passenger side blind spots. That system even watches for vehicles and pedestrians crossing behind the Sprinter when reversing and can autonomously brake if necessary.

Similarly, other advanced functions can assist with control and operation of the new Sprinter but don't get in the driver's way, doing their job quietly in the background. One of those is the active lane-keeping warning and assistance, which provides haptic "rumble" feedback via the steering wheel if the vehicle drifts out of its lane. It graduates its response up to actually steering the van back where it needs to go, if necessary, by selectively applying the brakes to specific wheels.

 

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