HANNOVER, GERMANY. With economies around the world on the rebound, news at the IAA Commercial Vehicle show has revolved around three trends – globalization, alternative power and advanced safety systems. The lightest end of the commercial vehicle spectrum is also highly visible at the truck manufacturers’ display, including a number of small, dedicated commercial trucks headed for North America in the next year or two.
Having struggled through simultaneous recessions last year in both North America and Europe, exhibitors at the world’s largest truck show have a new-found appreciation for the growing CV appetites of developing countries, China in particular.
Component maker ArvinMeritor, for example, highlighted a new $15 million investment in China’s first research and development facility for heavy-duty truck component. Located in Nanjing, the facility also includes new manufacturing capacity for disc brakes and drive line products. Not ignoring the European market, which accounts for about one-third of its revenues, the company also announced a $42 million investment in its foundation brake businesses there, including money to expand its disc and s-cam brake lines.
Undercarriage specialist Hendrickson held its first-ever press conference at the IAA show to announce its new manufacturing plant in China. Built in partnership with China National Heavy Duty Truck Company, it will manufacture an all-new heavy-duty rubber rear suspension. The light but high-capacity unit will start off as a Chinese domestic product, but could find its way into vocational applications in North America and Europe within 18 months, according to Hendrickson CEO Gary Gertenslagger.
European-based component maker ZF also identified China as a potential market for its products, especially in construction vehicles. Continuing the globalization focus, ZF also reported that it has begun building suspension technology components in India under a joint venture with Hero Motors and is experiencing high rates of growth in Brazil’s truck market.
On the safety front, advanced braking systems that can shorten truck stopping distances in emergency situations were introduced by a number of manufacturers. With the European Economic Community expected to mandate these advanced systems by 2013, Daimler Trucks announced the next generation of its Active Brake Assist. The first generation, which Daimler says is ordered by one in four buyers of its European heavy-duty Actros model, can detect sudden deceleration in a vehicle ahead and apply the truck’s brakes automatically to slow it down. The new model adds recognition of stationary objects and automatic application of brakes to bring a truck to a full stop.
Brussels-based component and electronics maker Wabco also announced its second generation advanced electronic brake system, OnGuard Plus. Like the original OnGuard system, it initiates emergency braking when it senses a vehicle ahead of the truck slowing down, but now adds identification of stationary vehicles and emergency braking to a full stop. Integrated with the company’s ABS, stability control and electronically controlled air suspensions, the new braking system is scheduled to be available worldwide by 2012.
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Every major truck manufacturer has hybrid and/or electric commercial vehicles on display this year in Hanover. While there are some heavy-duty concept hybrids, the majority of the vehicles are medium- and light-duty trucks, as well as transit buses.
Among the standouts are the Daimler’s Vito E-Cell, a small van powered by lithium ion batteries and a Mitsubishi Fuso concept Cantor E-Cell cabover powered by the same type of batteries. The batteries in the van fit beneath an entirely flat load floor, providing up to 120 km on a charge. The Vito electric vehicle is already in production with 100 delivered and another 2,000 to be built over the next two years. Europe-only at this point, there’s no official word on whether it will ever make it to the U.S. The Cantor, which is already sold in the U.S. as a diesel-powered or hybrid Class 3, stores the batteries between the frame rails, leaving a flat mounting surface for bodies. At this point, it is a concept vehicle only.
Paccar-owned DAF Trucks also introduced a production diesel-electric medium-duty, the DAD LH 12-ton hybrid. It’s scheduled to enter production before the end of the year and will be sold in the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Belgium, as well as Germany.
Small commercial vehicles under 10,000 lbs. GVW are always popular at the European show, but this year was notable for a number that are headed for the U.S. to join Ford’s Transit Connect in that lightest segment.
Fiat was on hand with the Doblo and the somewhat larger Ducato, which is expected to come to Dodge dealers in the near future to compete with the Sprinter they lost to Mercedes-Benz last year. Nissan also had a large booth, showing the NV200, their light van especially designed for commercial users and scheduled to go on sale in North America later this year.
Both the two Fiats and the Nissan where shown as hybrid concepts, as well as their standard-for-Europe diesel-powered versions.
Given the emphasis on hybrids and medium- and light-duty trucks, it was fitting that the traditional International Truck of the Year Award unveiled at the close of IAA’s press days went this year to the Mercedes-Benz Atego Hybrid. A production diesel-electric hybrid rated at 12 tons, it spans what would be Classes 5 thru 7 in the U.S.
Not only is the Atego the first hybrid named International Truck of the Year by a panel of journalists, but it is also one of the few medium-duty trucks to ever win the honor. In presenting the 2011 award to Daimler Truck head Andreas Renschler, the panel cited “the well integrated power system that makes it as easy to drive as a more traditionally powered truck.”