Mercedes-Benz Vision Van Concept launches adVANce Initiative to meet changing consumer needs

Article by Christian A., on September 29, 2016

Mercedes-Benz Vans, one of the world’s top van makers, has just launched adVANce, which is their strategic transport industry initiative for the future. With this, the division analytically considers its customers’ evolving requirements. Changes in these requirements are influenced by industry disruptions and adaptations secondary to economic and social changes and trends, including urbanisation, e-commerce expansion, intelligent integration of multiple Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the widespread adaptation of platform-based business models.

Mercedes-Benz Vans is methodically utilising the latest digital, robotic and automation technologies while strategizing for future opportunities based on advances in these technologies. The business division will not just be a vehicle manufacturer but will also become a provider of integrated smart system solutions that are designed to increase the efficiency of the transportation of goods and passengers. This would then provide customers with new business opportunities and additional economic benefits.

Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, spoke at today's Van Innovation Campus in Stuttgart, saying that their company recorded its best results in the first six months of the current year. They used this as a strategic platform for their vans division going forward.

Mornhinweg added that in order for Mercedes-Benz Vans to remain relevant despite the ongoing drastic sector changes, they are adapting the 'Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global' strategy which covers more than just their products and reaches out to new international markets. He explained that the company’s focus now encompasses not just the vehicle but also the complete value chain as well as their customers’ business environment. They now offer digital age transport solutions where the van now becomes “an intelligent, interconnected data centre on wheels.” To achieve this, the company is undertaking a five-year half-billion euro investment and forming a new organisational unit. These moves are unprecedented in the van sector.

Identifying future customer requirements

The Mercedes-Benz adVANce initiative is the company’s strategic adaptation system which takes into account quickly evolving customer requirements. Among these are the flourishing online businesses in food and general merchandise, both of which place accelerating demands for same-day or even same-hour delivery. Urbanisation is another continuing trend, and it is estimated that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be urban dwellers. Obviously, increasing transportation demands will have to be satisfied in a quicker and more efficient way that is also notably environment-friendly.

Focus on three main fields of innovation: adVANce

The Mercedes-Benz adVANce initiative emphasises three main fields of innovation for the Vision Van: (1) incorporation into the Internet of Things; (2) innovative hardware-based transportation industry solutions; and (3) new mobility concepts for on-demand transportation of people and goods.

Mercedes-Benz Vans’ strategy for incorporating the van into the Internet of Things involves integration of innovative smart van technology which improves efficiency. This will be the focal point of the digital value chain. Attention will be mainly directed towards pertinent applications and connectivity solutions (digital@vans). An illustration of this is the development of a telematics unit for vans that will function to gather information regarding delivery tour status and real-time load location, process it and send it to the distribution manager. This enables centralised, efficient and instantaneous fleet monitoring.

There is also an application mainly concerned with efficiency and service vehicle tool management, such as tradespersons’ mobile workshops. Upcoming comprehensive system solutions will permit fully automated ordering of specific parts and expedite their acquirement into the van overnight. These processes will be facilitated by the van’s integral smart inventory system, while inventory evaluation, manual ordering of parts, requiring the tradesperson to equip the vehicle and other intermediate steps can all be skipped.

The second field of innovation under focus is the adaptation of hardware-based transport industry solutions (solutions@vans). Mercedes-Benz Vans is developing parcel delivery van cargo space automation systems, among others. Deliverers had always been required to rearrange the loaded packages (averaging roughly 180 per load) ten times during residential area parcel delivery, thereby requiring around three to four minutes per stop. The innovative and network-integrated cargo space solutions will now speed up loading and unloading and improve overall process efficiency.

One-shot loading (simultaneous loading of all pre-picked parcels) significantly reduces loading times, as well as vehicle downtime at the distribution centres. The deliverer is also assisted during unloading because the exact load configuration will be displayed by the system, which will then identify the correct package at the appropriate delivery time based on the delivery destination. The Mercedes-Benz Vans team is also concerned with developing integrated autonomous delivery systems which will include drones and automated robots.

The third innovation field under focus for the Stuttgart-based company, in collaboration with a number of partners, are new mobility concepts related to on-demand transportation of goods and people (mobility@vans).

These intelligent mobility concepts of tomorrow are predicted to create new public transit opportunities, such as faster and more efficient peak and off-peak hour individual passenger transport through ridesharing systems. Future smart technology networks would also improve and increase efficiency of last mile transport. Mercedes-Benz Vans is also doing ground-breaking work by developing new leasing, rental and sharing concepts, all optimised for the evolving requirements of van customers.

Pure electric 'Vision Van' van study for efficient and innovative last mile delivery

Mercedes-Benz Vans presents an exciting new integrated solution for the latest customer requirements. It is called the "Vision Van" van study and it was conceptualised within the adVANce initiative. This pure electric van incorporates a range of innovative systems designed for urban and suburban last-mile delivery. It is the world’s first van to digitally facilitate networking of all involved processes and personnel, from distribution centre to consignee. It will also be the first van in history to have a fully automated cargo space and be equipped with delivery drones. This would make it possible for the involved parcel delivery company to stop in a residential area and make multiple autonomous drone deliveries, apart from regular manual delivery. The delivery task is thus made more convenient and time-efficient. It also enables new opportunities for end customers, including the ability to specify the exact delivery time. Mercedes-Benz Vans predicts that Vision Van deployment will result in up to a 50 percent increase in efficiency on the last mile. The van’s 75 kW electric motor is capable of a range between 80 and 270 km, varying by intended application. Needless to say, the Vision Van makes delivering a zero-emission activity.

Volker Mornhinweg explains that the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van represents the van of tomorrow, with smart automation systems linking up the entire process, from loading to road transportation to delivery to the consignee. The deliverer’s job is made easier and the customer’s waiting time is greatly reduced.

Mornhinweg also states that the Vision Van’s electric drive system makes local operation both emission-free and very silent. Therefore, it can continue to operate in urban areas even despite times of traffic restrictions, as well as in residential areas late at night. This provides Mercedes-Benz Van customers opportunities to offer new services to their customers.

Press Release

New strategic future initiative adVANce and Vision Van: Mercedes-Benz Vans is presenting the van of the future: intelligent, interconnected and electric

Today the globally successful van manufacturer Mercedes-Benz Vans has unveiled its strategic future initiative adVANce for the transport industry. This sees the division systematically taking up its customers' changing requirements. The transformation of the industry is the result of various economic and social trends, among them urbanisation, the growth in e-commerce, the intelligent networking of a wide range of technologies in the Internet of Things (IoT), and the proliferation of platform-based business models.

Mercedes-Benz Vans is systematically making use of present-day and future technological opportunities presented by digitalisation, automation and robotics. The business division is developing from a mere vehicle manufacturer into a provider of system solutions and will offer integrated and intelligent systems in addition to its basic vehicles in the future. These solutions can make the transportation of goods and passengers even more efficient and open up new business opportunities and economic benefits for costumers.

"In the first six months of this year, we brought in the best results yet for Mercedes-Benz Vans. This provides us with an excellent foundation to position our vans division systematically for the future", said Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, at today's Van Innovation Campus in Stuttgart.

"To live up to the dramatic changes in our sector, we adapt our 'Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global' strategy and expand it beyond the product and untapped international markets. We are focusing our attention beyond the vehicle on the entire value chain and business environment of our customers. We provide transport solutions for the digital age and evolve the van into an intelligent, interconnected data centre on wheels. In order to do this, we are investing around half a billion euros over the next five years, and we created a separate organisational unit. So far, this approach is unique within the van sector."

Identifying the customer requirements of tomorrow

With the adVANce initiative, Mercedes-Benz Vans is systematically adapting to new, rapidly changing customer requirements. Examples include the burgeoning business in food and everyday necessities ordered online. Here, demand for same-day delivery or delivery within an hour is increasing rapidly. At the same time, more and more people are living in cities – by 2030 urban areas will be home to more than two thirds of the world's population. It is clear that the rising transportation requirements will need to be met even faster and more efficiently in future and, above all, in an environmentally friendly way.

All-electric "Vision Van" van study for innovative delivery on the last mile

Mercedes-Benz Vans is presenting a fascinating, integrated solution for new customer requirements with the "Vision Van" van study, which was presented today and evolved as part of the adVANce initiative. This all-electric vehicle combines various innovative solutions for last-mile delivery in urban and suburban environments. It is the first van worldwide to fully digitally connect all people and processes involved, from the distribution centre to the consignee. Furthermore, it is the first van ever to feature a fully automated cargo space and integrated delivery drones. For example, if a parcel service provider stops his vehicle in a residential area, it will be possible to deliver multiple packages to nearby consignees autonomously by air – even if they are not at home – in addition to manual delivery. This makes the deliverer’s job easier, reduces the delivery time and offers end customers new opportunities such as same-day delivery at an agreed time. Mercedes-Benz Vans envisages deployment of the Vision Van boosting efficiency by up to 50 percent on the last mile. The vehicle is equipped with a 75 kW electric drive and – depending on the intended application – has a range of 80 km to approximately 270 km. With the Vision Van, deliveries are emission-free.

"With the Vision Van from Mercedes-Benz Vans we provide an idea of future generations of vans: the intelligent automation technology connects the entire process, from loading and transportation by road through to delivery to the consignee. This makes it easier for the deliverer to do business and rapidly reduces the delivery time for end customers", adds Volker Mornhinweg.

"Equipped with an electric drive system, the Vision Van not only operates locally emission-free, it also moves almost silently. This means that it can be operated in cities even during times when there are traffic restrictions or for late-night deliveries in residential areas. This gives our customers the possibility of offering new services to their customers."

Focusing on three key fields of innovation: adVANce

As part of the strategic future initiative, Mercedes-Benz Vans will be focusing on three fields of innovation: the first involves incorporating the van into the Internet of Things. For this purpose, Mercedes-Benz Vans is integrating smart technologies into the van, which increase its efficiency and make it a central component of the digital value chain. The focus here is on relevant applications and connectivity solutions (digital@vans). One example is developing a telematics unit for vans which collects and processes data concerning the status of the delivery tour, the present location and the load, and sends this information to the distribution manager. In this way it is possible to monitor and manage last-minute changes within the fleet efficiently from a central point.

Another application concentrates on the efficient part and tool management for service vehicles, for example tradespersons' mobile workshops. In future new holistic system solutions will enable parts to be ordered in a fully automated way by means of an intelligent inventory management within the vehicle, as well as for the relevant parts to be placed overnight directly into the van. Intermediate steps such as inventory evaluation, ordering parts manually and the tradesperson having to equip the vehicle are no longer necessary.

The second focal point is on innovative hardware-based solutions for the transportation industry (solutions@vans). Here Mercedes-Benz Vans is working on automated cargo space systems for delivery vehicles for parcel services, for example. Until now, deliverers need to rearrange their packages (on average around 180 per load) ten times while making deliveries within a residential area and schedule approximately three to four minutes per stop. New, interconnected cargo space systems make loading and unloading much faster, thereby increasing process efficiency. One-shot loading (loading the vehicle with all pre-picked parcels in one go) cuts loading times considerably and reduces the amount of vehicle downtime at distribution centres. When the deliverer is unloading, the system will show him the exact load configuration and make the right package available at the right time for delivery depending on the delivery destination. The team at Mercedes-Benz Vans also has the integration of autonomous delivery systems such as drones or self-driving robots in mind.

The third field of interest for the Stuttgart-based van manufacturer in conjunction with various cooperation partners is new mobility concepts for the on-demand transportation of goods and people (mobility@vans). In future these intelligent mobility concepts could supplement public transit by making fast, efficient and individual transport of passengers possible during peak and off-peak hours via ridesharing concepts. In the future, the intelligent networking of technologies can also make the transportation of goods more efficient and considerably improve transport on the last mile. In this pioneering field Mercedes-Benz Vans is also working on innovative leasing, rental and sharing models, which are completely tailored to the needs of van customers.

New organisational unit within the start-up scene

In order to fully exploit the numerous opportunities of evolving the van and vehicle-related business systems, Mercedes-Benz Vans has created a new organisational unit called Future Transportation Systems. The project teams are based within the start-up scene in Stuttgart, Berlin and Silicon Valley. In total around 200 employees are working on these topics. They work closely with customers and partners from business, technology, logistics, research and the public sector. The objective of working with young companies is to combine the knowledge of the vehicle sector accumulated over decades with new perspectives, agile working methods and innovative ideas.

Strategic investments in innovative start-ups

In order to make new approaches market-ready, Mercedes-Benz Vans is investing in several innovative start-ups in the areas of automation, robotics and mobility services in a first step. One of the companies that Mercedes-Benz Vans has a stake in is Matternet, a US-based developer of autonomous drone logistics systems. Together with Matternet, Mercedes-Benz Vans worked on the Vision Van show car, the first integrated delivery system that automates last-mile delivery. The new system, which combines van and drone logistics, is a more efficient, faster and a more economical way for people to receive goods on-demand.

Mercedes-Benz Vans achieves most successful first half year ever with records in unit sales, revenue, EBIT and return on sales

In the first half of 2016, Mercedes-Benz Vans achieved the best figures in its history. Unit sales increased by 21 percent to approximately 176 200 vehicles (prior-year: approximately 145 400 units). The entire product portfolio contributed to this increase in unit sales. Revenue was up 19 percent to 6256 million euros, another best-ever level (prior-year: 5244 million euros). EBIT and return on sales climbed by 56 percent and 30 percent to 702 million euros and 11.2 percent reaching a new record level (prior-year: 449 million euros and 8.6 percent). Mercedes-Benz Vans anticipates further significant growth in unit sales for the 2016 financial year as a whole. The business division is also expecting a significantly higher EBIT from ongoing business in 2016 compared to 2015 as well as a significantly higher return on sales.

The Mercedes-Benz Vans division

Mercedes-Benz Vans is a global full-line supplier of vans and related services. Alongside the large-size Sprinter van and the mid-size Vito van (known in the US as Metris), the division's worldwide product portfolio includes the Mercedes-Benz Citan urban delivery van. Mercedes-Benz Vans is also represented in the private segment with the V-Class MPV and the Marco Polo and Marco Polo ACTIVITY travel vans. The division has a total of nine production locations: in Germany, Spain, the USA, Argentina, China (joint venture with Fujian Benz Automotive Co., Ltd), France (strategic alliance with Renault-Nissan) and Russia (partnerships with GAZ and YaMZ). To date, the main markets have been in Western Europe, accounting for a total of 65 percent of unit sales in 2015.

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