Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Mercedes launches AMTs for Atego range

Mercedes-Benz is to launch its new Atego light- and medium-duty truck series at the IFAT 2014 exhibition in Munich, Germany this month.

For the first time, the company will introduce an automated mechanical transmission (AMT) in lightweight trucks.

These will be teamed with BlueEfficiency in-line Euro V1 diesel engines covering an output range from 115 kW (156 bhp) to 220 kW (299 bhp) in either the six- or eight-speed in-house PowerShift 3 AMTs, with the six-speeder being newly developed by Mercedes-Benz.

The company sees the Atego, now a fully revamped and optimised vehicle concept, the benchmark in public-service operations as well as for multi-drop vehicles in congested urban areas.

The company claims a five per cent reduction in fuel consumption which, in comparison to its predecessor represents a “substantial advantage” for the user, according to the German truck maker.

Mercedes-Benz claims that “extensive development work on the chassis, steering and suspension has realised the ambitious aim of leading the light-duty truck category” in terms of handling characteristics, too.

In its unladen state or at the maximum permissible gross vehicle weight, the suspension offers the ultimate in driving dynamics, safety and comfort. The Atego's “compact dimensions and high agility mean that it is able to negotiate narrow alleys and backyards without any problem”, according to the company.

All told, 42 different model variants are available, covering a broad range of wheelbases, three cab lengths and all-wheel-drive versions.

Developed specifically to meet the requirements of light-duty distribution operations, the new cab bears up to comparison with cabs for heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz trucks in terms of design, quality, equipment and appointments.

In addition, the Euro VI Atego models with permanent or manually selectable all-wheel drive are “ideal for operations requiring high levels of traction” in public service and off-road scenarios.

But it is the arrival of AMTs in these light-to-medium range trucks which mark Mercedes-Benz apart from its competitors. Rivals such as DAF, MAN, Renault and Volvo light-to-medium chassis, as well as the Euro VI-compliant EuroCargo trucks from Iveco, all use ZF’s AS-tronic lite AMT transmission. But in the EuroCargo it is standard equipment with a manual-shift nine-speed option available on some models.

According to transmission specialist ZF, light and medium-duty delivery traffic can benefit from the advantages of automatic transmissions. Intelligent electronics select the ideal gear depending upon the driving situation and the route. The electronic protection against incorrect gear changes, engine over-revving, and torque peaks preserves the entire driveline. Compared to manual transmissions, fuel consumption is reduced and the service life of the clutch is extended many times over.

In the AS Tronic family, high-performance gears with helical teeth minimize noise emissions and as a result, predestine the transmissions for use in the city. The reduced CO2 and brake dust emissions also contribute to this.

If AMTs are so good, why have they not been used before for stop-start urban delivery vehicles?

As with many technical developments, progress has been slow and their introduction came at the lower-volume, high-price end of the range where the cost of developing the technology could be ‘absorbed’.

And so AMTs arrived first in long-haul road haulage applications, principally encompassing motorway, autobahn or autoroute duties. Ironically, such applications also coincided with infrequent use of the gearbox.

However, such low-volume applications allowed truck-maker Mercedes-Benz (which developed its own Elecronic Power Shift or EPS (a basic form of AMT) when it revamped its heavy truck range nearly 30 years ago and introduced it as standard equipment), to gain steady experience with the technology. One noticeable difference was the adoption of no fully-manual option.

Even so AMTs had arrived and wider use by long-distance truck drivers added to the growing momentum of wider acceptance. But it has taken a relatively long time for AMTs to be introduced lower down the weight range. In the passenger car world they are already firmly established.

With its huge financial muscle, Mercedes-Benz was able to absorb, the additional costs of EPS and ‘hide’ them in the price of the vehicle, thus reducing any deterrence that truck buyers might face.

On the plus side too, Mercedes-Benz could gradually ramp up production, not only gaining valuable experience on the way but longer term reducing unit costs as EPS production volumes steadily mounted.

Developments along these lines increased pressure on Mercedes-Benz’s competition to step up their own AMT programmes as well as through specialist vendors such as ZF which, among others, supplies Scania and Volvo.

It remains to be seen if wider adoption of AMTs becomes the norm, following in the wake of Iveco and Mercedes-Benz. Observers will be watching to see how widely the Atego range is accepted and to what extent additional sales are the direct result of AMT introduction.

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