Integrating innovations: how Mercedes-Benz switches its production to zero-emission vehicles
eActros is a battery-electric version of Actros, one of the most popular trucks from Mercedes-Benz. Its world premiere took place at the end of June 2021. A few months later, the company together with the authorities of the Rhineland-Palatinate greeted its serial production start. To this end, the German manufacturer made a lot of preparations but there are more innovations yet to come.
On the 7th of October, the first eActros series-production electric truck rolled off the production line at the Future Truck Center of Mercedes-Benz plant in Wörth am Rhein. The Future Truck Center is a special facility at the Wörth plant dedicated to electrifying heavy goods vehicles. Before arriving at the facility, the eActros are manufactured at the existing assembly line alongside trucks with conventional drive systems. Its electric axle and the battery packs are produced at three different plants by Mercedes-Benz, in Mannheim, Gaggenau and Kassel. In particular, the Competence Centre for Emission-free Mobility in Mannheim assembles individual battery modules into complete packs and then tests them. The plant in Kassel assembles the complete electric axle. The Gaggenau plant produces transmission-related components.
Depending on the version, eActros gets its energy from either three or four battery packs and can achieve a range of up to 400 kilometres. It can be charged with up to 160 kilowatts. The charge from 20 to 80 per cent for three battery packs takes about one hour at a standard DC fast-charging station with a 400 A charging current.
These make eActros suitable for daily distribution operations. Since 2018, prototypes of the eActros have been into practical testing with customers in Germany and Netherlands. For example, the early prototypes of it have been undergoing practical testing in Logistik Schmitt since 2019. At the moment three the battery-powered HGVs travelled around 70,000 kilometres carrying a total of more than 40,000 tonnes of freight. Logistik Schmitt calculated that the prototype covers up to 300 kilometres per day.
Mercedes-Benz also keeps testing its new electric trucks by itself. In September, two loaded battery-powered eAtcros vehicles with 27 tonnes of gross tonnage each crossed the Alps as part of a series of tests in Italy’s South Tyrol region. During the tests, they tackled a total of 54,000 metres of altitude with the highest point located at a height of 2,750 metres.
Series-production launch of other carbon-neutral trucks is on the Mercedes-Benz’ agenda. The eActros production will be followed by the series production of eEconic, the truck for municipal use, in late 2022. Starting from 2024, the eActros LongHaul will be ready for the series production. 2027 is a year when the first GenH2 trucks with hydrogen-based fuel-cell drive systems are expected to roll off the production line.
So how Mercedes-Benz adapts its production facilities for the construction of new models? “Our so-called fullflex concept makes it possible to integrate the electric trucks into the existing production. In this way, the plant is able to efficiently and even more quickly adapt to the respective market demand”, says Sven Grable, Head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks Operations. Basically, this means that the assembly of different vehicle types takes place in an integrated manner as far as possible, no matter whether a conventional engine or an electric powertrain they have.
This is what actually takes place at the plant in Wörth am Rhein. Also, the facility introduces some new assembly processes for the production of trucks with alternative drive systems, including infrastructure. Around 2,000 employees of the plant have so far gained further qualifications and acquired the necessary skills for the assembly of electrically powered HGVs. To develop new possibilities in Wörth, Daimler Truck already submitted an application to the German government as part of the funding for hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies.
Similar processes have been undergoing at the other mentioned locations. The Mercedes-Benz plant in Gaggenau, which specialises in heavy-duty commercial vehicle transmissions, will develop into a competence centre for electric drive components as well as the assembly of hydrogen-based fuel cell drive components. The plant in Kassel is expanding its current focus on commercial vehicle axles and will become a competent centre for electric drive systems. The plant in Mannheim, which is specialised in commercial vehicle engines, is focusing on battery technologies and high-voltage systems.
The innovation laboratories (“InnoLabs”) are another element of the technology network for electric drive components and battery systems. They are being set up at all plants to close the gap between prototypes and their series development.
On its way towards an all-electric future, Mercedes-Benz bought an equity stake in battery cell manufacturer Automotive Cells Company (ACC) in September. A month earlier, the company launched battery cooperation with GROB-WERKE, the German world market leader in innovative battery production and automation systems. This cooperation will focus on the battery systems to be used in Mercedes-EQ vehicles from 2025.
The company also plans to build eight cell factories around the world together with partners (four of them in Europe). Mercedes-Benz already manufactures battery systems at its locations in Kamenz (Saxony), Hedelfingen (Stuttgart), Bangkok (Thailand), Beijing (China) and Jawor (Poland). The facilities in Brühl (Stuttgart) and Tuscaloosa (USA) are already preparing for the start of production in 2022.
The production processes are also expected to become “greener” by establishing a completely renewable system over the next few years. This will affect both the efficiency of processes and using renewable energy sources. For the battery cells, usage of critical materials will be reduced with the implementation of the new technologies. For a closed raw material cycle, battery cells are expected to be over 95 per cent recyclable. Even steel for the new vehicles by Mercedes-Benz may be CO2-neutral. To this end, the company has launched a partnership with the Swedish steel manufacturer SSAB. It has a pilot plant for fossil-free still and aims to supply the market with CO2-neutral steel on an industrial scale from 2026. By 2039 at the latest, at least Mercedes-Benz’ new passenger car fleet will become carbon dioxide neutral along the entire value chain.