20th October 2016

Mercedes’ Vision Van points to high-tech and automated courier deliveries of the future in a changing world

It won’t be long until Christmas, which most online and traditional retailers will have planned for months in advance, whilst many shoppers notoriously leave gift-buying until the last minute, getting a mini-fist-pump feeling when they secure the last remaining item and manage to wangle delivery in the nick of time.
Mercedes-Benz, renowned for producing revered commercial vehicles such as the Sprinter and Vito vans, reckons that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030. This projected percentage concurs with figures from the UN1 who are, however, a tad more conservative about the rate, earmarking 2050 as more realistic. In any case, people are increasingly choosing city living for economic, social and other reasons. Urbanisation and the sheer pace of modern life mean that more and more people are ordering food and daily necessities online and expecting rapid delivery, for example. Currently, 54% of the global population is urbanised and China will unsurprisingly contribute significantly to that figure’s rise, followed by Nigeria and India, which are also fast urbanising. Hong Kong and Singapore are already 100% urbanised2, while Belgium leads the way in Europe – and in cities like London, concierge services3 are booming in popularity, not just among UHNW clients, but everyday punters, too.

Society’s demand for around-the-clock services in cities that are increasingly introducing traffic restrictions, particularly affecting large vehicles, presents challenges to OEMs and service providers. The transport industry is transforming at a remarkable rate, responding to trends including platform-based business models and the technological revolution that is the Internet of Things (IoT). Government legislation also means that commercial vehicle manufacturers are clamouring to produce vans that are as environmentally and socially friendly as possible.

Embracing automation, digitalisation and robotics, Mercedes-Bens Vans’ new adVANce business division has been unveiled, positioning the brand much more as an integrated and intelligent system solutions developer than a pure vehicle manufacturer. Anyone who perceives futuristically-styled vans shuttling around in silence in the dead of night with robots automatically delivering parcels will sit up with a jolt when they discover that this is exactly what Mercedes is exploring with its Vision Van4 study.
With a relatively sleek silhouette made even more aerodynamic through the absence of wing mirrors, Vision Van is all-electric, powered by a 75kW motor that provides a range of between 80km and 270km, along with near-silent operation, making it ideal for stealthy deliveries to customers in the land of nod. Vision Van is intended to be a key component in the digital value chain, fully integrated with the IoT and smart technologies to maximise the vehicle’s efficiency by harnessing connectivity solutions and relevant applications.

Telematics will unsurprisingly play an increasingly large role in courier deliveries from now on, distribution managers kept informed in real-time of vans’ locations, cargo and routes, as well as traffic, weather and other information, making it much easier to effect last-minute alterations.
Holistic system solutions and intelligent inventory management systems embedded in commercial vehicles like Vision Van will mean that the ordering of replacement parts and service items can be largely automated, ultimately reducing the time a vehicle is taken off the road.

Mercedes is also developing automated and interconnected cargo space systems enabling one-shot loading of all pre-picked packages, and the automatic rearrangement of packages after each drop-off. With couriers currently having to rearrange an average of 180 items per load and make ten stops of around three and a half minutes each to rearrange their vans’ contents, these developments in robotic automation will be enormous time-savers. Additionally, driverless vehicle technology along with increasing use of drones could mean that human deliveries will become a thing of the past at some point.
Mobility is another area into which significant investments are being made and Mercedes doesn’t see why its vans of the future can’t double up as on-demand people-carriers to supplement and assist public transport services at times of peak demand. The company is working on innovative ride-sharing, leasing and vehicle rental models that can be fully tailored and integrated with public transport networks with the cooperation of third parties.

With other vehicle OEMs, mobility solutions providers, retailers and other organisations no doubt set to follow suit and develop similarly exciting solutions, concepts that in the not too distant past would have seemed utterly far-fetched will actually become a reality sooner than many people would expect.
1. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html
2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/Mapped-The-worlds-most-urbanised-countries/
3. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/12/family-office-private-wealth-funds
4. http://media.daimler.com/marsMediaSite/en/instance/ko/New-strategic-future-initiative-adVANce-and-Vision-Van-Merce.xhtml?oid=13569208