At this year’s Hanover IAA extravaganza, manufacturers wowed visitors with their views of commercial vehicles of the future
The IAA Commercial Vehicles show is arguably the most important of its kind in the world, with the huge exhibition stretching over multiple Hanover halls.
Attendees at the 2018 event in early October were confronted with a vast display of everything CV. Alongside the vans that will be going on sale over the course of the next few months, the manufacturers took the opportunity to give us a glimpse at what they think the vans of the future will be like.
From autonomous pods to outlandish pick-ups, the IAA hosted a variety of different ideas about what will be coming onto fleets in the years to come.
MERCEDES-BENZ VISION URBANETIC
Perhaps the most outlandish concept at the IAA was on the Mercedes stand, with the Vision Urbanetic claiming to be able to serve both people and goods transportation in one idea. The concept is similar to that of an articulated lorry cab, which then connects to different bodies, or pods. Mercedes showed one body that is capable of taking up to 12 passengers and another that is designed to take as many as 10 Euro pallets on two levels with a total load volume of 10m3.
The autonomous chassis is fully electric and networked so it is able to read traffic situations to select routes and minimise congestion.
It also gets constant updates to monitor real-time supply and demand needs. This means that it gets information on things such as local events, then it assesses where there might be a higher concentration of people and so a greater need for vehicles. In this case, it is able to determine whether the cargo or passenger pod is needed and switch between the two.
This switching can be done manually, or fully automatically in just a few minutes. This total autonomy means there is less need for driving gear, such as a steering wheel and pedals, that normally takes up room, making it more space-efficient.
There are a few other clever touches, such as the ability to communicate with the outside world. The Vision Urbanetic is able to identify pedestrians and signal to them that it has seen them – in the form of a display on the front and a series of lights around the side that displays the contours of nearby people on the sides.
Don’t expect this to be heading to our streets any time soon, though – Mercedes describes this as its vision for 2030 and beyond, so drivers still have a place on the payroll for now.
Next to the Mercedes, the Renault EZ-Pro looks comparatively sensible, visually if nothing else.
The EZ-Pro is a development of the EZ-Go, which was revealed at the Geneva motor show earlier this year and showed what Renault thought the taxi of the future could look like. This time, the concept at Hanover is one that is fairly similar to that of the Mercedes Vision Urbanetic, because it is a series of autonomous pods that are designed to be adapted to a variety of different jobs.
The whole concept consists of a lead vehicle and a series of pods that follow on behind, creating an unconnected train of vehicles. Although the pods can be turned into mobile catering units or the like, they are primarily designed with last-mile urban delivery in mind.
At the front, the lead vehicle has space for a single worker, who Renault doesn’t describe as a driver, but rather as a ‘concierge’. This person is there to facilitate the last bit of a delivery, by getting out and taking the package to the customer’s door, although they do have a joystick style controller to take over the vehicle if needs be.
Again, it is a fully electric concept and features elements such as four-wheel steering to make it as agile as possible in the urban environment. Don’t expect to see platooning chains of vehicles in our cities any time before 2030, but equally don’t be surprised to see some of the communication technology appear in Renault’s vehicles long before that.
NISSAN NAVARA DARK SKY CONCEPT
Among all the autonomous, driverless pods, the Nissan Navara Dark Sky Concept is a pleasingly old-school and hardy vehicle hewn from a totally different type – it’s been developed with the European Space Agency and has a trailer with a powerful telescope attached to it.
Essentially the main vehicle is a Nissan Navara that has been beefed up a bit, and we have seen plenty of pick-ups like that over the years, but there are a few bits of technology that are worth paying closer attention to, especially for those who tow.
The Intelligent Around View Monitor system has been upgraded so that it helps drivers while they are towing. It now offers a view all the way around the vehicle and the trailer, to help parking.
The Blind Spot warning system can pick up on items within the trailer’s range, and the Intelligent Towing Hitch Alignment hands over control to the vehicle to aid with linking up a trailer – it will drive and steer itself into position so the trailer can be hitched up easily.
Finally, the load bay has an electric battery from the Nissan Leaf to provide power in remote locations. This is not likely to make it to your mainstream Navara any time soon, but don’t be surprised if some of the other equipment does.
VOLKSWAGEN CRAFTER HYMOTION
VW always designed the large Crafter to be able to take different types of powertrain, and the Crafter Hymotion is the latest possibility.
It is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, using the same motor as the electric version, and offers a theoretical range of 311 miles (500km).
We’re less likely to see this version in the UK than the Crafter EV, if and when it gets the green light, though – it is more suited to Germany where the expectation is that hydrogen filling stations will rise from 50 to around 100 by the end of this year and 400 by 2023.
VOLKSWAGEN I.D. BUZZ CARGO
Van fans rejoiced at the I.D. Buzz Cargo, because it signals the arrival of a van that is strongly reminiscent of the iconic ‘Bulli’ van that Volkswagen was famous for.
Unlike many concepts, though, the one in Hanover is one that is set to make it to the roads in the not-too-distant future. It could make it to production as soon as 2021, even before the passenger vehicle version, called simply the I.D. Buzz, that was previewed in 2017.
It is based on the same underpinnings as the I.D. Buzz and several other planned electric cars in the VW Group, which means that it is not a one-off creation, which would cost more to produce.
It sits below the Crafter, and will be pitched as a more lifestyle alternative to the Transporter. It is electric only, so will appeal to urban companies, and has a theoretical top range of 342 miles (550km) with a solar roof to boost charge on the move.
The production model will be toned down somewhat, with details such as the augmented-reality head-up display that replaces the instrument panel not likely to make it on sale just yet, but the basic concept looks set to be with us before too long.