Today in Stuttgart, Mercedes-Benz Vans unveiled their new concept “van of the future,” the all-electric Vision Van. The van is being presented as a delivery/cargo solution with some novel advances in connectivity and automated cargo management, but if they have any brains, we’re also looking at the future of their luxury cars.
It’s almost refreshing to see that the Vision Van, for all its advanced technologies and use of buzzwords like “internet of things” isn’t actually autonomous. It’s electric, sure, and has a fancy robotic system in the back to shuffle packages and stuff, but a human is still intended to drive this concept.
The van is said to have an electric drive system making about 100 HP, just and should have a range of about 160 miles. That should be plenty for the ‘last mile’ delivery goals of the vans.
The whole idea of the van is part of Mercedes-Benz Van’s initiative that sounds like it was named via a middle-school contest: adVANce. I get it! A press release points out the three main “fields of innovation” of the adVANce initiative:
The first involves incorporating the van into the Internet of Things... 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.
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. New, interconnected cargo space systems make loading and unloading much faster, thereby increasing process efficiency. he 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.
So, the goals are a delivery vehicle that data-talks to everyone via the internet, has what I imagine are robot arms wearing Mickey Mouse gloves in the back to move boxes around, and vans being repurposed for passenger use when not delivering cargo.
All solid ideas, really, but I think these vans, sleek and modern-looking, could be a great Trojan Horse for getting people used to the idea of a van as the new form of luxury vehicle.
In the coming Age of Autonomy, the driver-centric focus of cars will become irrelevant; when your attention in the car is no longer needed for driving, the space in the car will need to become more open and flexible.
I’ve been a believer in the van format for years, and the increasing popularity of luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter conversion vans suggests that maybe I’m not alone.
These vans look pretty amazing. I know that display-in-the-fake-grille is a bit of concept-car frippery, but it’s also kind of fantastic, in an overdone, blingy way. Also, I like the radial-pattern pixel setup they’re using. I’m not sure I’ve seen that before.
The point is, these vans do not look like some shitty, call-your-kids-back-in-the-house Econoline. They feel like rational, elegant elements of a strikingly clean utopian city of the future. They feel like the sorts of things you’d see gliding by if you lived in a world where cancer was long beaten, nobody went hungry, and you have a lunch date in a hover-garden at 1:30 that you really need to get home and get ready for.