A research project initiated by the Vienna University of Technology and Magna Steyr AG in Graz entitled “Clean Heavy Duty” (“Environmentally Friendly Commercial Vehicle”) has now reached a remarkable conclusion.

And as a result of the research findings, in future the environmentally-friendly transport and supply logistics operations of the Magna Steyr Group are to be carried out for the most part using natural gas and biogas-driven Mercedes-Benz Econic trucks. As part of this move, initially around 20 to 30 diesel trucks are to be replaced by Econic semitrailer tractor vehicles.

As such, the Mercedes-Benz Econic is entering into new areas of operation in Graz: without deploying the particularly environmentally-friendly specialist vehicle, Magna Steyr would not have been able to operate a third shift – the night shift – which it is aiming to reintroduce following the economic recovery.

Playing a leading role in low-emission logistics
A contributory factor in making the decision in favour of the Mercedes-Benz Econic was primarily the fact that it can run on biogas (methane) produced from bio-waste, without requiring any technical changes to be made to the vehicle. Such waste can include grass cuttings, for example, which remain available in large unused quantities in Austria. This use of regenerative energy not only saves resources, but in addition also creates jobs, a point highlighted by the research project’s final report. And there is also a particular advantage for Magna Steyr: as a company which forges technologies – collaborating on the development of hybrid drives as well as hydrogen and gas engines – it will be able to take on a leading role in the field of “low-emission” logistics.

In Austria, as in all of the world’s highly-developed countries, a great deal of significance is afforded to preserving the environment. Noise and exhaust emission standards apply not only in Germany and Austria, but also all across Europe, with the parties affected by such issues actively enjoying a right of action. European guidelines have also been implemented on the preservation of the environment, such as EC 2001/547 for example, which states that between 20 and 23 percent of road traffic must make use of alternative fuels by the year 2020.

Professor Ernst Pucher, who lectures at the Vienna University of Technology and enjoys an international reputation in the field of hybrid and CNG drives (natural gas) in particular, decided to tackle the issue and together with Magna Steyr drew up a concept for future own-account transport, which is now being officially initiated.

For this, a Mercedes-Benz Econic semitrailer tractor vehicle with natural gas drive took part in test operations for over a year, which have now been successfully concluded. To date, more than 100 trucks have operated on a daily basis between the plants and rail terminals.

Setting standards in technology and cleanliness
The M906 LAG engine produces 205 kW (279 hp) from a displacement of 6.9 litres. The emissions produced by the Econic with natural gas drive do not contain any fine dust or particles. In addition, the gas drive also boasts low noise emissions. The noise level of a petrol engine is usually around 77 dBA, while that of a diesel engine is between 85 and 97 dBA. The noise emissions of the Mercedes-Benz Econic with natural gas drive were around 77 dBA. Thanks to additional noise-insulating measures, the engineers at the Daimler plant in Wörth have now succeeded in achieving a further significant reduction down to 72 dBA. On the log-based decibel scale, a reduction of 5 dBA is equivalent to halving the noise emissions.

Natural gas, just like biogas, consists of up to 98 percent methane, and burns considerably “softer” than petrol or diesel thanks to its high octane number. Like all other vehicles fitted with a natural gas engine, the Econic with natural gas drive impresses with it low noise levels. Natural gas or methane burns almost without leaving any residue. In fact it burns so well that there are no smoke or soot particles, a fact confirmed by tests conducted by the Vienna University of Technology. These two points are therefore also part of the reason why today the Mercedes-Benz Econic is used in almost all big cities, including Berlin, Stock­holm, Paris, Prague, Valencia and Athens, for refuse collection in environmentally-sensitive districts. Even the cities of Singapore and Mexico are currently interested in using the Econic. In many places, such as in Stockholm for example, there are already regulations in place which specify that in addition to electric vehicles, only vehicles fitted with natural gas drives are allowed to drive into urban districts.

The Econic can venture into all environmental zones
The Econic in the form of a semitrailer tractor vehicle fitted with a refrigerated semitrailer has not only proved popular with discount stores such as Aldi or Tengelmann. When fitted with a box body it has also recently won over several freight forwarders in the Netherlands. The reasons there are the same as elsewhere, namely the increasingly stricter emissions regulations, especially when it comes to noise emissions in particular. No-one living close to a supermarket or pedestrian area enjoys being woken up between 4 and 6 o’clock in the morning by delivery vehicles.

In addition, in the case of the natural gas engine there is also the advantage of regenerative energy, something which is being promoted in most countries, and for good reason. The results of the research based on Magna Steyr show precisely that pursuing the concept of alternative energy is ultimately worthwhile. After all, the costs of acquisition alone are not always the determining factor when it comes to the profitability of an investment.

The specialist for all occasions
As a true special-purpose vehicle for municipal, collection and distribution transportation applications, the Mercedes-Benz Econic has all of the qualities expected of vehicles used in a wide variety of sectors: whether as a waste disposal, firefighting, or airport ground service vehicle, as well as a tanker, furniture delivery truck, or milk collection or heating oil delivery vehicle. The Econic is a specialist vehicle for all occasions, and in the meantime has even also come to be used as a semitrailer tractor vehicle for refrigerated transport operations for large discount supermarkets.

With more than 10,000 units sold since May 1998, the Econic has secured an outstanding market position and has long been the benchmark for vehicles featuring a low-floor cab design. Its characteristic features include the large wraparound windscreen and the co-driver’s door which opens automatically at the push of a button. The spacious cab provides plenty of headroom. In addition, it also boasts full air suspension as standard and a frame with good body-mounting ability. As such, the Econic is also highly suited to accommodating swap bodies.

Five wheelbases and up to four axles
All Econic models now feature a rear axle with a load-bearing capacity of 13 t – a remarkably high capacity which specifically enables it to tackle particular transport tasks, such as refuse collection. The specialist vehicle is available in five wheelbases, as a two-axle (4×2) unit, a three-axle (6×2) unit and also a three-axle unit with two rear-driven axles (6×4). In addition, it also comes as a four-axle variant with a gross vehicle weight rating of 32 t, suitable for very heavy-duty applications.

Enhanced image thanks to zero-emission commercial vehicles
Apart from the fact that investments which place a burden on the environment are unlikely to be approved in the future, the use of outdated vehicles to run its own-account transport operations is something that would not be very compatible with the modern image of a technology group such as Magna Steyr. The Austrian company developed into a technology group some time ago, and today is a brand-independent engineering and manufacturing partner to almost all of the major automotive manufacturers. The scope of services ranges from development through to production, and from design through to the finished vehicle. On top of this it has a portfolio of alternative dive systems, from hybrid through to fuel cell vehicles.

Comprehensive transport and supply logistics
The entire range of activities, operated on a two-shift basis during the economic crisis, calls for comprehensive transport and supply logistics. At least 100 trucks travel between the plants and loading stations every day in order to maintain production levels. Following the recent upturn in the economy, Magna Steyr in Thondorf is now looking to re-introduce a three-shift operation which takes into account the interests of residents but does not impact on the environment.

Magna Steyr AG in Graz has a long, time-honoured tradition of automotive engineering. Johann Puch’s first manufacturing workshop in Graz’s Strauchergasse originally produced ice skates and bicycles. A proper factory, the so-called “Einser-Werk” (Number One Plant), was subsequently set up in the south of Graz where engines were also built from 1901, and cars from 1904. In 1934, the company Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG was created as a result of several mergers. In the period of the economic miracle after the Second World War, the “Zweier-Werk” (Number Two Plant) was built in Thondorf bei Graz. This is where bicycles, mopeds, passenger cars and the legendary all-terrain vehicle were produced. The Puch G is of identical design to the Mercedes-Benz G , which is also built in Graz. In 2001, Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik AG & Co. KG was merged with Magna Europa AG to create Magna Steyr.

Source: Daimler AG