Is it acceptable to provide employees with a workplace that is not offering the highest safety levels available? Delivery looks at how the safety standards can affect your purchase decisions.
We live in a world where developments in one country quickly spread across different nations, adding to a vehicle production by either joint ventures or mergers and acquisitions.
This scenario is particularly relevant to the European manufacturers where joint ventures with China and Russia have altered the game plan for growing market share. By introducing exacting manufacturing standards that apply universally, irrespective of the country of manufacture, a vehicle achieves the status of becoming a global model rather than a vehicle available globally.
Unfortunately not every manufacturer producing vehicles in countries that provide a low cost manufacturing base can claim to be providing the highest level of safety. Many of the Chinese vehicles produced by that country’s own domestic manufacturers are bringing models to market that are significantly sub-standard when compared to the best on offer from Europe.
In this issue of Delivery we look at the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, now in its seventh year, and analyse the established safety levels this design of vehicle provides for the large van segment. It’s a story that illustrates the importance of looking behind the glamour of some of the advertising campaigns of inferior products to highlight just what defines safety for operators of light commercial vehicles in the developed world.
A total of 159,000 Sprinters were sold in 2012, and variations of the Sprinter are now manufactured in Germany, Argentina, North America and China. Production is also slated to begin shortly in Russia, in a joint venture with GAZ.
The North American market is of particular interest as the availability of the typical European panel van design with sheet steel fabrication is completely different from the homegrown style of fabricated bodywork that has featured for so long on US-made chassis.
Production of the Sprinter in North America is centred on the manufacturing plant in Charleston, South Carolina, where Mercedes-Benz supplies a choice of badge-engineered products under the Mercedes-Benz or Freightliner brand.
This dual branding option helped Mercedes-Benz Vans boost sales by 19 percent in the US last year, to around 21,500 units, creating a market for Sprinter in the US that is the company’s third-largest sales market, surpassed only by Germany and the UK.
Mercedes-Benz Vans has been a strong player in Latin America for decades. In 2012, the division achieved a major success in the region, when it increased sales by two percent to just under 14,000 units.
Sales rose in spite of a contracting market and the fact that the van plant in Argentina switched over production to the current Sprinter model. In the coming years Daimler will invest about €80 million in the production of new models at the plant near Buenos Aires, where it will also create around 700 new jobs.
No other European van market is currently growing as dynamically as that of Russia, which is expected to increase by three to five percent annually in the coming years. In the medium term, sales are expected to reach 25,000 units per year.
In May 2012, Mercedes-Benz Vans and the Russian automaker, GAZ, formed a partnership that paves the way for the division’s entry into the Russian market via local van production.
GAZ is by far the largest van manufacturer in Russia and will begin producing the Sprinter Classic in the country in the first half of 2013. GAZ will also work together with the Mercedes-Benz sales organisation to market the model in Russia.
In addition, the GAZ facility in Yaroslavl will manufacture Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder diesel engines for use in the Sprinter Classic. As part of its partnership with GAZ, Daimler will invest more than €100 million in the product modification, the production facilities, and the sales network. The GAZ Group will invest more than €90 million in the project.
The path to success in the Russian market has been smoothed by continuous testing of Sprinter ability with drive programmes such as the 5,300 km endurance event that started in Edmonton, Canada, and continued through British Columbia and Yukon before finishing in Anchorage, Alaska.
During the test, the Sprinters had proved that they could succeed even under extreme conditions that included cold starts at temperatures that reached nearly minus 50 degrees Celsius.
After seven years in production at the Mercedes-Benz manufacturing plant in Ludwigsfelde, Germany, the Sprinter this year receives a significant upgrade in both appearance and safety inclusions. During the past year, the van range also gained substantially from a technical upgrade to the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission.
This year also marks a substantial upgrade for Sprinter in its suite of safety inclusions.
Soon to be made available across the Sprinter range are the Crosswind Assist system, the Collision Prevention Assist, Blind Spot Assist, and Highbeam Assist with Lane Keeping Assist.
The Crosswind Assist system for Sprinter is a world first for light commercial vans, as drivers no longer have to steer against sudden gusts of wind.
Crosswind Assist is based on the standard-fitted Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and is activated at speeds of 80 km/h and above. The system features sensors for measuring the yaw rate and lateral acceleration so that it can determine the force exerted by crosswind and gusts and then brake specific wheels on the windward side of the van. The resulting rotary and yaw motions cause the vehicle to steer in a corrective manner and prevent it from drifting, which otherwise might have dangerous consequences.
Thanks to Crosswind Assist, vans remain firmly on course, even if they suddenly encounter strong gusts – for example, when crossing bridges or overtaking trucks. The system minimises the effects of wind and aims to prevent the vehicle from moving more than 50 cm sideways, even when encountering strong gusts.
The ESP sensors can determine the strength and flow angle of steady and intensifying crosswinds as well as of sudden gusts. The system’s response is also governed by other factors, such as vehicle speed, load weight, cargo location, and the driver’s steering behaviour. Should the driver manually counteract the force of the wind, his or her steering movements will automatically override Crosswind Assist.
The risk of rear-end collision by travelling too close to the vehicle in front has also come under scrutiny. Analyses conducted by the Mercedes-Benz Accident Research department have shown that radar-based assistance systems could prevent a significant proportion of rear-end collisions, or at least substantially reduce the severity of the accidents.
In response to this finding, Mercedes-Benz Vans will be introducing the proximity warning assistant. The system is designed to provide protection against severe rear-end collisions, rather than to prevent minor accidents in inner cities at low speeds.
The system warns the driver when the van gets too close to another vehicle, and intensifies the alarm if the dangerously short distance is further reduced to the extent that there is a high risk of collision.
A radar sensor in the front bumper continuously measures the distance to any vehicle travelling ahead in the same lane, as well as the relative speeds between the two vehicles. On the basis of this data, the proximity warning assistant helps drivers maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead.
If the distance from a vehicle up ahead drops to one fourth or less of the required braking distance, the assistance system flashes a light in the instrument cluster to warn the driver. The flashes become more frequent and an alarm sounds if the likelihood of a collision is increasing because the distance continues to drop and the traffic situation remains unchanged. This second alarm stage is triggered about three seconds before impact, allowing the driver to hit the brakes or take evasive action.
Whenever there is danger of a collision, the proximity warning assistant also activates another new system called “Brake Assist pro”.
This adaptive brake assistant calculates the force needed for pinpoint emergency braking so that the remaining distance can be optimally used for braking to prevent a collision. Drivers activate the brake assistant by forcefully stepping on the brake pedal. To ensure pinpoint braking during the braking manoeuvre, the system can raise or lower the braking force in accordance with the data provided by the proximity warning assistant.
The proximity warning assistant is activated at speeds of 30 km/h or more. The system reacts not only to vehicles travelling up ahead, but also to stationary obstacles such as traffic jams.
Also now available for the Sprinter range is the first application in a van of Blind Spot Assist.
The new Blind Spot Assist system is activated at speeds of 30 km/h or more and uses four short-range radar sensors, positioned in the area of the B-pillar and the rear corner pillar, from where they scan the adjacent lanes. If the sensors detect a car or motorcycle in the driver’s blind spot while travelling, a red warning signal lights up in the exterior mirror on the side where the vehicle is located. If the safety system detects that the driver wants to change lanes despite the warning, it will also sound an alarm.
Unintended lane departures caused by distractions or the driver’s inattention are even more dangerous than careless lane changes. In the future, Mercedes-Benz vans will therefore be equipped with Lane Keeping Assist to ensure that drivers receive timely warning of unintended lane changes.
The system features a range of sophisticated technology, including a mounted camera behind the windshield that films the lane up ahead. The camera is connected to an electronic control unit that continuously measures the recorded data in order to identify the lane and the associated markings by analysing the differences in contrast.
If the van is about to cross the lane markings without the use of a turn indicator, the control unit will consider this to be an unintended lane departure and sound an alarm to notify the driver.
Lane Keeping Assist is active at speeds of 60 km/h or more and reacts not only to white lane markings but also to the yellow markings used at construction sites. Drivers can switch the assistance system off when it suits them – for example, when driving along narrow and winding country roads. Lane Keeping Assist also helps drivers stay on course in tight areas such as those found at highway construction sites.
Night driving, and in particular headlamp performance, has led Mercedes-Benz to offer bi-xenon headlights as an option on the van range. Also available is the new Highbeam Assist system. This system switches the high beams on and off in accordance with the present situation to ensure that the road is optimally illuminated at all times. This not only enables drivers to see curves, pedestrians, and danger zones earlier and more clearly, but also prevents oncoming traffic and drivers up ahead from being blinded.
The system uses a camera mounted to the inside of the windshield. The camera scans the traffic in front of the vehicle. If it detects oncoming traffic or two-track vehicles up ahead, the system automatically switches the headlights from high beam to low beam.
The safety system switches the headlights back to high beam once the road is no longer occupied. The camera also registers if the street lights are switched on, in which case it automatically deactivates the high beams – for example, when driving through towns or villages.
Highbeam Assist operates at speeds of 60 km/h or more. The system will be offered for halogen as well as bi-xenon headlights.
Among the most frequent van accidents are those caused while manoeuvring at low speeds. To help drivers park and manoeuvre in tight areas, therefore, vans can be equipped with an optional reversing camera.
In vans with closed vehicle bodies, the camera is mounted above the rear doors. The image is transmitted to the 5.8-inch (14.7 cm) TFT colour monitor of the factory-installed radio. The camera’s 150-degree viewing angle allows drivers to see the entire area behind the vehicle on the monitor. To assist orientation, the system also displays the horizon and static guide markings.
The addition of these new safety systems comes on top of the standard safety items that Mercedes-Benz has offered across the van range since its original launch.
The Sprinter van is fitted with the latest generation of ADAPTIVE ESP as standard.
These systems incorporate an anti-lock braking system (ABS), acceleration skid control (ASR), electronic brake force distribution (EBV), hydraulic brake assistant (BAS), load adaptive control (LAC), roll-over mitigation and roll movement intervention (ROM/RMI), enhanced understeering control (EUC), automatic brake disc wiping for driving in rainy weather, and electronic brake prefill for anticipatory brake preparation in critical driving situations.
If the buyer of a Sprinter wishes to have a trailer coupling system, or the corresponding mounts, the van also features trailer stability assist (TSA) as standard. Hill start assist is also included on all vehicles fitted with automatic transmission.
If an accident cannot be prevented, despite the Sprinter’s high level of active safety, the van’s occupants benefit from the vehicle’s flexible and energy-absorbing body structure. The driver is safely restrained by height-adjustable three-point safety belts with seat-belt tensioners and belt force limiters as well as by two-way headrests and front airbags.
As well as the standard features listed above, there are also optional upgrades available such as bi-xenon headlights equipped with a static Add-Light system and a cornering light function, as well as by fog lights, a headlight cleaning system, and a heated windshield.
The rain sensor with Headlamp Assist automatically turns the corresponding systems on or off. Passive safety is further enhanced by the front passenger airbag (standard equipment in the crew bus), window bags, and thorax bags, while the tyre pressure monitoring system highlights the tyre pressure in vans with single tyres.
There are many situations where any or all of the safety inclusions now available in vans from manufacturer’s such as Mercedes-Benz can and will save lives and reduce accidents. The decision that every van buyer has to make, is whether they cap the cost of accident reduction at the time of vehicle purchase and thereby put the lives of the their employees at levels of unnecessary risk.