Mercedes Aero: lllusion and reality

From the March 2012 issue.

When Mercedes-Benz unveiled a spectacular design study at the Trailer 2011 trade show in Belgium, the vehicle’s sleek curves got the industry talking. Is the industry juggernaut giving us a peek into the future of trailer design? Is the box-shaped van history?

When Mercedes-Benz unveiled a spectacular design study at the Trailer 2011 trade show in Belgium, the vehicle’s sleek curves got the industry talking. Is the industry juggernaut giving us a peek into the future of trailer design? Is the box-shaped van history?

Flowing lines and aesthetically-sculpted surfaces define Mercedes-Benz’ new design concept where the classic box is given a modern rendition, creating an unseen, almost coupé-like piece of transport equipment. Nicknamed Aero, the concept is a holistic approach to modern industrial design, recognising the combination of truck and trailer as one single system. But is it all new?

Automotive giant Mercedes-Benz has been embracing the idea of holistic design since the 1980s, when development engineers carried out in-depth investigations into the aerodynamics of entire vehicle combinations. While times may have changed, the fundamental knowledge gained back then still applies today and forms the basis for the current research and development conducted by the German brand.

Fast forward to 2011, where Mercedes-Benz’s latest concept design study – unveiled in November at the Trailer 2011 show in Belgium – saw the focus shift from saving fuel for economic reasons to protecting the environment and conservation of resources. The result? An aerodynamic trailer designed to cut both wind resistance and fuel consumption, according to Mercedes-Benz. And, it is the first study to translate up-to-date automotive design into commercial road transport equipment.

“It is obvious that the concept was made in the design department and not in an engineering office,” says Richard Wood, President of US trucking equipment company SOLUS. “From an operational and aerodynamic point of view – and not from an aesthetic point of view – the designers have taken established aero engineering concepts and made them look cool. As a result, the aero benefit is minimised or lost and even created new negative operational impacts.”

Mercedes-Benz’ flamboyant Aero concept features a front air dam and flowing side trim panels ending in a bulky rear diffuser. The tapered rear design is supposed to result in 18 per cent reduction in wind resistance when paired with the company’s newly launched, heavy-weight tractor unit, the Actros.

The rear end taper, measuring slightly more than 400 mm in length, forms a crucial part of the trailers aerodynamic concept. It features folding elements to facilitate access to the load compartment and improves wind resistance by a further seven per cent, according to official data. Mercedes-Benz projects that a truck averaging 150,000km per year will save 2000 litres of diesel while releasing five fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

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