Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, explains in interview how megatrends are impacting the transport sector and why Vision URBANETIC represents a completely new form of mobility.
Mr. Mornhinweg, you launched the adVANce future initiative in summer 2016. What’s your assessment of it after two years?
Mornhinweg: adVANce marked the start of our transformation from being purely a vehicle manufacturer to becoming a provider of total-system solutions. We’re working even more closely with our customers and finding solutions tailored precisely to their needs. It’s evident that we’re pursuing exactly the right path through successful projects and cooperations such as the one with Via and Berlin’s transport operators (BVG) in the on-demand ride-sharing sector and with Hermes and, most recently, Amazon in the electric-mobility sector. And not least, we have developed groundbreaking future concepts like Vision Van from two years ago. We now see mobility as an organic network, a highly efficient metabolism that keeps the city in motion and facilitates a high quality of life. Our new Vision URBANETIC is one example of a forward-looking implementation of this thinking.
Among the factors crucial to adVANce are long-term disruptions such as urbanisation and digitalisation. What does that mean for the van business?
Mornhinweg: The global population is growing rapidly. If forecasts by the United Nations prove accurate, there will be ten billion people living on Earth by 2050. It predicts that more than 5.2 billion people will be living in cities by 2030. At the same time, the OECD estimates that global freight traffic will have trebled by 2050. The traffic infrastructure in many places simply can’t grow to the same extent. And many city centres are already dramatically overloaded.
To play an active role in shaping the mobility of tomorrow, we have to think in an even more networked way and look beyond our existing activities. We need new ideas for future mobility and the courage to implement them. We’re driven by the conviction of continuous improvement. That’s why adVANce is not a static project but a dynamic process.
What does that mean in specific terms?
Mornhinweg: adVANce launched in 2016 with three areas of activity. That number has now risen to six. digital@vans is all about connectivity and digital networking. solutions@vans is where we are developing customer-oriented hardware solutions for more efficiency. The rental@vans area deals with innovative rental models. With sharing@vans, we are working on new concepts for shared mobility. The focus of eDrive@vans is on our holistic approach to electromobility. The sixth area of activity is now autonomous@vans because we’re convinced that autonomous driving, paired with other new ideas from our different areas, will fundamentally alter mobility and ensure greater safety, efficiency and sustainability.
You’re now presenting Vision URBANETIC as the first representative of this new area of activity. It’s a new mobility concept for the smart city, so what does it do for the city of the future?
Mornhinweg: Vision URBANETIC represents not only autonomous@vans but all our fields of activity because it unites their innovations in a spectacular way. It’s not just autonomous but also electric. Its interchangeable bodies represent an innovative hardware solution and it is fully connected. Over and above that, it is the ideal embodiment of mobility on demand. Vision URBANETIC is a completely new mobility concept for the smart city where widespread fully automated driverless transport will exist or where purely autonomous zones will be defined. Thanks to its intelligent concept and the interchangeable modules for people moving and goods transportation, we will take a huge amount of pressure off city centres. Vision URBANETIC is part of a holistic ecosystem. The system analyses the transport needs of people and goods and compiles a highly flexible, needs-based fleet. During the daytime rush hours, Vision URBANETIC transports mainly people then switches to city-centre goods transportation at night. Plus, it can serve as a mobile base for last-mile delivery drones or self-driving robots. The broad diversity of usage options means all sorts of different companies could share a vehicle or even a whole fleet, such as shuttle services and public services or couriers and package logistics companies. This will relieve cities and ultimately improve the quality of life in urban areas. It also offers added value for our customers. Operating costs fall and opportunities for new services emerge, such as precision-timed deliveries and maximum flexibility for courier, express and package services.