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Interview: vehicle designers, Annelie Mohrs and Oliver Stick talking about the design of the new Actros
Vehicle & Technology
The new Actros signals the beginning of a new era for truck construction. This is visible on the exterior and – to a greater extent – in the interior. RoadStars met two vehicle designers who were involved in the design of the new flagship.
Annelie Mohrs and Oliver Stick have come to the interview in the lounge at the Daimler Design Center at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen. Both designers develop the appearance and control elements of series-production trucks as well as futuristic vehicle prototypes. Which was also the case for the new Actros: Annelie Mohrs works on the interface where a human comes into contact with a machine. With its new displays and innovative display concept, the new Actros has made particularly great progress in this area. Oliver Stick designs not only cab interiors, but also the exterior of Mercedes-Benz trucks. Thus he has been involved in innovations such as the Multimedia Cockpit and MirrorCam.
What fascinates you about your job?
Annelie Mohrs: For me it is something special to be able to design not just one device but a complete workplace. Drivers sit at the wheel for many hours a day. After work or between driving stints, they spend their breaks in the truck. It is a like a second home to these people. And it's there that they come into contact with our design, starting with the displays for the assistance systems right through to selecting their favourite track in the Entertainment System.
Oliver Stick: I am fascinated by the diversity of my work. As a designer for both the interior and exterior, for years I have had the privilege of contributing creatively towards making the technology and aesthetics in Mercedes-Benz trucks a harmonious unit.
What were the biggest challenges on the new Actros?
Oliver Stick: Definitely in the interior, where we changed from the analogue into the digital world. That means that for the most part the instruments have been replaced by displays. The mirrors had to go too. MirrorCam with its cameras and two large displays in the A-pillars has taken over their function. This is a huge move forward that provides us with many new opportunities and exciting tasks – a new era!
Annelie Mohrs: Drivers want a simple system, not a complex machine that they have to read up on first. I always need to take this into consideration when working on the interface between humans and machines. That is why we have designed the user-interface elements such that they can be operated intuitively. Their logic is familiar from our everyday routines – from tablets and smartphones. Here there are now many more opportunities and tasks: for example, we can now select far more precisely, which information the driver actually requires in certain situations – regardless of whether it is visual, acoustic or haptic.
Please give us a few examples!
Annelie Mohrs: One exciting example is the new Active Drive Assist which allows semi-automated driving in all speed ranges. For this, very many different driving scenarios, which are represented in the central display, had to be completely redeveloped. Also the intelligent cruise and transmission control, Predictive Powertrain Control, is now capable of much more and we have made that visible.
Oliver Stick: Personalisation is another topic. Drivers in the new Actros can now not only play back their favourite songs via the Entertainment System. They can do a lot more, such as install their favourite app just like on their smartphones, and configure the displays and control elements themselves.
What steps do designers follow when developing control elements?
Annelie Mohrs: First of all we analysed the concept for the interior. For example, we took a very close look at the colours, materials and the exterior too. So slowly, you get a feel for the vehicle. Furthermore, our homework included the evaluation of new studies from the psychology of perception.
It all sounds very theoretical …
Annelie Mohrs: And necessary. [laughs]
So it's still a long way to the final Actros. What steps follow in interior and exterior design?
Oliver Stick: The way we come up with the actual ideas is still done in the old-fashioned way: with a pencil and paper. Everywhere I go, I can always fish these two things out of my bag – the best ideas always come spontaneously and in the most unusual places. Then it's off to the drawing board to work on detailed sketches. The designs are then digitised and a small clay model is made. Derived from this, we build a model to a scale of 1:1, because the many effects of the design can only be properly analysed on a full-size model! Finally we have a complex digital model. The subsequent production steps are based on this.
The new Actros with Multimedia Cockpit, Active Drive Assist and many other innovations – is this just the beginning?
Annelie Mohrs: Definitely! Connectivity, autonomous driving and electromobility will stay with us in future. The new Actros is equipped with numerous innovative driver assistance and safety systems. The next generation will certainly offer an even greater scope of functions and completely new systems.
What does that mean for you in concrete terms?
Oliver Stick: Three trends will influence our designs for new trucks: firstly, we want to contribute towards reducing CO2 emissions by optimising the aerodynamics of bodies and equipment. Secondly, it is our job to strengthen our brand identity. It doesn't matter how aerodynamic a truck is, it still has to look like a Mercedes-Benz. Thirdly, thanks to the innovations in the field of autonomous driving, we are in a period of transition from the classic cockpit to a combination of office and lounge with a living-room atmosphere.
How do you imagine the truck of the future?
Annelie Mohrs: In future, intelligent systems will make a lot of things easier in trucks. The truck of the future won't just offer support in stressful situations – increasingly it will take over monotonous tasks behind the wheel from the driver. The connectivity of vehicles will increase and they will exchange more information. However, we designers must first invent a form of presentation for that.
Oliver Stick: The biggest change to the exterior will, in the mid-term, be the omission of the classic truck face. The radiator grille will become redundant, once the combustion engine is no longer used. Prior to that, new legal requirements will probably change the dimensions of the truck – length is the keyword here. This will have a massive effect on the design of the vehicle. For example, if semitrailer combinations can be longer than at present, this will provide us designers with additional scope to optimise aerodynamics, for example, by tilting the windscreen. And in turn, this will have a considerable effect on the design of the interior.
Ms Mohrs, Mr Stick, many thanks for the interview!
Questions: Lars Kruse
Photos: Matthias Aletsee
Video: Martin Schneider-Lau