Press Kit: Unimog History
Feb 18, 2009
Brand new specialists and a lightweight generalist
  • 2002: Production moves from Gaggenau to the Wörth plant
  • 2002: Premieres for the U 3000, U 4000 and U 5000
  • 2005: Arrival of the elegant Unimog Black Edition
  • 2006: Synergies for production in Wörth
Before long, however, these new off-road implement carriers were joined by an uncompromising triumvirate designed for extreme off-road and heavy-duty applications, vehicles that in many ways marked a significant watershed in Unimog history. For the
U 3000, U 4000 and U 5000 – such were the designations of the newcomers presented in 2002 – no longer came from Gaggenau, but were instead brought into the world at the Wörth plant near Karlsruhe.
On 26 August 2002, Wörth became the new production location for the Unimog. From this point on, Gaggenau, once the company’s major truck facility, no longer produced vehicles, concentrating instead on axles and transmissions. 380 employees moved site with immediate effect, and 480 trucks shipped 6,000 tonnes of freight from Gaggenau to Wörth. By mid 2003, they were joined by a further 300 employees from the production capacity, development, controlling and sales departments.
Optimised production at the Wörth plant
In Wörth, on the other hand, the Unimog encountered ideal conditions for the new tailored profile of the two series with differing target groups. The off-road U 300 to
U 500 implement carriers now catered for municipalities, local authorities and commercial service providers, in addition to the construction and transport industries. The new U 3000 to U 5000 models, with their extreme off-road capabilities, were specially designed for the fire service, forest fire fighting, expeditions, disaster relief and security applications. As such, therefore, they were strictly in line with the traditional Unimog qualities.
Nevertheless, production followed composite design principles. Both series were mounted and produced by group work on the same assembly line. The dedicated assembly shop, covering 16,000 square metres, had two simultaneous production strands: on one line, beginning with the frame, the chassis was made; on a second line, the appropriate cab gradually took shape. Finally, these two elements were ‘married’ to create a roadworthy Unimog.
Synergies with truck production
The newborn Unimog now undertook a short journey into the world of Wörth truck production in order to receive its paintwork, finish and, as required, a platform. Delivery of the Unimog was also integrated directly into the Wörth customer centre, which housed a purpose-built training room for those collecting their Unimog. Here customers could discover all they ever needed to know about effective use of the vehicle and its innovative technology from the Unimog experts.
Mixed production caused relatively few problems, since the same principle of maximising shared parts applied to both Unimog series. There was a share-and-share-alike approach, for example, with the 900 series engines (150 to 218 hp/110 to 160 kW), the UG 100-8 transmission and the semi-automatic EPS (from 2003 a fully automated gearshift was also available as an option). The two series also had identical brakes, steering and instruments.
Specially engineered for extreme off-road capability
The parting of the ways came, however, where cab, frame, axles, axle mountings and frame structure for equipment add-ons were concerned. The high torsional flexibility of the new extreme off-road Unimog models was to a large extent the result of a flexible ladder-type frame made of two U-section longitudinal members with welded tubular cross members.
The standard package included front and rear portal gear axles with differential locks, hub reduction gears, transverse links, torque tube, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and torsion bar stabilisers front and rear. The all-steel cab (supplied by Wackenhut-Oxford) with roof hatch was also available in a crew-cab version. Like the engine, transmission, platform and body, the cabin was mounted on a triple bearing, which thus soaked up every movement of the vehicle without complaint.
Precisely defined spectrum from U 3000 to U 5000
Both the engine range and spectrum of gross vehicle weights were naturally more narrowly defined in the U 3000 to U 5000 off-road specialists (437.4 model series) than in the implement carriers from the 405 series (U 300 to U 500). Whereas the gross vehicle weight for the 405 models ranged from 7.5 to 16.0 tonnes, the U 3000 to
U 5000 models spanned just 7.5 to 14.1 tonnes. And whereas a U 500 made use of the large 6.4-litre six-cylinder from the 900 engine series (231 and 279 hp/170 and 205 kW), for example, Unimog models from the 437.4 series relied strictly on the four-cylinder from the 900 series.
This came in three power ratings: 150 hp (110 kW), 177 hp (130 kW) and 218 hp
(160 kW). Worth noting here: the most powerful version, designated OM 924 LA, was specifically designed for the Unimog product unit and was based on a 4.8-litre rather than the usual 4.2-litre displacement of the OM 904 LA. The extra displacement resulted from a bore of 106 rather than 102 millimetres and a stroke of 136 rather than 130 millimetres.
BlueTEC smoothes the way for Euro 4 and Euro 5
These four-cylinders were exclusively combined in the U 3000 to U 5000 models with the UG 100-8 transmission, which gave the driver eight forward and six reverse gears, and was also available with optional off-road gears. One ingenious feature, already familiar from the U 300 to U 500 models, was the EQR function (Electronic Quick Reverse) – a pre-selectable, synchronised shift function that facilitated rapid forward and reverse shifting, and therefore made it easy to rock free a vehicle that had become stuck.
The Unimog accompanied Mercedes-Benz trucks step by step along the road to Euro 4 and Euro 5, where BlueTEC diesel technology was the byword for emission control using SCR catalytic converters. The first Euro 4 Unimog models went on show at the 2006 IAA International Motor Show in Hanover. For markets outside the EU, however, the familiar Euro 3 engines remained available.
Dark art: Unimog Black Edition
With an exclusive Black Edition already having been introduced some time ago for the Actros in Europe and the Axor in Brazil, the Unimog did not have to wait long for the same. And it was not by chance that the Unimog U 500 Black Edition made its debut at the Dubai Motor Show in December 2005. The target group which it was hoped would set its sights on this noble vehicle was quite different from other prospective buyers of the 405 series.
It was designed to appeal as a high-end vehicle for excursions into desert regions or as the ultimate leisure vehicle for the individualist, something that offered rather more than the conventional and now highly fashionable SUV off-roaders. With a permissible trailer tonnage well into double figures, it was easily capable of towing most yachts. Moreover, the Sunday driving ban for trucks did not apply to the U 500, in spite of its maximum gross vehicle weight of 16 tonnes.
Vehicle tuning firm Brabus get to grips
The U 500 Black Edition was a vehicle of superlatives: tuning company Brabus designed a highly elegant silhouette, the most distinctive features of which were a platform with integral side panels, a gleaming, futuristic-looking, silver bumper and polished stainless steel roll-over bar. And, of course, the design would not have been complete without an upswept chrome exhaust pipe reminiscent of a US truck.
On the inside the Unimog Black Edition indulged its driver with 16 features in real carbon, Alcantara leather trim for the roof and A/B-pillars and seats upholstered in finest mastic leather. The footwells were carpeted in soft velour, the pedals on the other hand were finished in aluminium and the steering wheel in black leather. On the inside, too, the Black Edition was a first-class implement carrier: entertainment and information highlights included the COMAND system from the S-Class, which offered a 6.5’ screen, DVD navigation, CD changer and a specially developed compass function.
The third wave: Premiere of the U 20 at the 2006 IAA
As a perfect complement to the current 405 and 437.4 series and in stark contrast to the elegant Unimog Black Edition, Mercedes-Benz presented the new Unimog U 20 at the IAA International Motor Show. It showed itself to be a relatively lightweight and also less expensive all-rounder – a vehicle that went some way to bridging the gap between utility vehicle and truck.
Its target groups were those sectors of industry that considered existing all-wheel-drive trucks inadequate and the two other Unimog series over-equipped. The sorts of circles for which the new U 20 came into question were the building trade, landscape gardeners, local municipalities and energy providers.
The U 20 opens an entirely new chapter in Unimog history
And so the U 20 began an entirely new chapter in the almost 60-year history of the Unimog. It arrived on the scene as a light-duty implement carrier with a GVW of between 7.5 and 8.5 tonnes, its typical features being a short wheelbase of 2,700 millimetres and a tilting, forward-control-type, all-steel cab that was new on the European market.
This cab was developed from that of the light-duty Mercedes-Benz Accelo built in Brazil. This specialised in urban applications and was ideally suited to the highly manoeuvrable Unimog U 20. With a vehicle length of 4.9 metres and short wheelbase, it had a turning circle of just 12.8 metres. And for use where low headroom clearance was essential, the overall cab height was just 2.7 metres.
Traditional Unimog engineering retained
Nevertheless, the new vehicle embraced traditional Unimog engineering in the form of portal gear axles, single tyres, three differential locks, permanent all-wheel drive and the U 100 transmission. Mounting points for all types of implements were identical to those of other Unimog models. On the other hand, the only type of engine available was the 156 hp variant (115 kW) of the four-cylinder OM 904 LA.
In addition, the new compact Unimog abandoned such niceties as dual-mode steering and an extreme low-speed facility and was therefore much cheaper (around one third less) than the classic implement carriers from the 405 series (U 300 to U 500). Naturally, the U 20 was of correspondingly lighter calibre: where the gross vehicle weight in the 405 series ranged from 7.5 to 16.0 tonnes, the U 20 contented itself with a GVW of either 7.5 or 8.5 tonnes. If necessary, however, it could tow trailers weighing up to 18 tonnes.
Fit for mowing or snow-ploughing
As a motor vehicle with a kerb weight of 5.1 tonnes (including a 2.25-metre dumping platform), the U 20 provided a maximum payload of 3.4 tonnes. The new compact model was equally well equipped for mounting front-end implements, with permissible axle loads front and rear of 4.5 and 4.6 tonnes respectively. This meant equipment could be front-mounted in addition to an unequal distribution of loads. The U 20 was just as comfortable with front-mounted mowing apparatus as with a 3.4-metre wide snowplough and 1.5-cubic-metre wet salt spreader.
Mercedes-Benz delivered the newest member of the family of all-wheel-drive all-rounders as standard with tilt hydraulics; alternatively, customers could opt for standardised winter utility hydraulics, power-take-off transmission and front implement carrier.
The U 20 first demonstrates its ability in 2007
Customers had to wait until the first quarter of 2008 for delivery of the U 20. It gave a first public demonstration of its capabilities carrying summer utility implements at the demopak trade fair in Eisenach in June 2007. It later proved its abilities on snow and ice during a tour of German winter sports resorts.
The U 20 came at just the right time, for in 2008 Germany alone boasted around 12,000 Unimogs from the 424 and 427 series, vehicles built from 1982 to 2000, that were gradually approaching retirement age.
Always abreast of the times
So the Mercedes-Benz Unimog legend is more alive than ever. From its origins to the present day, this all-rounder has differentiated itself from the car in its ability to adapt perfectly to the needs of its buyers. The three new diversified model series of the versatile all-rounder now achieve this better than ever – so the legend of the
Mercedes-Benz Unimog lives on in the best of spirits. Now, as the Unimog – or to give it its original name, “Universal Motor Gerät” – approaches its 60th birthday, the total number of vehicles produced marches proudly towards a new milestone of 330,000 units. The name “Unimog” succeeded in realising early on every marketing strategist’s dream – the goal of making the name itself synonymous with the genre.
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Brand new specialists and a lightweight generalist
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