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Ten years of the Mercedes-Benz Econic: the waste disposal sector's favourite low-entry vehicle
- 1998: the first ever low-floor vehicle from Mercedes-Benz
- Continual increase in sales
- Already established as a waste collection vehicle with gas-powered drive
- Newly available in a gas-powered semitrailer tractor version
When it was first unveiled at the "Entsorga" environment fair in 1998 as the true specialist for municipal, waste collection and short-radius distribution applications, the Mercedes-Benz Econic fused into a single vehicle all of the characteristics which were expected at that time of vehicles from many different sectors: from waste disposal trucks and fire engines to airport ground service vehicles, from tankers and furniture delivery trucks to milk collection vehicles and fuel oil delivery trucks. For the first time, the low-floor cab with up to four seats offered the ideal credentials for getting in and out quickly, as well as offering plenty of space for the driver of a waste collection truck and its crew. With sales of around 8000 units in the space of ten years, the Econic has secured itself an exceptional market position, and has long since been the yardstick by which all of its competitors must measure themselves
This success could be achieved thanks to ongoing facelift measures and the optimisation of product features in response to customer demand. Hydraulically steered leading and trailing axles were made available in the same year it was launched, for instance, the 6x4 drive configuration was introduced in 2001, the gas-powered Econic followed in 2002, and in 2003 the 240-kW (326-hp) Econic made its debut. The 8x4/4 drive variant (8 wheels, including four driven and four steered) was brought out in 2004. In 2005, the 5000th Econic rolled off the production line in Wörth to where the vehicle's manufacture had been relocated from the NAW commercial vehicle factory in the Swiss town of Arbon in 2003. The Econic appeared at the 2006 Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover sporting a host of new features, including a rear axle with an increased load-bearing capacity, mirrors with a larger field of vision to eliminate the blind spot, as well as new instrumentation for the driver's workstation, such as a display of the current axle load.
Highly advanced engines - also available with natural gas drive
The Econic comes in a two, three and a four-axle variant, with permissible gross vehicle weights of 18, 26 and 32 tonnes respectively. Power is provided by six-cylinder in-line engines taken from the 900 series. The OM 906 LA engine with its 175-kW (238-hp) and 210-kW (286-hp) power ratings was supplemented in 2003 by the OM 926 LA delivering 240 kW (326 hp). All diesel-powered variants of the Econic - which come with a Euro 5 emissions rating as standard - are fitted with an aluminium fuel tank with a capacity of 200 litres. The Econic is also available with a natural gas drive as an alternative to diesel. The M 906 LAG natural gas engine generates 205 kW (279 hp) from a displacement of 6.88 litres. Power transmission is handled in all cases by a six-speed automatic shift from Allison.
The trucks operated by waste disposal companies, the fire service, at airports and as beverage delivery trucks or tankers mostly have to drive through densely populated areas where emissions are a major concern. Econic vehicles equipped with the natural gas drive are even certified as complying with the EEV emissions standard. This means that they already undercut the Euro 5 limits which are only due to come into force from 2009. The emissions from the natural-gas-powered Econic contain practically zero particulate matter. A further bonus is the low noise levels emitted by the gas drive.
Whereas the gas-powered Econic has been used predominantly as a waste collection vehicle to date, from 2008 it is also available as a semitrailer tractor and as a chassis for box bodies. The first models are being put into service in the short-radius distribution and city logistics segments by Dutch haulage company VOS and Tesco in Londonrespectively.
Virtually no particulate matter with natural gas drive
The higher octane number of natural gas means that it burns far more "gently" than petrol or diesel fuel. This is why gas-powered vehicles are considerably quieter compared to diesel and even petrol engines. Both natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) leave hardly any residue when they are burned in internal combustion engines: up to 25 per cent less carbon dioxide than a petrol engine, and as much as 99 per cent less soot particles than a diesel. It is because natural gas is so clean that its use as a fuel attracts major financial incentives. In Germany, for example, the petroleum tax levied on natural gas is 80 per cent lower than the regular rate, meaning that the higher purchase price of natural-gas vehicles is usually quickly redeemed. In contrast to biodiesel fuel, this tax concession is fixed until 2020. What's more, the public utility companies and gas suppliers are opening new natural gas filling stations nearly every month.
Econic also runs on biodiesel
The Econic also reaps the benefits of today's advanced diesel technology. The diesel power units from the 900 series, which are also used in the Axor and Atego, are cleaner than ever. The sustainability of the SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) emission control technology is proven day after day by the registrations of new trucks already meeting the Euro 5 emissions standard that does not come into effect until 2009.
These engines are suitable for biodiesel fuel too without the need for any modifications. Daimler does impose the condition, however, that the fuel is a "FAME" (fatty acid methyl ester) fuel that complies with DIN E 51606. Suitable engine oils must furthermore be used and the engine oil, oil filter and fuel filter replaced at much shorter intervals.
Versatile scope of applications
The Mercedes-Benz Econic does not just make the ideal municipal service vehicle. The well-conceived cab concept, with a completely flat floor on the frame's lowered front section, as well as the low frame height in general of just 874 mm mean it is equally suited to fire service applications, use as an airport ground service vehicle, delivering beverages or fuel oil, tanker transport, or even operating underground.
The Mercedes-Benz Econic is equipped with full air suspension as standard. The improvement in manoeuvrability and efficiency brought about by the electrohydraulically steered trailing axle with progressive steering featured on the three-axle variant of the Econic makes a substantial contribution to the vehicle's ergonomics. The frame of the Econic has a weight-optimised and exceedingly robust design. As there are no parts protruding over the top edge of the frame, it is suitable for virtually any type of body.
Mercedes-Benz has a tradition of working in close cooperation with the body manufacturing industry to ensure that its customers receive a purpose-built vehicle that is tailored to their specific transportation requirements and will prove to be a major aid in their day-to-day work.