Mercedes-Benz has developed a tractor unit variant of its Econic following strong demand from operators looking for an urban distribution truck with enhanced direct vision for drivers.

The German truck-maker said it has been approached from a wide range of industry operators, including supermarkets, 3PLs, general distribution and construction firms that led to the decision to produce the new tractor unit.

A number of UK operators are already lined up to trial the Econic in their urban operations, which Mercedes said will likely see the truck first tested in London, before moving on to other major cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

The test model has initially been developed as a 4x2 unit with a maximum gross train weight of 36 tonnes.

Stuart Jeggo, head of strategic accounts and municipal sales at Mercedes-Benz, said while 44-tonners are the most common urban tractor units at present, there has been an increasing trend from operators looking at smaller length, urban trailers as a safer, more manoeuvrable option for city deliveries.

“Which is where we see this new Econic fitting in,” he added.

On the road

The test model is in the final stages of factory fitting in Germany, heading to the UK next month to acquire its Individual Vehicle Approval before it is introduced to operators in the new year.

When asked about pricing of the Econic tractor, Jeggo said: “It's early days and we’re currently moving into a series of tests here in the UK. It’s a little early to comment on a price right now."

However the manufacturer is confident that increasing safety-focused regulations, such as London’s proposed Direct Vision Standard, will likely drive demand and stimulate a strong second-hand market.

This is also the reason the UK was chosen as the first market to launch the model.

“The UK is so focused on safety and following numerous discussions with operators wanting to look at a direct vision tractor, it makes sense for us to trial such a vehicle in London,” said Jeggo.

Once on the road with operators, Mercedes is keen for them to use the new Econic for as long as necessary to make sure it works for individual sectors and garner comprehensive feedback and data.

Driver perception

As well as seeing demand from operators wanting safer urban fleet vehicles, Mercedes believes driver acceptance of the Econic for non-refuse duties is also changing.

“The feedback we've had so far on the 8x4s and the 18-tonne hook and skip-loaders is that 'it is a bin lorry, but actually we value it massively in what it provides in terms of extra vision',” said Jeggo.

“Once they get over the stigma of it being ex-bin lorry and now an application for everything, they are much more comfortable with it.”

He added: "From our point of view: we are comfortable with the truck, we know it will do the job, we just want to get the buy-in and the understanding from the drivers and the companies that this is the right way to be doing urban deliveries. There is no reason  you shouldn't be using an Econic tractor."

Mercedes is currently using the 6-speed Allison gearbox in the Econic, however it is developing a PowerShift option which Jeggo said will be a “game-changer” for opening up the model to trunking capabilities.

“We don't have a firm date, but the moment we get PowerShift in an Econic tractor, it makes it a very different vehicle for trunking. At the moment, the truck is perfect for urban delivery areas; the moment we get PowerShift, it will be game-changing for 56mph trunking," he added.


Pictured: A Tarmac-operated Econic with mixer body shown at this year's Freight in the City Expo.