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Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vans looks beyond the vehicle

By Graeme Roberts | 7 September 2016

Mercedes-Benz Vans said it would no longer be a mere manufacturer of vans and associated services but would "evolve into a provider of customer-focused holistic system solutions".

Under a new programme called adVANce, the Daimler vans unit will focus on: connectivity and IoT applications, which enable an ideal integration of a wide range of technologies into the vehicles, innovative hardware solutions for the transport industry and new, on-demand mobility concepts for the transport of goods and passengers.

The objective of the various activities undertaken in the three fields is to identify innovative solutions for today's and tomorrow's requirements together with customers and users, to develop them quickly to market readiness and to create unprecedented added value for customers in the areas of efficiency, speed and sustainability. The spectrum in this regard is very broad.

The automaker will work on integrating technologies into vans. Among other things, it is working on intelligent parts management systems for mobile service and service contractor vehicles. These include automated reordering processes as well as deliveries straight from and to the van.

For the vans themselves, ideas include such things as automated cargo space systems for delivery vehicles, which, among other things, significantly speed up loading and unloading processes, and enhance their efficiency.

Together with various cooperation partners, the automaker focuses on intelligent mobility concepts for goods and passengers. The latter supplement public transit and make a fast, efficient and individual transport of passengers during peak and off-peak hours possible. In the transport of goods, the intelligent networking of technologies creates opportunities to enhance efficiencies and considerably improve transport on the last mile. Mercedes-Benz Vans is also working on innovative leasing and rental models.

Volker Mornhinweg, head of M-B Vans, said: "Our environment is highly dynamic. The universe of our customers is changing dramatically and rapidly. We are getting ready for this early and comprehensively. We are expanding our business division strategy to go beyond the product, we are adapting our organisation and cooperation models, and we invest in our innovative power. We see the intelligent networking of vans, automated hardware systems and new mobility services as a concrete opportunity to get new prospects excited about vans. The efficiency and productivity that our new approaches offer our customers are crucial in this regard."

The transformation of the industry is the result of various economic and social trends, among them the growth in e-commerce, the increasing intelligent networking of a wide range of technologies in the internet of things, and the proliferation of platform-based business models. In light of this, the division is rethinking its "Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global" strategy.

"When we refer to 'global' we no longer take it to mean solely geographic ties", said Mornhinweg. "'Global' also means focusing our attention beyond the vehicle on the entire value chain as well as on the entire business environment of our customers. We are clearly more than just a manufacturer of vans. We think in global terms – that is to say integrated – and always focused on customer benefit."

At the heart of the strategy is still the product. However, it will be transformed into a platform of connected solutions and into an integrated system for innovative transport concepts. To root this awareness in the organisation, Vans is creating a new business unit and positioning itself in Stuttgart, Berlin and Silicon Valley in the creative environment of the start-up scene. Employees there work on pilot projects to develop solutions tailored to specific areas of application using an iterative approach. They combine the classic strengths of the vans unit with new ways of working such as design thinking, agile project management methods (Scrum) or customer co-creation.

In this process, Vans enters into new forms of cooperation with customers and partners from business, technology, logistics, scientific research and the public sector. Teams of cross-industry experts together with their project partners analyse value chains, work processes and challenges for the customers, develop innovative solution concepts, create initial prototypes, and test them in pilot projects at selected customers, the so-called friendly customers.

The adVANce strategy also includes opening up and working with up and coming start-ups. The objective of working with young companies is to enter into long-term cooperative agreements and systematically develop ideas in the three adVANce fields of innovation.

"We embark on this road with full conviction. With adVANce, we clearly demonstrate that we are not satisfied with what we have today", added Mornhinweg.

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