Mercedes shows futuristic concept camper vans with fuel cells and smart home tech
While Volkswagen is keeping things focused on all things California (and Grand California) at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, the other big name in German vans will be showcasing a bit of everything. Mercedes-Benz will bring some of the latest trends in automotive technology over to the camper van side, highlighting fuel cell power and connected convenience in a trio of concept camper vans. On the more "here and now" side, it will also highlight some of the camper van-friendly features of the all-new Sprinter.
Concept Sprinter F-Cell
Mercedes briefly mentioned work on the Concept Sprinter F-Cell earlier this summer (Northern Hemisphere), and it will provide a more proper introduction in Düsseldorf. When developing the new hydrogen-powered concept motorhome, Mercedes-Benz Vans adapted the fuel cell powertrain of last year's GLC F-Cell concept, giving the van 198 hp and 258 lb-ft of near-silent electric motor output. Hydrogen is stored in three underbody tanks offering up to 186 miles (300 km) of range, and an available rear add-on tank ups that total to 311 miles (500 km). The plug-in hybrid set-up allows for an additional 19 (30 km) of battery electric power.
In a car or SUV, fuel cell powertrains offer the advantage of combining quiet, clean commuting with the potential for longer ranges and easier filling than purely electric vehicles. The advantage list only grows longer and stronger in a camper van or Class C motorhome, where quiet, clean driving will help maintain a more pristine and natural environment at the campground and on the way to and from.
And that pristine, natural environment will also remain intact if you need some extra electricity at camp. The Sprinter F-Cell's fuel cell can be used in place of a generator, offering usable electricity to run power-hungry equipment like the heating, air conditioning and refrigerator. Unlike a gas generator, the fuel cell is quiet and free from polluting emissions, so it won't bother your neighbors.
Mercedes stresses that it intends to bring fuel cell powertrain technology to its van lineup, so a Sprinter F-Cell-like motorhome could be realized in the future. The Sprinter is already a popular base for off-road adventure vans thanks to its available 4x4 system (only factory 4x4 van in the US), and the ability to create usable electricity off the grid could give off-roaders another reason to look at the Sprinter.
Sprinter Connected Home
Another futuristic feature that Mercedes is experimenting with in camper vans is smart home-like connected control. With the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Control (MBAC) module, Mercedes unifies control of driver cab and living cabin components under one streamlined system. The MBUX infotainment display in front can be augmented with a separate touchscreen display in the cabin and a smartphone app, offering streamlined monitoring and control of features all over the van.
The Sprinter Connected Home, which Mercedes classifies as "close to production," showcases some of the specific options camper conversion companies will have in incorporating MBAC into their builds. The new module will offer a host of possibilities, allowing van owners to check and adjust the cabin temperature, adjust the temperature of the refrigerator, control the sound system, extend or retract the powered awning, and tweak the ambient lighting, all via one of the van's built-in touchscreens or remotely from a smartphone.
Some similar app and touchscreen control features are offered in other production camper vans, but it sounds like the Mercedes camper van of the future will be a more fully integrated smart home-on-wheels. And that future isn't so far away – Mercedes says that converters will be able to integrate MBAC into their camper van products beginning in 2019, which explains why the Sprinter Connected Home doesn't even wear a "concept" badge. So Düsseldorf 2019 should bring some pretty high-tech Sprinter camper vans.
Concept Marco Polo
Mercedes steps further into the future with the Concept Marco Polo, building on its popular small camper van with an even more advanced iteration of MBAC control. This pop-top concept offers similar control features as the Connected Home but also throws the option of voice control into the mix. It further centralizes critical camper van features so that you can control systems like the air suspension leveling, pop-up roof and folding rear bench bed with a single command.
Campers activate the voice recognition system by simply saying, "Hey Mercedes." Mercedes says the system will be able to perform multiple actions with a command as simple as "I want to relax," automatically leveling the van, popping the roof open and deploying the awning. The system would even turn on some music and set the ambient lighting, so you go from "just pulled into my campsite" to "ready to hop into bed" in six words and a matter of seconds.
The Concept Marco Polo's voice command system takes care of pretty much everything short of throwing a popped beer in your hand – sure beats pitching a tent or hand-cranking a pop-up trailer. It also works in reverse, getting the Marco Polo from camp mode to drive-away mode with a quick flap of the gums.
The Concept Marco Polo includes an automatic side-window glass darkening system that eliminates the need for curtains. It's similar to what we saw on the Knaus Travelino Skyview Concept, but using liquid crystals in place of suspended particles. The concept van also has a 400-watt solar array and an inductive smartphone charger.
The new Sprinter blossoms into a camper van
Düsseldorf is the world's largest motorhome and caravan trade show, and this will be the first show since the launch of the new Sprinter. So Mercedes will be focusing on the Sprinter's nuts and bolts, along with the new concepts described above. It explains that the new Sprinter has been designed to be more motorhome-friendly than ever before and can be ordered directly from the factory with camper-specific features like swivel driver cab seats and an electric parking brake that replaces the manual lever, freeing easier passthrough from driver cab to motorhome cabin.
Mercedes also offers a 177-hp four-cylinder engine exclusively for camper vans and a new "tractor head" chassis variant that places bulky powertrain and fuel tank components ahead of the B-pillars, opening up more space and flexibility for constructing the living module.
We'll be at the opening day of Düsseldorf on Thursday, and Mercedes-Benz's booth will be among our first stops. We'll also hunt down some of the first new Sprinter-based motorhomes from manufacturers like Hymer and La Strada, bringing you more information and photos.