Mercedes-Benz: building the Canadian Army’s next generation of logistics trucks
By Evelyn Brotherston
With the news that the Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS) program will — finally — be awarded any day now, Mercedes-Benz prepares to deliver more than 1,500 much-needed vehicles to replace the Canadian Army’s aging fleet of Medium Logistics Vehicle Wheeled (MLVW) trucks.
Mercedes-Benz has a long history of supplying vehicles to the world’s armed forces – going all the way back to the First World War. These days, “Mercedes-Benz Special Trucks focuses on safety and innovation,” says Mark Dixon, the company’s manager of defence sales responsible for Canada.
Having a vast commercial apparatus that operates in over 100 countries helps drive innovation in its defence and safety business. As Dixon explains, the focus in the commercial sector is on “cents-per-kilometre.” For commercial truck operators, the name of the game is keeping costs down. This means minimizing fuel consumption, and having as little downtime as possible, because when a vehicle is off the road, it isn’t making money.
Although most people wouldn’t think that the military is particularly concerned with how much fuel it uses, it still directly benefits from commercial cost-cutting innovations. As Dixon explains, “Lower fuel consumption means less fuel required and a smaller logistics footprint for the military.”
Soldiers may not demand luxury, but comfort goes a long way during operations. When it comes to outfitting trucks for the military, “You keep all the human factors in mind,” says Dixon. “Having a seat that’s comfortable means when a soldier gets somewhere, he’s not exhausted. He’s still able to do things.”
“Canada is a big country; you can drive ten hours on a highway for days at a time. Doing it in an uncomfortable vehicle — which I’ve done — is very tiring,” he explains.
Dixon, like many individuals in the defence industry, is an ex-serviceman. When it comes to customizing vehicles, “We draw on our own experiences as soldiers,” he explains. “There are all these things that are really annoying when you’re in the service – we can make them a lot easier.”
For instance, say the army needs to stow things on the roof of a vehicle, but they also need to be able to put camouflage nets up easily. “Having done it myself,” explains Dixon, “I know that when you put up camouflage nets they catch on every little thing on the vehicle.”
So when it comes to customizing the vehicle, “You look at the design and say, Okay, what I need to do is make sure that there are no catch points.”
“You think of a good innovative solution for the customer,” explains Dixon, “then say, this is what we think, what do your soldiers think?”
The relationship between Mercedes-Benz and the Canadian Armed Forces extends beyond the initial customization of vehicles. Thanks to the company’s huge commercial presence worldwide, it’s able to increase the efficiency of vehicle maintenance.
The CAF does a lot of its own maintenance domestically, since soldiers need to be able to do repairs in the field. “But the challenge you have in the military is that a soldier, who is also a mechanic, doesn’t have eight hours a day to work on a vehicle – he might have four hours, because he’s got a lot of other things that he has to do.” The result, says Dixon, is that you run the risk of having a lot of vehicles that are not serviceable due to lack of time.
Let’s say a unit is deploying on an exercise. “If you can just pull into the next dealership to have something fixed, you’re not holding things up, you’re not leaving vehicles behind,” explains Dixon. “Pretty well right across Canada you’ve got access to having your vehicle fixed.” After all, the last thing the CAF wants is to have “expensive assets sitting around broken, because there isn’t time to fix them.”
When the CAF deploy overseas, they don’t have to send vehicles back to Canada to be repaired, either. “We have service in pretty much every country in the world. Support can go wherever Canada deploys,” says Dixon. .
As Mercedes-Benz awaits the final confirmation for the Military Support Vehicle System (MSVS) program, Dixon explains that delivery has already been worked out by Mercedes Benz Special Trucks. “It’s a fairly intense schedule” he says. The vehicles will be manufactured in the company’s Wörth factory in Germany. From there they will be shipped to Canada, where they’ll be customized according to the needs of the Canadian Army.
Although delivery won’t start for 18 months after the contract is officially awarded, Mercedes-Benz is already looking towards the next project on the horizon: The Logistic Vehicle Modernization Program, which will improve the capabilities of logistics vehicles that won’t be modernized under the MSVS project.
“Our approach will be to take the successful team for the Medium Support Vehicle System program forward to future projects,” says Dixon. By sticking with Mercedes Benz, “We provide benefits to the Armed Forces, because they’ve only got one fleet, one supply system, and training will be easier.” In the meantime, the CAF will continue pulling into its friendly neighbourhood Mercedes-Benz dealership for that occasional G-wagon repair.