Cadillac ads crank up the Led Zeppelin. Mitsubishi includes some of the latest dance club numbers in their TV spots. As I look up, wayyyy up at the Unimog, I'd have to say it's a toss-up between Ride of the Valkyries or the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I lean to the latter, for the Unimog has a sort of monolithic stature. So would you, if you were nine feet, seven inches tall. Freightliner Manitoba Ltd. has just signed as Manitoba's Unimog dealer, and welcomed its first unit with a demonstration session at the Red River Floodway last week.
The Mercedes-Benz-built Unimog has been in existence for more than 50 years in Europe. Its name stands for UNIversal-MOtorGeraet in German, which translates to universal power unit.
"They're brand new to North America." says Rod Snyder, vice-president of operations at Freightliner Manitoba. The odd ex-military Unimog has made its way to these shores, even in Northern Manitoba, where they have been used to maintain runways at small airports.
Greg Sheridan, Unimog's Canadian sales manager, sums up the nature of the vehicle. "It's like the handle of a Swiss Army knife."
Let's use the example of a small municipality in need of various road-care implements. In the past, you would have to buy a snowplow, a street sweeper, and heavy-duty grass cutters. All items are obviously seasonal, requiring storage, even specialized personnel to operate.
With Unimog, you simply "plug in" the required implement and get to work. Built-in hydraulic systems and power take-offs (PTOs) keep the implement costs far lower than buying specialized machines separately. "In Europe, it's accepted," says Snyder. "In North America, it's a new idea."
It doesn't stop at roadwork. Other Unimog attachments include snowplows, "cherry picker" lifts, cranes, even firefighting units.
"With this vehicle, you can basically 'cassette load' all of the implements onto it," says Snyder. A curious innovation is the Unimog's VarioPilot, which allows the steering and pedals assembly to be moved from the left to the right side in seconds.
A Mercedes 6-cylinder inline diesel provides 'Mog mobility.' The test vehicle was equipped with the 280 horsepower version, which delivers a staggering 800 ft-lbs of torque.
Kind of a necessity, when your gross vehicle weight can top 33,000 pounds. The transmission is a programmable standard/semi-automatic unit, with a total of 24 possible forward gear selections, depending on the task at hand.
All Unimogs employ always-on all wheel drive, with the ability to selectively lock the front, rear, or centre differential on the fly. Central tire inflation allows the Unimog to easily adapt its footprint to various types of terrain. The Unimog naturally uses air brakes, with the added stopping power of four-wheel, dual caliper discs. A centre console-mounted joystick control exists for the operation of the various attachments.
Greg Sheridan assumed pilot duties for the test run, sending the Unimog down the steep grade of the Floodway with ease. The engine exhaust brakes work much like the effect experienced with Land Rover's Hill Descent Control, with no throttle or brake pedal input required. Heading up the other side, Sheridan opted for the hand throttle control option. The Unimog also claims a maximum side slope angle approach of 38 degrees. Twenty inches of ground clearance is the bare minimum. The cab-over design allows for maximum visibility, aided by the power heated multi-side mirror set-up.
Three Unimogs have currently been sold in Canada, all in Alberta, where they are currently in use in the oil business. Starting at about $190,000, the Unimog may seem a little steep when compared to trucks in the same GVW category.
"The biggest challenge is getting people to look at it outside of the typical truck," Sheridan says. He points out that most European Unimogs have an average age greater than 20 years, which should help offset the initial outlay for a 'Mog and its accessories.
The epi-mog, or should I say, epilogue to the Unimog in Manitoba will be a tour to various communities to explain the features and benefits over conventional machines.
Carl Witt Is Freightliner's local Unimog specialist.
"It's going to be hands on. People can drive it, feel it, touch it."