Pragmatism was behind the design of the first truck in the world, which looked like a cart with an engine and without a drawbar. The engine, called ‘phoenix’, was a four-horsepower-strong two-cylinder engine located at the rear, with a displacement of 1.06 litres, originating from a car. Daimler linked it to the rear axle by means of a belt. There were two helical springs to protect the engine, which was sensitive to vibrations (the vehicle rolled on hard iron wheels, after all). A driver steered the leaf-sprung front axle by means of a chain. The driver sat up front on the driving seat, as with a carriage. The engine was at the rear of the vehicle. The fuel consumption was approximately six litres of petrol per 100km.
It is noteworthy that the first truck anticipated the planetary axles that are still common today in construction vehicles: because the belt drive sent the power from the engine to a shaft fitted across the longitudinal axis of the vehicle, both ends of which were fitted with a pinion. Each tooth of this pinion meshed with the internal teeth of a ring gear which was firmly connected with the wheel to be driven. This is how the planetary axles of the Mercedes-Benz trucks up to the current Arocs series have worked in principle.
Two years later, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach shifted the engine to a position under the driver's seat, with the four-gear belt drive also being transferred forward. However, this solution still left a certain amount to be desired. In the same year, the truck was then given the face which clearly distinguished it from the car and was to level the path towards ever-increasing output and payload: the engine was then placed right at the front, in front of the front axle. It conveyed its ten horsepower via a four-gear belt drive and a front-to-rear longitudinal shaft and pinion to the internal ring gears on the iron wheels at the rear. For these vehicles, Daimler made the crucial improvement not only to the drivetrain, but to the engine itself. Instead of a hot tube ignition, the new low-voltage magnetic ignition from Bosch ignited the petrol-air mixture in the cylinders of the 2.2-litre two-cylinder engine, and the radiator had a completely new design.
However, Gottlieb Daimler – probably because of the large number of innovations – was cautious at first before presenting his new five-tonner to the public. For months, Daimler subjected his new five-tonner to the daily grind of work at a brick factory in Heidenheim, and he painstakingly remedied the shortcomings it showed.
The first purchaser of the very first truck came from the home of industrialisation: England. There, steam-driven vehicles had long since made the shift from rails to the road, and did not die out until the 1950s. However, in 1901 a truck proved itself to be superior to a contemporary steam-driven wagon in a comparison test carried out in Liverpool.
The second generation of Daimler trucks manufactured from 1899 to 1903 consisted of new basic types with a payload of between 1.25 and 5.0 tonnes, for which two-cylinder and four-cylinder engines from four to 12 horsepower were sufficient.