Daimler’s SuperTruck helping in pursuit of 10-mpg truck

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was a gratifying Mid-America Trucking Show for Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, who in one of his first addresses in that role in 2010 projected a 10 mpg truck would become a reality.

Daum recalled taking some flak for that statement, made at the Heavy-Duty Manufacturers Association’s Mid-America breakfast. However, today some customers are achieving that ambitious goal of 10 mpg under perfect conditions with the Cascadia Evolution and the proof that it will soon be more widely attained sat in Freightliner’s booth.

Daimler’s $80-million SuperTruck project has been completed, with designers doubling the original goal of a 50% improvement in freight efficiency. The SuperTruck actually improved efficiency by 115%, achieving 12.2 mpg in real-world testing. More importantly, however, Daum noted 60% of the technologies required to reach that level of performance can be and are being applied to today’s trucks.

“If you look at that, we come pretty close to 10 mpg,” Daum said during a media roundtable.

Still, Daum expressed concern about the one impediment to truck efficiency that the OEMs can’t control: traffic congestion.

“One traffic jam eradicates all the technologies we have spent millions of dollars on,” he said. “It will be blown out through the tailpipe if the truck sits for 10 minutes in a traffic jam. Free-flowing traffic is the biggest thing the government can do (to reduce emissions and improve efficiency). It is an often overlooked item when we talk about environmentally-friendly and fuel-saving trucks.”

Daum said the industry needs a combination of “smart” regulations, research and infrastructure if it’s to greatly improve efficiency.

“Regulations shouldn’t limit free markets,” he added. “They should support and foster free markets.”

One of the most immediate regulations to be dealt with are the Phase 2 greenhouse gas/fuel economy standards for heavy trucks, which are slated to be phased in beginning in 2017. Daum said he’s confident DTNA will be the first truck maker to be certified once the rules are published.

While the details of GHG17 are yet to be fully disclosed by government, Daum said Daimler has its own vision for the program.

“We advocate a complete vehicle standard,” he said. “There are a lot of technologies, which will today and in the future save fuel working together with other parts of the truck. So if you single out one component, it’s not necessarily optimum. It limits our ability to optimize the entire package.”

Daum also stressed the importance of reliable testing procedures, which reflect real-world conditions.

“You can always optimize an engine to a test cycle,” he said. “Most engines are in trucks, not on test benches…Any test cycle the EPA has, has to mimic the real world.”

Daimler also wants to see new technologies needed to meet the new standard deliver a payback to the end user in 18-24 months.

In addition to the satisfaction derived from seeing his prediction of a 10-mpg truck edge closer to reality, Daum had other reasons to smile as well. The North American Class 8 truck market continues to be hot. Daum predicted NAFTA Classes 6-8 truck demand to be up about 10% in 2015, over 2014’s strong numbers. This means between 411,000 and 453,000 new vehicles could be required.

However, Daum acknowledged there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Canadian market, due to the poor exchange rate and the slowdown in the oil and gas market. Daum said he expects DTNA to achieve market share comparable to 2013, recovering what was lost in 2014. Its share of the NAFTA Classes 6-8 market is 36.3% year-to-date, a 4.6% improvement.

To meet this demand, Daimler has increased production by 16%, and is still in the process of training and deploying 2,300 additional workers since last summer. The company is planning to build 27,000 more trucks this year.

“I have absolutely no fear those production slots will go empty,” Daum said. “In fact, I have a feeling it might not be enough and we might do some more.”

Demand for Daimler’s DT12 automated manual transmission has also exceeded expectations. Daum said the transmission is “sold out” with approximately 44,000 units expected to be sold this year, well above initial projections. When production of the transmission moves to the US next year, Daimler will be able to increase capacity significantly and even then, Daum said it may be necessary to continue importing units to keep pace with demand.

“The sky is the limit” with the DT12, he said.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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