Navistar’s Carlbaum sets sights on electric, autonomous future under Traton

Navistar has its eyes set on the future as it moves forward under Traton’s ownership with a new president and CEO.

After initially securing just under 17% of the U.S.-based OEM, the Volkswagen Group subsidiary fully acquired Navistar in July. A new production facility is coming to San Antonio, Texas. And Mathias Carlbaum, formerly Scania’s executive vice-president – commercial operations, took the helm as president and CEO on Sept. 1.

“We have a solid owner with a long-term view and very committed to our ambitions into North America,” Carlbaum said Friday in a broad-ranging roundtable discussion with trade media.

Picture of International eMV
Navistar’s eMV represents a key focus for the OEM’s battery-electric plans. (Photo: Navistar)

Autonomous and electric vehicles

That vision clearly involves further commitments to electric and autonomous commercial vehicles alike.

“There are applications and routes, etcetera, that are viable already today,” he said of the market for battery-electric vehicles. Navistar’s recently unveiled medium-duty eMV and electric school buses offer an example of that. “The tipping point will come sooner than we ever expected.”

Navistar CEO Mathias CarlbaumMathias Carlbaum
Navistar president and CEO Mathias Carlbaum. (Photo: Navistar)

“Behind Traton we have Volkswagen, and Volkswagen is very committed to the targets of global CO2 [reduction],” he added, noting that investments in green technologies continue to be driven by everything from automotive investments to corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets.

But the future of battery-electric longhaul trucks will rely more on mega-level chargers that will in just 30-45 minutes replenish the batteries in a truck with a 450-mile range, he said. Navistar predicts the tipping point for such infrastructure, technologies and batteries will come around 2027/28.

“The future technology is going to come very fast here,” he said, noting that the OEM’s dealership network will have a role to play in supporting customers in the journey.

While Navistar has joined forces with General Motors in a pilot project involving hydrogen fuel cells for long hauls, the OEM sees battery-electric vehicles as the ultimate destination.

“At this point we do believe there is a user case for hydrogen,” Carlbaum said. But fuel cells remain less energy-efficient than batteries, he added. “Batteries will prevail.”

This hardly means an end to commitments to the manufacturer’s work on diesel power, though. “There’s a long existence still of combustion.”

Navistar TuSimple autonomous truck
Traton has a minority stake in TuSimple, but the autonomous vehicles are expected to emerge in North America first. (Photo: TuSimple)

Leveraging sensors and data

The focus on technologies doesn’t end there. Navistar continues to leverage sensor data and artificial intelligence in the journey toward evermore predictive maintenance and repair activities.

“The data and predictive maintenance also enables the dealerships to be faster and more prepared,” Carlbaum said, comparing it to a Formula One pitstop, where everything is anticipated.

North America will also see autonomous vehicles before Europe, and perhaps at the same time as China, he predicted.

Traton is already investing in this space, too. The vehicle group has a minority stake in U.S.-based TuSimple, developing highly autonomous SAE Level 4 trucks. That agreement will now see further support with Navistar resources in Lisle, Il, driving autonomous technologies across the Traton Group, he said.

As global as the operation has become, Navistar continues to enjoy “immense autonomy and local-decision power,” Carlbaum stressed. But it’s already seen benefits of a five-year strategic alliance with one of the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturers that also includes MAN, Scania, and Volkswagen Caminhoes e Onibus nameplates. Navistar’s A26 engine, for example, shared several components with MAN’s D26 engine when launched in 2017.

Some yet-revealed features and components will soon hit the market, and that is only possible because the alliance was already in place, he added, responding to a question from trucknews.com.

Scania/Navistar
Scania offerings are coming to Canada, but are focusing on heavy off-road work. (Photo: Navistar)

There could even be a role for some of the OEM’s European nameplates. In late 2019, Scania teamed up with Navistar to offer vehicles and services for Canadian mining operations, and that agreement is coming closer to reality when it comes to the offerings in forestry and off-road segments.

“We are close to solution to that and we will be bringing that product into … these certain applications,” he said. “Are there opportunities in certain segments in America for products or groups? Unquestionably.”

Still, Navistar has no immediate plans to produce vehicles that focus on Final Mile deliveries. “That’s where the start-ups are focusing, where the big players are buying themselves in,” he said. “We never close doors, but it’s nothing we’re exploring right now.”

In the short term, some of the focus remains on addressing the supply chain challenges that will sound familiar to every truck OEM. Each day presents a new surprise, whether it’s a shortage of chips or delays at a port. “We will see improvements throughout the year,” he said, suggesting things will normalize near the end of 2022. “We’re starting to get more and more processes stabilized … We will see a better — definitely a better — end of this year compared to the end of last year when it comes to supply issues.”

“Building on where Navistar has been, and putting us where we should be in the future, is a fantastic opportunity,” Carlbaum noted.

“This coming year is very decisive for Navistar.”

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.


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