Getting up to speed

by Sonia Straface

MADRAS, Ore. — Despite U.S. President Donald Trump proclaiming it as the worst trade deal in history, there won’t be any major changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) anytime soon.

At least, that’s the opinion of Roger Nielsen, the newly appointed president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA).

Roger Nielsen

In his first-ever media roundtable, at the grand opening of DTNA’s new test track, Nielsen said he doesn’t “anticipate any major changes in the NAFTA agreement” and “there are so many other discussions going on with government priorities right now, I don’t see this as coming up to the top of the list.”

“You know we’re a global company and we believe in free trade and we’re prepared to engage everybody and anybody on what that means,” he said.

However, Nielsen added, even if there is a big shake-up in the agreement, DTNA is confident it can handle it.

“If you take the worst-case scenario, and say there was a situation where we would be required to have 100% assembled in America (products), we have the capacity to do it,” he assured.

Nielsen has been the company’s chief operating officer since 2001, and in his first media roundtable on May 18, told trucking journalists from across North America that he was shocked he was offered the CEO position.

“I was absolutely in shock,” he said. “I had the best job in the world doing what I do, so I never really thought that (being CEO) was the next step for me. But after I thought about it for a couple of days, I said let’s do it. The company has great momentum, we have great products in the marketplace and great products in our pipeline that need to be brought in…in the next three, four, five years…so it’s an exciting time to be at the helm.”

So far, the biggest adjustment in going from COO to CEO is the weight of his opinion, Nielsen said.

“I now understand my opinion counts,” he said, recalling a time recently when he pointed out a Tweet from the Western Star account he didn’t care for.

“An hour later I tried to find the Tweet and it was gone,” he said. “And it was just my opinion.”

Other than that, Nielsen said as CEO he is enjoying all the time he has with customers and dealers, and the evolution of his responsibilities.

Vocational Growth

“There’s definitely been a lot more interaction with customers and dealers,” he said. “I had a lot of interaction with customers and dealers before, mostly with the heads of maintenance, so to now grow relationships with decision makers and owners of the fleets…has been a great experience for me. As COO I (brought) in the view of being responsible for product quality, so taking on service quality as well now is an evolution of responsibility.”

Looking to the future, Nielsen said he wants DTNA to expand into being more than just the on-highway leader, and he isn’t fazed by whispers of a new threat in Tesla.

“We are the on-highway leader, and we are among the best in the vocational market,” he said. “But we want to be the vocational leader.”

“(Tesla’s) an interesting company to watch,” he added. “But (we’re) the leader in electric vehicles…and battery technology, so we will be ready when the market is ready.”

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