Despite Challenges, Roadranger Continues Developing New Technologies

by James Menzies

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – A hostile takeover bid by Dana Corporation’s largest competitor and the death of its much-loved chairman haven’t deterred the company from forging ahead, say officials.

In fact, Dana is currently expanding its Heavy Vehicle Technology Center, with $6 million in upgrades slated for completion by April.

“Thus far everything is working as planned,” said Greg DiMarco, vice-president and general manager for Dana’s Commercial Vehicle Systems Group.

This despite ArvinMeritor’s recent offer to acquire Dana Corp. at $15 per share, which Dana officials refer to as little more than a slap in the face.

“We have been pretty clear in our response to Meritor in our thinking that this offer is substantially inadequate,” said DiMarco. “We see some financial pitfalls because of the combined leverage…it’s certainly a very difficult situation for Dana.”

Adding to those difficulties is the fact the well-respected chairman of the company, Joe Magliochetti recently passed away.

“Joe was a friend and mentor for all of us,” said DiMarco. “We’re going to continue marching at an every-increasing pace forward.”

Dana’s pace has, in fact, quickened in recent months.

The upgrades slated for April will add another 15,000 sq. ft. to the facility as well as an off-highway product testing area. More technologically advanced test equipment will also be brought in.

And Dana’s relationship with Eaton, currently in its fifth year, is still going strong.

“We’re working hard as two companies to transform ourselves into businesses that are founded on intellectual capital,” explained DiMarco.

“The cultures of these two companies are very similar. We’ve found the right mix and it’s been working.”

Eaton and Dana have worked together to build a technology truck that features the latest gizmos from both companies. It includes an independent front air suspension, an Eaton Fuller UltraShift automated transmission, disc brakes and super single tires to name a few of the components.

The effort was a celebration of the two companies’ 100-year history during which they’ve collectively created more than 1,400 patents in the commercial vehicle sector.

In order to remain on that cutting edge of new technology, Tim Morscheck, vice-president of technology for Eaton’s Truck Components Group, has been polishing his crystal ball in an attempt to see what challenges lie ahead for the trucking industry.

He says key market drivers will centre around: emissions, fuel efficiency, performance, ergonomics, reliability and durability, safety and security, quality and productivity.

“These emerging trends and drivers will inevitably lead to a need for trucks which are optimized for higher efficiencies and lower emissions,” says Morscheck. “And what does that mean for us? It will be a whole new world for powertrains and trucks in the next five to 15 years.”

Simple changes in the way we live our lives impact the trucking industry – more than some people realize, he adds. For instance – a subtle change in eating habits by the general population “changes the demographics of our freight as well as our lifestyles,” says Morscheck.

Although Roadranger doesn’t manufacture engines, the ’02 emission standards also had their effect on the company.

“It certainly frightened our customers and we’re still feeling the effect of the pre-buy,” says Morscheck.

Even so, Roadranger doesn’t think diesel engine will become obsolete anytime soon, he adds.

“Our belief is that the diesel engine is the most effective way of converting petroleum into energy on the road,” says Morscheck, despite all the hype surrounding fuel cells. He says the ’07 engines will almost be putting out cleaner air than they take in.

“If we put enough diesel engines on the road, maybe we’ll clean our air,” he jokes.

That said, steps must be taken to avoid another pre-buy panic in ’06 – if that’s at all possible, Morscheck says.

“The hysteria we created in ’02, we can’t let that happen again,” he says, adding Roadranger will be developing solutions to make each engine manufacturer’s offering more efficient.

In order to develop those solutions, Roadranger prides itself on its commitment of seeking feedback from its customers.

“We have dozens of methods of gathering customer input and data,” says Dimitri Kazarinoff, director of marketing for Eaton Truck Components and Roadranger Marketing.

“The challenge lies in synthesizing that input to fully understand the impact to the customer’s total life cycle cost. From that, we can create compelling value propositions for the customer.

“We try to understand the economics of the customers…that is what we feel is driving our success today,” he adds.

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