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For new global leader of Daimler Trucks, it’s all about product

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the head of Daimler Trucks globally, was introduced to the North American trade press today, during a roundtable discussion held at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference &...

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the head of Daimler Trucks globally, was introduced to the North American trade press today, during a roundtable discussion held at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition.

Bernhard was appointed to his new position in April. He emphasized today that there will continue to be a strong product focus from Daimler Trucks under his watch. Bernhard already has obtained his European commercial driver’s licence, and he will repeat the process in the US so that he can drive the vehicles offered by Daimler and its competitors.

“I think it’s very important to know the business from the ground up,” Bernhard said. “You need to know what your customers are sitting in.”

Bernhard has spent his first few months on the job travelling the world to get up to speed on Daimler’s global truck operations.

“I’m deeply impressed with what I’ve seen,” he said.

Bernhard said he’s fortunate to be taking the reins at a time when Daimler boasts its “strongest truck portfolio” in company history. In the US, Daimler is enjoying Class 8 market share of nearly 40%, driven largely by the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, for which Daimler has received 20,000 orders. The Detroit DT12 automated transmission is also driving demand for Daimler’s products. Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America said the company has already received 3,600 orders for trucks with the DT12, and it has only been offered since April with the DD15 and since September behind the DD13. Production of that transmission will be brought to the US in 2015, and Daum said it’s now expected that there’ll be enough demand for the product here that no, or very few, units will be exported to other markets.

Daimler’s North American Class 8 market share through September is up 5.4% compared to a year ago.

“Business, I’d say, is going well,” Bernhard said.  

In North America, 60% of Daimler’s orders come from its top 30 customers. The company has been collaborating closely with these customers on new product developments. As an example, Bernhard spoke of a project with Nussbaum that resulted in a 6×2 drive configuration with direct drive transmission that improved fuel economy by 20%. In another example, Freightliner worked with Saddle Creek Transportation to develop a natural gas-powered Cascadia with aerodynamic fairings that will improve range to about 700 miles. Saddle Creek has ordered 10 of these trucks.

Still, natural gas is one area where Daimler executives are dissatisfied with their current position – if you can be dissatisfied with a 45% share of the market.

Daum acknowledged the brand is lacking a 15L natural gas engine and that it needs to broaden its product range.

“It’s a good business, but it could be far better business,” he said. “We’ll focus on that more in the future to come up with even better solutions.”

Daimler has plenty of reason to be satisfied with its North American business as a whole. It boasts the industry’s top market share in the US Class 8, US Classes 6/7, Canadian Classes 6-8 and NAFTA Classes 6-8 segments. However, Bernhard said the truck maker would like to see a more stable political environment in Washington.

“It is in our industry’s best interest that Washington finds a way to provide a stable budgetary climate,” Bernhard said. “Not just brief increments (of stability) with another looming crisis over the horizon. The US economy is too important to the rest of the world to be in a continued state of uncertainty.”

Bernhard would also like to see global emissions rules be harmonized. The NOx and particulate matter reductions in most of the developed world have been fairly consistent, yet Bernhard said there are subtle differences between the rules, which complicate compliance as a global manufacturer.

“We all need to park our regulatory egos in the loading dock,” he said. “Standardization would strengthen our competitiveness.”

As for future emissions standards, Bernhard feels that instead of bringing in more stringent rules for new vehicles, that there should be a greater emphasis on removing old trucks from the highways. Only 40% of the trucks in service today are of an EPA04 or newer vintage.

“You could reduce NOx by 60% if you just replaced all the old trucks with new trucks and you could reduce particulate matter by 99%,” Bernhard said, adding that repealing the federal excise tax on heavy-duty trucks would be one way Washington could encourage the removal of older vehicles from the industry. He added the GHG17 standards will most likely be met a full year early by Daimler.

Looking ahead to 2014, Daum predicted truck demand will be slightly better than it was this year. However, a return to boom times for truck makers isn’t expected until 2015 at the earliest.  

For Daimler itself, Daum laid out several priorities for the next year. They include: maintaining a “dominant market position”; continuing to develop the Cascadia Evolution for ever greater fuel economy; building upon the recently announced Detroit Connect telematics division; and boosting Western Star’s presence in the market.

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