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LEADERS: Tim Burns, Meritor’s new vice-president, North America

ATLANTA, Ga. -- After 31 years of focusing on the severe-service and specialty vehicle divisions of Rockwell, ArvinMeritor and now Meritor, Tim Burns brings to his new role as v.p., North America, a desire to adapt technologies developed for...

ATLANTA, Ga. — After 31 years of focusing on the severe-service and specialty vehicle divisions of Rockwell, ArvinMeritor and now Meritor, Tim Burns brings to his new role as v.p., North America, a desire to adapt technologies developed for military and other applications to the on-highway market.

Burns had been appointed to his new position just a few weeks before we caught up with him at a Meritor customer event in Atlanta, Ga. for this one-on-one interview. We asked him about 6×2 axles, disc brakes, why some available products aren’t published in OEM databooks and whether Meritor would consider jumping back into the transmission business.


TN: Tim, as you settle into your new role as vice-president, North America with Meritor, what are your expectations for Class 8 truck sales in the US and Canada for this year and next? It’s been a bit sluggish, hasn’t it?

Burns: It has been a little sluggish. We’re still hanging around 230,000 (units) is what we’re forecasting for this year. Next year, maybe 240,000 is our best gauge today; somewhere in that range.

TN: We’ve heard a lot this morning about 6×2 axles, and this is something Meritor is actively pushing with its FueLite axle. What’s the potential of this market segment in North America?

Burns: Believe it or not, in talking to our advanced engineering group, we believe that by 2017 it may be up to 50% of the market. I think once we get them in with some fleets and they see the savings – whether that’s 2% or 5%, that’s a huge number – I think once it starts to get accepted by the industry it’ll be more or less just like Europe, where it’s a 4×2 or a 6×2.

TN: How mainstream is this concept in Europe?

Burns: It’s about 95% of the market, maybe even higher.

TN: If it works so well in Europe, could it be applied to Canada, even given our winter conditions?

Burns: If they can drive them in the Swiss Alps, we can drive them here in the Rockies. I think once drivers gain confidence in the system and see it more widely accepted, the North American Class 8 market will see more and more of it.

TN: Can this be applied to vocational trucks as well or is it primarily a linehaul spec’?

Burns: Primarily linehaul. Vocational trucks really need the extra set of gears to help with the weight.

TN: Are you seeing increased interest in air disc brakes with the implementation of the new stopping distance requirements?

Burns: It’s going to be slow in North America, because disc brakes are more or less a performance enhancement versus a drum brake. We can meet the stopping distance requirements with drum brakes. The air disc brakes are more performance-based, because there is a premium in the acquisition costs.

It’s more for driver comfort. It feels more like a passenger car, especially if you have disc brakes on the front. You can mix the front and the rears – have disc brakes on the front and drums on the rears – and I think we’ll see more of that in the market. But, I think it really is for enhanced performance at this point in time.

TN: With your new drum brakes designed to meet the new stopping distance requirements, are you concerned that non-OE friction material, when used for relinings, could throw the braking systems out of spec’?

Burns: We’re seeing a lot of non-OE aftermarket pads and we’re seeing a pretty big decline in our aftermarket as far as replacement pads, or shoes for that matter. That makes a big difference (to performance).

TN: Meritor used to provide the Freedomline automated manual transmission. Is there any possibility of Meritor getting back into that segment, given the increasing popularity of AMTs?

Burns: No, that’s not core to Meritor at this point in time. Back in the 90s when we had the Freedomline and we had a joint venture with ZF, we thought that was a market we wanted to go after. But that is about 20 years in our rearview mirror. Today, it’s not our core product, so we’ll stick with what we do best globally, and that’s drive axles, steer axles, trailers and drivelines.

TN: There’s been so much focus of late on fuel economy. Besides 6×2 axles, which offer a pretty obvious fuel economy benefit, what role can Meritor play in driving down fuel consumption costs for OEs and end users?

Burns: There are a lot of things in our pipeline. We’re looking at a lot of independent suspensions that we use on the defense side, that we can adapt into the linehaul side. In addition, central tire inflation and drivetrain controls. We’re going to take some of the things we’ve developed over time for US defense applications and see where we can apply those into the commercial truck market.

Tire pressure is one of the biggest cost drivers in a fleet. So, if we can help a fleet with tire pressure – both on the trailer and the tractor, whether that’s with the Meritor Tire Inflation System (MTIS) by PSI, or something we develop for the drive axle – that’s what we’re looking at to improve fuel economy, along with taking weight out. Obviously the more weight we can take out, the less (weight) you have to propel down the road.

TN: One of the products you’re showing customers here today is the RPL lube-free driveline, which can save as much as $500 over its life-cycle in reduced maintenance costs. And, it’s apparently less expensive than other drivelines that still require lubrication. Why isn’t it on every truck?

Burns: Some people still have reservations. These drivelines were developed back in the 90s for Rockwell off-highway mining equipment. It really was off-highway mining that drove us to develop this. It’s been out for about 20 years, and is just now really starting to gain traction here in Class 8 applications.

We’ve had it more on specialty vehicles: fire trucks, concrete trucks and municipal-type applications. People are just now catching on, that this saves money in the long run. Those guys that are going to keep trucks more than 500,000 miles are really going to see the benefits and the payoff.

TN: The RPL driveline and some of your other products are offered by some OEMs as “unpublished” options. The databook’s huge. Why would they be unpublished?

Burns: That’s a really good question. Some of them are strategically aligned with our competitors.

TN: So the take-away from that is, if there’s something out there that you want, go ask for it, even if it’s unlisted?

Burns: Ask for it if you want it.


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1 Comment » for LEADERS: Tim Burns, Meritor’s new vice-president, North America
  1. D. Mike Pennington says:

    Great reporting, James. You found a very solid, meaningful story in asking the right questions of a supplier’s executive ranks. I enjoyed your writing and sharing a new story with us. Wonderful insights.

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