LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Daimler Trucks North America is coming off a record year in truck sales, and expects the market to remain strong for months to come before moderating in the second half of 2019.
“We had record sales with more than half a million trucks sold,” Daimler Trucks and Buses CEO Martin Daum announced in a media briefing this week, referring to the manufacturer’s global truck sales.
Sales in North America were particularly strong.
Roger Nielsen, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, refers to full order boards and production levels that haven’t been seen in a decade. The U.S. and Canada alone represented 165,000 of Daimler’s Class 6-8 trucks in 2018, up 18% over the previous year. Western Star’s numbers were also up 18%.
“The unprecedented demand came along with some significant supply constraints,” Nielsen added.
Class 8 trucks represented 110,000 of the U.S. and Canadian units, up 26% over 2017, and half of these trucks were new Cascadias that will benefit from a series of upgrades for the 2020 model year. Daimler has sold or booked orders for 145,000 new Cascadias since the truck was introduced in 2017.
“We do expect some moderation and normalization in the second half of the year,” Nielsen said of the market to come.
The market share leader is hardly about to rest on its laurels, however. Daum referred to successes that have come from taking ideas, changing the game, improving and re-inventing itself. “We always develop technology not just for technology’s sake,” he added.
The manufacturer is pledging to offer series-produced battery-electric trucks by 2021 and promises highly automated Level 4 autonomous trucks within a decade. This week it unveiled Level 2 autonomous driving features for new Cascadia models, supporting drivers with automated steering, braking and acceleration controls.
“The driver is in control but is supported heavily,” Daum said, stressing the increased safety.
But Daimler will skip directly over Level 3 controls in its development path. Level 3 vehicles include conditional automation, prompting drivers to intervene in situations that underlying systems can’t address. The higher automation of Level 4 would be limited to specific operating conditions. (Full automation is known as Level 5.)
“It makes no sense to put high amounts of technology in a truck just to have a redundancy to the human factor,” Daum says, referring to the bypassed Level 3.
The manufacturer has demonstrated an interest in developing autonomous technologies for years.
“In 2015 we introduced the vision of a highly automated truck,” Daum said, referring to the Freightliner Innovation truck. “That was a ‘big bang’ topic that hadn’t been on the table before.” The prototype also set the groundwork for gaining experience in the business models that can benefit from different levels of automation.
With enough automation, future trucks could be run around the clock and take better advantage of night driving, he said. “Highly automated trucks will cut the cost per mile considerably.”
Still, it is prepared to step away from initiatives that fail to prove themselves. Daimler’s research in platooning has been halted because it hasn’t offered the fuel economy gains that were promised in a laboratory environment.
Series production of the updated new Cascadia begins in July.
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