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Prime Mover Magazine

Great expectations

Great expectations

After months of mounting anticipation the new Freightliner Cascadia, the biggest selling truck in North America, was unveiled in Melbourne, where Prime Mover was invited for an exclusive preview of the future of long-haul diesel transport.

It was bathed in floodlights on an otherwise cavernous sound stage at the Docklands Film Studios in Melbourne. Finished in grey-blue naval camouflage, the next generation Freightliner Cascadia 116, received an unveiling worthy of a film premiere as bursts of flash photography ignited around it.

Fitted with a 13-litre Detroit diesel engine and DT12 transmission in left hand drive, the Freightliner Cascadia 116, marks the first phase of local research and development for Daimler Truck & Bus Australia. Testing has begun in earnest alongside the larger 16-litre Cascadia126, also presented in daycab, which has recently arrived as part of its Launch Group 1.

Daniel Whitehead, President and CEO of Daimler Truck and Bus Australia, speaking at the event, says the Freightliner Cascadia represents both a once in a generation opportunity and a once in a generation product cycle.

“Our view is we’ll have the best bonneted truck in the world and the best cab over truck in the world available for sale,” he says. “Even though the truck has been out in the American market 18 months, 50 trucks go out every day for testing. The testing will never end.”

Data collection, according to Daniel, will be fed back to Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), on a constant basis to inform its future programs.

Freightliner will also draw upon the successful program behind the launch of the Mercedes-Benz Actros, factoring in, where possible, conclusions made with the benefit of hindsight, while combining the best insights from its ongoing findings during an extended period of evaluation in demanding Australian conditions. Keys, on the first orders, won’t be turned until Q1, 2020. Before then the pilot vehicles will be challenged, unconditionally, from the DT12 transmission, rear axles, engines and cabs – the whole gamut – in the local environment to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose. $100 million will be invested on the unprecedented right hand drive development program.

By bringing in left hand drive vehicles, Daimler Truck & Bus Australia is planning to maximise the testing window that is available by essentially hitting the ground running. Stephen Downes, Freightliner Australian Director, said it would be the first time that testing of this nature with a left hand drive commercial vehicle had been conducted in Australia.

“We’re going to an effort that we’ve never been to before locally to make sure these trucks are up to scratch,” he says. “We’re leveraging off that global expertise in North America by providing them with customised Australian data that is fit for purpose. It offers an unparalleled opportunity for the Freightliner brand in Australia.”

As part of the testing and development, Downes confirms it will encompass operational systems, fuel systems, safety systems, including fit and finish of the cab, durability, and fuel economy, all of it managed in close conjunction with DTNA. Both the 116 and 126 models have been fitted with cameras, in adherence with requirements for operation on the road. As part of its new market architecture, Freightliner Cascadia will have the latest suite of safety systems from Detroit Assurance, which has been instrumental in helping eradicate rear-end collisions according to Richard Howard, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing, DTNA. For 70 per cent of customers in the US and Canada, Detroit Assurance was, reportedly, the active safety system of choice.

“The development of those safety systems will see this truck become the truck of choice in all applications,” he says. “Having that truck here will allow us to transfer technology to the Australian market. The claim for market leadership has to be backed up with technical expertise, but also the investment in those technologies. This truck that we have here has been based on investments that we have made in the last five years.”

Following a recent technology showcase in Portland, Oregon, where DTNA announced its plans to construct a purpose built autonomous research and development facility and plans for a full range of electric commercial vehicles, Howard said Oregon will play a key role in developing technologies that will be utilised on the Cascadia platform. As a global brand, Daimler will invest $2.5 billion next year in technological innovation. Howard says Daimler’s commitment to investing in innovation and safety for drivers is resolute.

“Certainly the commitment to be an undisputed market leader in every dimension is absolute in terms of factory technology – with electric trucks, we want to be a leader there as well.”

To date, Freightliner has received 85,000 orders in North America where it boasts, this year alone, 42 per cent of the market.

The arrival of the truck in Australia has been five years in the making. Drivability and the interior design have been, according to Howard, influential grounds behind its value proposition and total cost of ownership.
“These are some of the factors driving this faster adoption, particularly in the small and medium sized market segments. But whether you’re running one truck or a thousand, the match of that is the same.”

At this early stage Stephen Downes anticipates the Freightliner Cascadia will contain two airbags and capitalise on technological developments from safety passenger cars. Having the ability to pull useful information out of the truck and provide that to the customer was one of the major attractions of the Cascadia, given it will encourage a partnership with the customer in facilitating better efficiencies.

“For us we want the most fuel efficient offering. The reason why it is having the type of penetration in the North American market is because it is the fuel efficiency leader,” Downes says. “In terms of what features we put in it we have to be careful that we don’t overload it. But there’s some non-negotiables for me and a lot of those are around the safety, and the fuel efficiency that comes with the engine and the connectivity that allows the operators access to the right data.”

The focus for Freightliner, over the next 18 months, will entail comprehensive assessments of Cascadia’s durability, liability and functionality.

“By starting the process early here we’ll have some of our network get to the product long before it gets here. So you can get a real head start. Not only from a product point of view, but from a servicing point of view.”

Howard says after analysing the order intake in North America Daimler has noticed a larger number of purchases than they would normally see among medium sized fleets and owner-operators.

“We’ve certainly seen a higher adoption rate of those customers in those segments,” he says. “The fuel economy of new Cascadia compared to our best truck in the range is an eight per cent improvement on average. That’s pretty substantial for anybody in terms of the value proposition and in terms of the total cost of ownership. That certainly translates.”

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