Paths of Glory
Four years ago the newly appointed head of Daimler Trucks in Australia had a dream to bring the Freightliner Cascadia to local shores. Next year that dream becomes a reality.
Back in February 2015, Daniel Whitehead, relatively new to his role as President and CEO Daimler Trucks Australia Pacific, told Prime Mover he had a dream. “Most nights when I fall asleep,” he said, “I have visions of a right hand drive version of the Freightliner Cascadia.”
Just as the Freightliner Cascadia has become the undisputed North American heavy duty market leader in every dimension, yet mindful that any model destined to be offered to the Australian market would have to significantly exceed the expectations of local customers, Daniel and Brand Manager Stephen Downes insisted that the trucks be subjected to what is quite possibly the most rigorous and extensive testing regime ever applied to a truck destined for Australia.
Any imaginable shortcomings that the exhaustive assessment program revealed have been subjected to re-engineering and tested and tested again – and then tested again just to be sure.
It isn’t good enough to be merely fit for purpose, these trucks have gone to the next level and beyond.
The right hand drive Cascadia isn’t some cobbled together badge engineering exercise and the figure of a $100 million investment into its development has been frequently mentioned over the past couple of years as Whitehead’s dream eventually morphs into reality.
During a recent visit to the various Daimler Trucks facilities in the United States, Prime Mover can verify that the $100 million is far from some fanciful throwaway claim and sits well with the more than $USD1 billion that the parent company invests in research and development every year.
Given the size of the investment Daimler must regard Australia as an important market with significant potential.
The reality is that the Cascadia only needs to take small points of market shares from the competition to achieve reasonable numbers for itself but there already appears to be a quiet confidence on both sides of the Pacific that the Cascadia will do much more than that in addressing the balancing of the investment equation.
The success of the Cascadia in North America can be traced back to the genesis of its design.
At all times, the ambition, at least conceptually, was to make trucks, especially those with integrated proprietary drivelines, with a realistic expectation of lasting two million kilometres if maintained correctly.
A key factor in the process is that it has to be a straight-forward truck to build from a manufacturing perspective, hence such factors as the separate firewall assembly.
The Cascadia has been Daimler Truck’s most successful product launch ever, with more than 150,000 units already sold with the 200,000 sales mark likely to be achieved very soon.
The Cascadia chassis is unique. Rather than being a modified Coronado unit, it uses three point driveline mounting architecture to integrate with the Detroit Diesel and Detroit Transmission drivelines.
This US trip gives us our first opportunity to take in the slippery shape of the Cascadia as the camouflage disguise applied to the initial test trucks in Australia made it deliberately difficult to conceive the truck’s outline.
It’s an elegant looking truck and its sculpted lines contribute to its aerodynamic efficiency. The design phases have included extensive time in the wind tunnel at Portland with both scale models and full size trucks to assess aspects of the exterior design in relation to airflow across the various surfaces.
The principal intention of the comprehensive testing regimes is not to break the components but to define the limits at which they can operate reliably.
Environment testing is performed at up to 45 degrees in the hot cell while the cold cell is capable of reducing temperatures to as low as -43C.
Test cycles have been developed to assess everything from window winders, door locks, steps and grab handles and even a program to test for ‘doors being slammed by angry drivers’.
Not that they are likely to be angry with their truck. Other facilities at the Portland headquarters are constantly testing entire trucks on six post shaker units.
Away from the labs in Portland the trucks are given real world conditions at the recently opened $USD18.7 million facility near the town of Madras in the Oregon High Desert.
Various surfaces and a canoe-shaped road course shaped to provide equal right and left hand turns are employed to accelerate testing by a factor of 150:1, which equates to one kilometre of testing being similar to 150 kilometres of reality road driving.
A calculated variety of road characteristics to suit target markets are incorporated at the Madras facility including a chassis twist section with 150mm sized variations for assessing on-highway trucks and a much more rugged section with 250mm ‘bumps’ for vocational trucks such as tippers and agitators to simulate off-road conditions and mounting gutter kerbs.
Despite being categorised as intended on-highway vehicles, the Australian-spec Cascadia’s are being tested on the vocational duty cycle featuring the more extreme of the two surfaces to deliver a more realistic assessment of the trucks’ performance on our local roads.
The extreme level of testing requires the shock absorbers to be fitted with cooling water jackets and input from the wheels and tyres is obtained using wheel force transducers at a cost of $USD750,000 per set of six.
A regular test route away from Madras is the Baker Rise in Death Valley. Known as the ‘truck killer,’ the road has an eight per cent gradient that extends for 20 miles (32 kilometres) in a desert with very high ambient temperatures. Trucks are operated up it at 100 per cent load at 100 per cent throttle at 10 mph (16 km/h) for half an hour at a time.
Our visit to Madras provides our first opportunity to get behind the wheel of a right hand drive version of the Cascadia.
The truck we are driving is powered by a DD16 and has 2.1:1 diff gears that are combined with tall drive tyres. At 48mph (77km/h) in 11th gear the big six is untroubled at 1,100rpm and even with this final drive ratio the low down torque is able to handle the 80,000 lbs GVM (36.25 tonnes) of this combination.
The diff gearing may not be ideal for some Australian applications where it is common for GVMs to exceed 60 tonnes.
It is for this reason that local testing has been performed at weights up to 100 tonnes.
On the steering column are control stalks similar to those on local Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks including for the lights, wipers, transmission and three stage engine brake.
The one piece windscreen and low bonnet provide excellent forward vision. The mirror arms are solid fabrications with lower mounts only and contributes to the broad field of vision.
In fact, the vision is astounding for a conventional truck which is an important safety characteristic and is then backed up by the camera and radar systems.
We check and see no mirror vibration even when travelling across the rough sections of the test facility that make the Tanami Track seem like a boulevard.
This may only be a brief stint at the wheel, but the overarching driving impressions is that the Cascadia steers really well on any surface. The DT12 transmission is the perfect match for the DD16 engine and its light weight contributes to usable payload.
This truck has the absolute potential to become a disruptive force in the Australian heavy duty truck landscape. In many senses it’s not radical, but every component and every system has been evaluated, reviewed and tested again.
This particular unit is about 60 per cent through its testing life and still has no rattles or squeaks despite covering the equivalent of more than a half million kilometres.
At the Freightliner production facility in Cleveland, outside of Charlotte in North Carolina, robots have built the Cascadia cabs from stamped panels using Henrob rivets rather than spot welding.
Data matrix stamps and barcodes on many of the vehicle components contribute to the quality control.
The chassis for Australian-destined trucks are blasted using dry ice to assist in the paint adhesion process and to address surface corrosion.
Upon final assembly every truck is subjected to a water test which simulates the worst storm imaginable.
Every engine is hot tested and put through a dynamometer check, which is, in addition to the 17 minutes of dyno testing, performed on the bare engines before they leave the Detroit Engine plant where each is checked for peak torque and power as well as other functions including oil pressure.
The Cascadia sets the bar as the most modern truck we will have here.
The emissions meet the latest US standards, which are more stringent then even Euro 6, which can be important to some buyers despite Euro 6 not being mandated here yet.
The Cascadia’s safety technologies such as Active Brake Assist and Active Cruise Control will boost productivity, increase safety, saves lives and save money.
“The biggest thing I see for our market is the opportunity,” says Stephen Downes.
“It’s at least two generations in front of anything we have today. It’s an opportunity to reposition the Freightliner brand as a technology and innovation leader, exactly how it has been done in North America. Engines will deliver the lowest emissions in the market and the Cascadia will be the most aerodynamic truck on the highway. We will be a dominate player in the fuel efficiency space, not just because of the aerodynamics but due to factors such as the integrated driveline. Importantly, it will be one of the safest, if not the safest truck with second to none driver comfort.”
Today’s trucks are no longer merely a mechanical tool, instead they are a connected technological platform. Freightliner’s Cascadia may already be referred to by some as a ‘game-changer’.
Based on our own observations of the passion for excellence across the design phases, the driveline engineering and the vehicle assembly and testing, we can go a little further: the Cascadia, which becomes available here in early 2020, is a game winner.