Ready to Rumble

Daniel Whitehead, President and CEO of Daimler Truck and Bus Australia Pacific reflects on a disrupted 2020 and looks ahead to a hectic 2021.

In such an unconventional year for original equipment manufacturers, Daimler Truck & Bus Australia Pacific, despite inherent challenges in the market, has delivered a product offering as compelling as any.

The range of heavy commercial vehicles launched across its three brands is, for serious fleets and freight carriers, deserving of serious consideration.

PM: Looking back at 2020 with its global challenges, were there any highlights?
DW: Product was definitely the highlight for us. The new Cascadia on the Freightliner side, the Actros 5 on the Mercedes-Benz side with features like MirrorCam, and on the Fuso side lots of them: Rosa bus, Canter, Fighter medium duty and the Shogun. Product introductions aren’t a decision that was made the week before and are years in the making. We don’t sell trucks, our dealers do. Our job is to give them a product they can sell.

PM: For an American style truck the Cascadia has plenty of safety features. Is that what the local market wants? 
DW: We really haven’t had to make any compromise on that truck. It’s taken a little bit longer and it would have been easier to get it in its most basic form. Mercedes-Benz has always been at the leading edge of safety and technology and that is just the reputation of the brand. If we didn’t have that on the other Daimler brands it’s hypocritical to advertise we are the safest brand in Australia but our sister brand is not. I think we now have a pretty homogenous safety set across all the brands. We have the safest, or at least the equal of any, European truck. We definitely have the safest American bonneted truck on the market and Fuso is, at least with eCanter, I would say the safest small truck in the market. The Shogun is the safest heavy Japanese truck as well, so we can now sit here with hand on heart and say we have got all of our range of products at that pointy end of the market in terms of safety. It means that the dealers are not being hypocritical or contradicting themselves when they try to sell one truck on safety and one on price or something else. That continuity, especially when it’s the same engines and transmissions, makes sense that we can have the same safety systems right across the board. Operators such as Toll, Linfox, and Finemore’s won’t compromise on safety so that gives us a pretty good base to work from. Features and benefits will beat price in the long run every time.

PM: Can we expect the sharing of technology across Daimler brands to continue?
DW: I think Daimler is probably ahead of the other major global trucking groups in terms of the efficiency of their global platform. From an economics perspective, it makes sense although it can take time to implement. If the technology is good in one, I’m sure it will make its way across the others if it makes sense. I’ve got confidence in the cohesion and the co-ordination between the Daimler global brands and the sharing of the technologies. Massive amounts of money is being invested in electrification, autonomous technology and now hydrogen power and you can’t afford to spend that money three times so I think we’re going to see even more collaboration across the Daimler world. For example, Daimler now has one electrification group, one autonomous group, one hydrogen fuel cell group. We have to find a way of economically spending the money required to get these technologies to consumers.

PM: Despite the local market being down, how have you managed to maintain or even improve some market shares?
DW: With Fuso we have done particularly well in Light Duty off the back of the new Canter being an upgraded product that has the features and benefits and safety that matter to people. Freightliner has been a transition with the end of Argosy which was the brand’s biggest seller, and the start of Cascadia. Certainly, COVID hasn’t helped in terms of production and shipping from America. Freightliner’s stable market share has been a good result in a really tough year. With Cascadia’s significant fuel savings and the feedback from the drivers it is only a matter of time, and bums in seats, before that truck gets to where it really should be. Mercedes-Benz has stabilised this year but order intake is already very promising and positive for 2021. The Mercedes-Benz product, at the moment, is fantastic and the Actros 5 is basically a whole new truck with Predictive Powertrain Control, MirrorCam and all the other cool technologies.

Daniel Whitehead.

PM: Are emission standards becoming more relevant than merely a badge on the side of the truck?
DW: These last few years Daimler has incorporated some massive improvements in engines and transmissions, and fuel and emissions reductions. I don’t think we make enough noise about just how green these trucks are compared to what they used to be and compared to the competition. I think it’s only going to be a matter of time before there are financial benefits for investing in greener technology. Some of the early adopters like Linfox went to Euro 6 long before it was even legislated and they pay for that technology because they think it is the right thing to do. They should get more credit, whether that be moral or fiscal, for taking those steps and dragging everyone else along.

PM: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
DW: You should always learn from a crisis and we talk here about how good it will be getting back out on the road and visiting dealers and customers. We’ve dispensed with a lot of the peripheral noise and we now know that people can get on with what they are doing and don’t need to be micro-managed and we can use our time to go and meet customers, meet dealers, and meet the people who have invested money into our network, our brand and our products.

PM: Will we see more of the next wave of technology flow into Australia over the next few years?
DW: We’ll be getting production models of the eCanter next year and we’re looking at getting the hydrogen fuel cell Fuso into Australia as well. We’ll definitely see a lot more of the technology around remote diagnosis which is why I’m really glad that we are on the same platform as the USA with Cascadia and the same platform as Germany with Actros. I think with whatever changes we have seen over the last ten or 20 years will happen again at the same level in the next two to three years. If we’re not on the same platform, we’ll just be left behind. That’s where we have positioned ourselves compared to our competitors for the next five years or so in terms of product development.

PM: Has anything good come from the COVID situation?
DW: COVID has given road transport the opportunity to be seen as more than just truckies. When there was no toilet paper there was suddenly a real recognition and understanding in the community of how much stuff gets moved around the country and what happens when it doesn’t, and that was a real positive for the industry’s image.

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