When Daimler Truck and Bus Australia General Manager Daniel Whitehead told Prime Mover in 2014 that most nights he fell asleep thinking of a right hand drive Freightliner Cascadia he foreshadowed his determination to bring North America’s most successful heavy duty truck to the Australian market. At around that same time Australian Freightliner Director Steve Downes was new to his role and equally enthusiastic at the prospect and has since worked tirelessly with teams both side of the Pacific to bring the dream into reality.
The first two Cascadias to arrive for evaluation purposes are left hand drive, with several right hand drive variants already built and being tested in the USA with more due to join the local testing regime early in 2019. These are hand built prototypes that, along with the many others to be involved in the test programs, will influence the final specifications and tooling for the trucks that will eventually come down the production line destined for Australian operators.
There is already an extensive test program underway in the USA, mostly on Freightliner’s test track. The aim is to simulate one million miles (1.6million kms) of durability testing in parallel with what is happening here. Laboratory shaker equipment is also being used to perform intensive testing in conjunction with the road and track activities. This aspect of the amplified testing regime can deliver results in a couple of months on what might take six or 12 months out in the field. The regimented programme being run in product validation engineering in Portland is being carried out with the high loads typical in Australia and involves an accelerated duty cycle that’s harder on the product than what would be normal in the US and is more representative of what the Cascadia will have to handle here.
“Modelling and simulation will get you so far but we really have to be sure that we’ve also got staff putting rubber on the road over here in Australia as well, and getting real life data in real life situations,” says Steve Downes.
Australian road transport is unique for its heavy gross weights, relatively high average speeds and our climate’s temperature extremes. Manufacturers, in the past, have found to their own detriment that something that may work in North America or Europe can be left struggling here, situations that Steve Downes readily acknowledges.
“The key thing for us with this new product coming in is that it is fit for purpose and ready for the Australian market,” says Steve. “It’s fundamental to any manufacturer to make sure that what has been largely designed and developed overseas doesn’t just get pasted into Australia.”
The initial two trucks are being driven daily on 500-800 kilometre routes throughout central Victoria mostly in loaded B-double configurations. Our test session at the Anglesea proving grounds also presented Freightliner the opportunity to do some evaluation in B-triple format.
“2019 will be largely about developing our downstream strategy and a lot of focus will be on utilising the higher torque of the engines and making sure we can pull that rpm down and really get them to labour low because that’s where we can drive a lot of the fuel economy,” says Steve. “We’ve got an opportunity where trucks that we are going to be running here are a significant step ahead of what is likely to be operating in the market.”
That’s quite a confident call that Steve and his entire team seem committed to delivering.
Freightliner management are strongly aware that it’s one thing to ensure the power train of the truck is fit for purpose and does all the right things and performs well. Also crucial is the driver environment and this is where the Cascadia already shines. The day cabs we get to drive here are easy to get into, spacious and the tactile experience in the cab is impressive with instruments, controls and switches set out in a manner that is logical and readily accessible. Forward vision through the one-piece windscreen is extensive thanks to the sloping bonnet.
There are a few extra items fitted within the cab including a large screen to monitor the multiple cameras that VicRoads insisted upon in order to issue the necessary permits to allow the two left hand drive B-double combinations to be driven on public roads. There is also an extensive suite of additional electronics that do more than just the usual function of truck telematics. These test trucks are virtually ‘live’ back to Freightliner’s engineering headquarters in Portland, Oregon. A full data logging package pulls as much data as possible from multiple sensors which is transmitted in live time. Thanks to the difference in time zones the data is assessed in the US overnight and any suggestions or tweaks are relayed back to Australia ready for implementation the next morning.
Electronics no longer just control the engine and now expanded systems integration involves factors such as transmission performance, fuel efficiency and cooling efficiency. Cascadia’s electronics will be able to be readily integrated with customers’ fleet management systems as well as being able to download programs such as different fuel economy files from Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). Updates won’t need to be done at dealerships, therefore essentially providing calibration upgrades for the life of the truck. The test trucks are a Cascadia 116 and a Cascadia 126, the numbers referring to the bumper to back of cab (BBC) measurement in inches. The novelty of steering a left hand drive truck in a right hand drive environment is quickly forgotten, as we settle in and take note of the impressive interior and on-road behaviour of North America’s most popular heavy duty truck. Freightliner held 37.5 per cent of the Class 8 market in 2017, outstripping the combined totals of its nearest two rivals.
Powering the shorter unit is a DD13 Detroit that is tuned close to the upper horsepower rating for this engine at just over 500hp. The automated manual 12 speed DD12 transmission makes the most of the 1,850ft/lb of torque available and the combination is super impressive climbing up Anglesea’s steepest grade while grossing 60.6 tonnes. The Cascadia accelerates right through seventh gear and actually comfortably grabs eighth just before the top of the hill.
Slightly larger, the 126 model is fitted with a DD16 Detroit with a 600hp/2,050ft/lb torque rating with a slightly lower gross vehicle mass (GVM) on the day of 59.6 tonnes in B-double configuration. Other than the quiet driver-friendly cab what immediately impresses is the full effect of the engine brake, which really grabs and delivers a strong rate of deceleration.
There’s obviously a long way to go on engine and transmission calibrations, as well as final drive ratios and the Australian Freightliner management acknowledge that they are not interested in getting involved in horsepower wars with European manufacturers. The DD13 and DD16 engine platforms are in line with their Mercedes-Benz family, as is the DD12 AMT, which is essentially the same package that has been doing great things here for the Actros particularly in its influence on improving fuel consumption statistics.
“By taking the slightly lower horsepower and sticking to the US emission standards we are on the identical platform to the US truck,” says Daniel Whitehead. “That’s gold for us because it means we are not a special project. Whatever comes out in America comes out in Australia. One of the issues for the current Freightliner range is the gap between the US and here has grown. That won’t happen with this new truck. The biggest single thing we can have is commonality with the US so we automatically get all the new technology and upgrades. That’s a massive plus for us. It doesn’t have to be just new calibrations. It can be new safety technology, connectivity, or access to different parts of the data within the truck.”
Over the past couple of years Daimler have achieved much in this country with the Mercedes-Benz Actros which will be the group’s sole cab-over offering in the line haul space after the Freightliner Argosy is withdrawn when the Cascadia hits here in about 15 months. The almost ruthless testing that various versions of the Actros were subjected to resulted in a truck that is very well suited to the local task and is selling in increasing numbers. By taking the same exhaustive approach to ensuring the bonneted American style Cascadia is fit for the Australian transport environment the result is very likely to be similar and we can be sure that the competition isn’t taking the situation lightly.
Winter is certainly coming.