I’m writing this issue of the newsletter in absentia, so to speak, as it will be published while I’m away from computers and unable to stay in touch. To be more precise, I’m a week early in posting this so forgive me if giant events occur between now and the 22nd and they’re not covered here. Then again, this report isn’t intended as a news vehicle.
One of the more momentous things to happen in the last while arose on the first of the month when Martin Daum left his post as head of Daimler Trucks North America, which he’s held since 2009. He’s now the global chief of the whole kit and kaboodle, as my mother used to say.
I have no idea what a ‘kaboodle’ might be, incidentally, just to forestall any questions.
In official terms Daum’s new title is Member of the Board of Management with responsibility for the Daimler Trucks and Daimler Buses divisions. As of March 1 he took on responsibility for all of Daimler’s commercial vehicle operations, in charge of the largest such enterprise on the planet. In his own words, he has reached “the pinnacle”, now based in Stuttgart, Germany.
The 57-year-old Daum has taken over the position recently vacated — for “personal reasons” — by Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard.
PEOPLE IN SUCH POSITIONS often display a good measure of arrogance, and mostly with good reason. You don’t climb that high without being uber confident in your skills. While certainly confident, Martin Daum is also uncommonly down to earth, with a healthy sense of irony and a rather charming ability to laugh at himself. Haughty he is not.
Want proof? During a farewell phone interview in early March I asked him about his favorite moment while at DTNA and he said it was opening for Paul McCartney. Really. A few minutes worth of belly laughs ensued, I can tell you, not least because as the one-man warm-up band he played his recorder.
This happened at the Freightliner customer appreciation dinner held during the 2015 American Trucking Associations conference in Philadelphia, PA. An annual affair, that dinner always features a surprise entertainer, never revealed until they take the stage. Last year it was the Rolling Stones, believe it or not, and in years past it’s been Elton John, the Eagles, and other such mega-stars.
But Paul McCartney was special for Herr Daum.
“Oh, there have been many favorite moments,” he told me. “I would say that if you had been at the Philadelphia ATA when we had Paul McCartney, I would say that was very special. I never thought when I was a kid in high school that I ever would be the pre-band to Paul McCartney.
“I was more the nerdy guy in high school so if anyone had ever predicted that I would be on stage prior to Paul McCartney playing, to heat up the crowd, I would absolutely have called you… well I would have expected that you were smoking something that you shouldn’t smoke in high school. I was absolutely the most unlikely guy to be the pre-group for the Beatles.
“With Paul McCartney, and me playing the recorder, that was very special. It really was a moment in my life. Nobody thought that I would pull out the recorder. To see the faces in the room… you know, the guys from DTNA thinking he’s now completely nuts and the customers unbelieving. So I played Barney — You Love Me, I Love You — and it was really cool.
“I met Paul later and he said you really heated them up, that’s what I expect from warm-up bands. Customers said I will go down in history.”
I think he’s got that right.
AND DAUM’S BIGGEST SUCCESS? After being the opening act for McCartney, I’m not sure what else could compete, but he didn’t hesitate when I asked what he was most proud of accomplishing while at DTNA.
“There’s a lot of things but we can talk about the automated transmission,” Daum said. “I still remember when we had the first feasibility study… I had to massage the [projected] sales numbers my sales people gave me upwards because otherwise the investment wouldn’t be feasible and I would have had difficulties with the German board.”
Trusting his gut, he lobbied hard with Stuttgart headquarters to have the plant built in the U.S., by modifying the existing Detroit factory in Redford, MI, the option being Brazil.
“The smallest factory for an automated manual transmission is 25,000 units and there was concern that the North American and Brazilian markets had to share that capacity. I was pretty adamant,” said Daum. “It had to be in the U.S. But Germany thought the entire North American market wouldn’t be 25,000.”
He won, of course, and most production of the DT12 was shifted from Germany to Michigan a couple of years ago.
“Meanwhile,” Daum continued, “we now have capacity north of 60,000 and we need every single transmission here in North America. That really defied all odds. And even the [upwards] massaged numbers were dwarfed by the reality.”
HOW FAR CAN IT GO?“You name me a number and I’m going to beat it,” said Daum, who is almost evangelical in his commitment to the DT12 and AMTs in general. “I would say that in a couple of years every single truck will have one. There’s absolutely no reason why you’d have a manual transmission. Absolutely none.
“In the on-highway market we now have 75% penetration of automated manual transmissions and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t go to 100%. And then on the vocational side I can see 90% or so.
It will happen gradually from now on, Daum said, noting that used trucks might well be hard to sell if equipped with a manual transmission in 5 years time.
“We are patient,” he told me. “Patience is one of my virtues. As long as the direction is right, I can wait.
“The customer has the ultimate choice. It’s not for me to teach the customer. It’s for me to offer him the options. It’s for me to show him the advantages of the various options. But it’s his choice and I respect it.”
That patience is a hallmark virtue, but not the only one. In his nearly eight years as head of DTNA, he never failed to be open and direct with me and others in the press. Very smart and very well informed, he has always been a journalist’s dream interview. He’s humble as well, always ready to send praise to others instead of accepting it for himself.
He likens himself to the coach of a basketball team — a sport he loves — never touching the ball, or engineering a truck, but helping the team to excel. Obviously he’s done that well.
I wish him the best in his new role.
STILL WITH DTNA, WESTERN STAR is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which was kicked off at its recent annual dealer meeting in Quebec City. I’m slow with noting this but I can’t let it pass by. Being Canadian, I have a soft spot for these trucks.
The first Western Star trucks were made in 1967 in Kelowna, BC, to serve the mining, lumber, and oil industries. Those trucks were made tough, and the standard approach was hand-building each model — with an infinite variety of componentry to satisfy pretty much any customer demand.
Now owned by DTNA and manufactured in Portland, OR and Cleveland, NC, Western Star trucks are still strong players in the world of vocational and work trucks. It entered the on-highway market in 2015 with the 5700XE, its first aerodynamic truck.
“While we remember and honor our roots in celebrating this historic milestone it is important that we continue to push the boundaries of innovation and toughness,” said Kelley Platt, president, Western Star Trucks. “Please join us this year as we celebrate together!”
SPEAKING OF TRANSMISSIONS, as I was a few paragraphs ago, here’s an interesting one from Marmon-Herrington. It’s released a new hydro-mechanical transmission that’s said to maximize the advantages of both hydrostatic and mechanical transmission technologies. By combining the benefits of low-speed hydrostatic drive and high-speed mechanical drive, the company’s infinitely variable transmission is expected to provide fleets a significant reduction in operating costs, maintenance, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as associated driver benefits.
“The HydroMechiVT is specifically designed for applications where performance is limited by torque converter waste and inefficiency,” says Rick Blair, president of Marmon-Herrington’s OEM division. “Market-specific application of this technology will provide fleets a significant reduction in operating costs such as brake wear and maintenance.”
“Our hydro-mechanical iVT offers meaningful drivetrain efficiency improvements, most notably in start-stop applications,” says Nathan Webster, the company’s engineering manager. “When applied to the duty cycle for a standard New York City garbage truck, calculated efficiency improvements of 11% have been identified with improvements of over 15% in other cities.”
Marmon-Herrington says it’s working with key customers within the agriculture, refuse, and defence industries for development and testing. Thousands of test hours have been successfully completed on multiple vehicles with the goal to begin iVT production as early as 2018.
The transmission will be produced in Louisville, KY, as part of the HydroMech family of products for class 6 through 8 trucks.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 85-year-old driveline specialist, Marmon-Herrington offers a full-range of double-reduction, planetary axles and durable transfer cases for trucks and specialized vehicles within North America as well as class 6 through 8 all-wheel-drive conversions.
UPS IS INVESTING IN NATURAL GAS in a big way. Rather, it’s investing more, at a time when the fuel seems to have been losing its cachet elsewhere. UPS is building an additional six compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations and adding 390 new CNG tractors and terminal trucks, plus 50 liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles, to its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet. It’s an investment worth more than US$90 million, on top of the US$100 million it spent last year for the same purpose.
The giant carrier already has more than 4400 natural gas vehicles on the road and a network of 31 fueling stations. Obviously, it likes the results it’s been seeing.
In 2016 UPS used more than 61 million gallons of natural gas in its ground fleet, which included — significantly — 4.6 million gallons of renewable natural gas. This decreased CO2 emissions by 100,000 metric tons compared to gasoline and/or diesel.
The six new CNG stations will include one in Canada, in Vancouver, but the most interesting one is in Ontario, CA. There, renewable natural gas (RNG) will be used to fuel UPS vehicles in the area with renewable compressed natural gas (RCNG).
RNG, also known as biomethane, can be derived from many abundant and renewable sources, including decomposing organic waste in landfills, wastewater treatment and agriculture. It’s then distributed through the natural gas pipeline system, making it available for use as LNG or CNG.
The company has driven more than a billion miles since 2000 with its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet. Through its ‘Rolling Laboratory’, UPS uses a research-based approach to determine the right alternative fuel solutions for the location, route, and driving environments.
Since 2009, it’s invested more than US $750 million in this massive effort globally, and has more than 8100 alt-fuel vehicles running to determine what works best where. That fleet includes everything from old-fashioned pedal power and electric-assisted bicycles to electric and hybrid electric vehicles, plus natural gas, renewable natural gas, and propane.
PLATOONING IS ON THE WAY, if you didn’t already think that. The latest confirmation of that inevitable development comes via Volvo Trucks. It successfully demonstrated partially automated highway platooning in a real-world simulation earlier this month.
The truck-maker partnered with Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) from the University of California, Berkeley.
With only 50 feet between one another, three Volvo VNL 670 tractors hauling cargo containers, travelled at speeds of 55 mph along Interstate 110 in Los Angeles to showcase Volvo and PATH’s Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) technology.
That’s an enhanced version of the already available Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) technology that allows closer and more accurate control of the gap between vehicles.
With no interference from the driver, the trucks maintained steady platoon speed and spacing with the aid of forward-looking sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
“Truck platooning can benefit freight companies and professional drivers alike through safer, more fuel-efficient operations,” said Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management for Volvo Trucks. “Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is pivotal for platooning systems; it helps reduce the reaction time for braking and enables vehicles to follow closer. Reducing the traveling distance between vehicles not only reduces the aerodynamic drag, but also allows for greater highway utilization, thereby helping to alleviate traffic congestion.”
According to Volvo, platooning using CACC technology allows benefits like faster responses to hard braking while maintaining safety, superior longitude control while following a line, reduced emissions, and better traffic flow.
Volvo stresses that it’s not meant to replace the driver but, instead, to serve as a driver aid.
CACC is being developed in partnership with PATH and has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration Advanced Research Program and Caltrans.
So how soon will we see platooning in regular use? Sooner than anybody has been thinking, I’d say.