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Going Gangbusters

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

Truck sales may have plummeted here in North America, but exactly the opposite is true in Europe. There, dealers for many brands are literally begging for trucks that the factories can’t supply even though they’re running at full steam. The wait for a new truck is routinely 12 months, and for some models it reaches into 2009.

Sales have been strong for eight or nine years, says Lancashire DAF sales director Paul Entwistle, and in large part he attributes the current order backlog to the growing demand for trucks in Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe. Major infrastructure and production investments in the east are also leading to increased transport demand in western Europe.

Based in Preston, in the industrial heart of northwestern England, Lancashire DAF is a full-service dealership that for many years sold Leyland trucks.

The current capacity crunch, not unique to DAF, is pretty frustrating to sales chief Entwistle. In the first five months of this year, his team sold just 257 trucks, down from 473 for the same period in 2006. He could sell many more but he just can’t get the trucks, so it’s a good thing that truck sales account for just 25 percent of annual turnover, he said.

“Dealers relying on sales for profit today are in trouble,” Entwistle told me, echoing a common North American refrain, though for a different reason.

Many other manufacturers are in the same straits. Swedish truck-maker Scania, for example, reports first-half 2007 sales 15 percent ahead of last year, and to meet the increasing demand it’s building a plant in Russia that will add capacity of 10,000 trucks by 2011.

DAF has been coming on strong in recent years since being bought by Kenworth and Peterbilt’s parent, Paccar, in 1998. It’s headquartered in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, where the original DAF plant has been making trucks since 1949 and engines since 1956.

That Leyland plant is a model of efficiency and excellence overall, having won the Paccar quality prize in five of the last seven years, competing against all the company’s manufacturing facilities globally.

On display at RAI was this Mercedes-Benz Econic tractor.
It’s powered by an efficient natural gas engine suited to urban use.

Burgeoning eastern economies aren’t the only reason for the capacity crunch felt by DAF and other truck makers across the Atlantic. The other key source of new truck sales is the European approach to new emissions legislation. And it’s the polar opposite of the hammer applied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a combination of incentives and disincentives that make it attractive from a business standpoint to buy the latest engines (for more on this see last month’s online Viewpoints column, ‘The Right Way’ link below).

THE RAI SHOW

At the RAI — the European Road Transport Show in Amsterdam — it was no surprise to find a buoyant mood and much activity. Somewhat smaller than the show in Hannover, Germany, with which it alternates year by year, the RAI is still a very big enterprise. And it runs for 10 days, the first of them being given over exclusively to the press and small numbers of big customers.

This year the talk of the floor was hybrid trucks and Euro 5 engines, including a new 680-hp V8 diesel from German truck-maker MAN.

Producing 2215 lb ft of torque, it’s the heart of the company’s flagship tractor, the new TGX, Europe’s Truck of the Year for 2008 (as voted by a jury of journalists). Its debut was at the RAI show.

The all-new V8 sports common-rail fuel injection technology and meets the Euro 5 standard without SCR. It replaces a V10 and makes the TGX Europe’s most powerful production truck.

Equally dramatic, though at the other end of the power spectrum, Renault’s Hybrys concept truck offered a futuristic design in an urban hybrid truck that aims at vocations like refuse collection. It looked entirely too stylish for such a fate, though its asymmetric exterior is said to have been designed to give drivers the sort of outward vision that a city truck needs. Not surprisingly, it has no mirrors, relying instead on cameras integrated into the cab.

Its interior is similarly ‘progressive’, but the truck is otherwise a fairly typical diesel/electric hybrid. Power comes from a 320-hp diesel plus an electric motor working through an electronically controlled automated gearbox. Accessories like the power-steering pump are run electrically, the parking brake too, so it’s a true and totally electric vehicle at times. It uses regenerative braking, of course, to capture brake energy.

Renault showed this dramatic diesel electric hybrid concept
vehicle. It looks too good to be destined for refuse duty.

Daimler Trucks premiered the liquefied-natural-gas-powered Mercedes-Benz Econic NGT 1828 as a tractor for urban and short-haul use. With its short wheelbase the truck should be pretty maneuverable, and its LNG engine’s credentials include CO2 emissions that are said to be 20 percent lower when measured against a comparable diesel (it’s CO2-neutral if regenerative biogas is used), far less particulate discharge, and a substantial reduction in noise levels.

All of that makes it well suited to city-centre deliveries in the early hours of the morning. The Econic on display at the RAI was headed for Dutch logistics firm Harry Vos, and it had another unique feature — a roof-mounted sleeper cab custom-built for the carrier.

Also on exhibition was a CNG (compressed natural gas) variant of the Econic with a range of around 350 km, while the LNG version — an ongoing development project — has a range of some 800 km.

The Econic with gas engine complies with Europe’s EEV (Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle) regulations, which are even tighter than Euro 5. It can also cut fuel costs by between 30 and 60 percent overall, says Daimler.

Over at the DAF stand there was an EEV version of its medium-duty LF and the prototype of a hybrid truck, among other featured products. The company is one of the first truck manufacturers to offer all its models in a Euro 5 emission spec.

By fitting a passive soot filter, a further 50 percent reduction in particulate emissions can be achieved over and above that level, which puts it even 25 percent lower than the EEV gas standard. DAF has already started to supply 9.2-liter Paccar PR EEV engines for use in buses, and they’ll also become available in the spring of 2008 for the light-heavy DAF CF75 distribution vehicles with power ratings from 250 to 360 hp. EEV versions of the 12.9-litre Paccar MX engine in power ratings from 360 to 510 hp will also be available for the DAF CF85 and XF105 and will also be equipped with a passive soot filter.

DAF’s prototype hybrid LF truck on display featured hybrid technology with which we’ve become familiar — behind the new 4.5 litre Paccar FR (EEV) 160-hp diesel is an Eaton six-speed Autoshift gearbox, and between the clutch and the gearbox is an electric engine that serves as both drive and generator. Energy released during braking is stored in lithium-ion batteries for re-use during acceleration. The first prototypes will be sent for customers field tests around year-end.

In this particular arena of the diesel/electric hybrid, as elsewhere, there’s evidence that the Atlantic is becoming less an ocean than a pond.

Increasingly, underneath the bodywork, we’re working with global technologies. And the expertise is flowing in each direction.

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