October 29, 2018 4:30 PM, EDT

DTNA Outlines Broad Agenda for Commercial Vehicle Business

Commercial Vehicle BusinessNielsen speaks during the media roundtable. (Joseph Terry/Transport Topics)

AUSTIN, Texas — Daimler Trucks North America recently held the first meeting of its electric vehicle customer council and will host a separate meeting soon with dozens of government agencies to discuss how to support further innovations in safety and infrastructure, President Roger Nielsen said.

The meeting is planned as the truck maker, separately, continues to expand its parts business segment for vehicles with diesel engines.

Also, DTNA — which has a leading 38% market share of Class 8 U.S. retail sales — is experiencing fewer supply constraints in building diesel trucks but is still running its supply chain “in an expedited manner,” Nielsen said.

He made his comments Oct. 29 during a media roundtable at American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition here.

Expanding its parts business is a top goal, including in the digital realm.

Pinnacle Truck Parts, its e-commerce platform for parts that debuted in 2014, “will be expanded as we go forward,” he said, integrating the company’s dealers into e-commerce distribution “and not going around them.”

The Alliance Truck Parts unit is introducing 12 new parts lines and opening up stores within DTNA dealerships to focus on sales of new and remanufactured parts and accessories for nearly all heavy-duty truck makes and models.

“And that is going well,” Nielsen said.

Alliance already has 50 parts lines, DTNA reported in July.

Parts availability is crucial in any market cycle, he said.

“It’s the fact that our customers are not just the first customers [who bought a truck] but the second, third, fourth customer looking for parts,” Nielsen said. “Most of the parts we sell are not for current production.”

He added, “We have seen parts availability in the aftermarket be a rising concern, as everybody has” in parallel with booming demand for new Class 8 trucks.

For replacing low-volume parts, where it makes sense, additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — is an area DTNA is increasing to invest in, Nielsen said.

“I am really excited about the improvements there. Now, if we can get the costs down and turnaround time down, it will be more and more viable. It’s one of those technologies that continues to evolve,” he said.

DTNA’s investments in additive technology include partnering with aerospace company and jetliner manufacturer Boeing in an innovation center in Portland, Ore., where DTNA is headquartered.

“Boeing, like us, has similar problems in trying to support older, I guess you’d call them, vehicles. It’s a good partnership with them,” Nielsen said.

Meanwhile, DTNA’s electric vehicle customer council consists of its 30 top customers, he said. Besides discussing the basic technology, the recent meeting — that put customers behind the wheel — addressed the necessary charging infrastructure, available incentives to defray the cost, route planning and how to service these vehicles.

“Our customers want answers, want to know quickly what should they do. Our customers are getting pressure in certain municipalities to come up with zero or near-zero emissions vehicles,” Nielsen said, adding that experience with other alternative fuels has not always been positive.

DTNA’s medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles will be in customers’ hands for trials within days, he said.

“The eM2 is coming out with two different battery-electric powertrains provided by two different systems integrators; the eCascadia “is common with the [Mercedes-Benz] eActros, and as we go forward we will see more and more the two with Proterra [a California-based electric bus manufacturer Daimler has invested in],” Nielsen said.

“We are not putting all our eggs in one basket; we are trying a lot of different things,” he said.

With electrified powertrains, it’s no different than diesel power. It’s all about energy consumption, he said, adding the truck maker that “wins the energy consumption race” will emerge as the market leader.

At the same time, the truck maker is “ramping up” its research center for automated vehicles and “hiring a lot of folks, engineers and thinkers,” Nielsen said.

“Level 4 will become a positive business case,” he predicted, adding more automation will improve safety.

Level 4 automation is considered to be when a truck can travel on specified highway routes with minimal human intervention.

DTNA does not foresee a time when fleets can take the driver out of the truck, he said.

“The driver provides more than hands on the steering wheel. They do a lot of other services for our customers,” Nielsen said.

The next iteration of its Detroit Assurance 4.0 safety systems package — which now includes active brake assist, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning — will increase the level of automation now available to the driver, he added, without providing details.