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September 6, 2016 10:30 AM, EDT

Fleets Play Large Role in Development, Launch of New Freightliner Cascadia

Neil Abt/Transport Topics

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The first viewing of the new Freightliner Cascadia was not one eye-catching showpiece, but instead featured a dozen trucks — one from each of 12 of its largest customers.

Executives with 11 of these 12 fleets were on hand for the unveiling — the 12th was not able to attend due to a mechanical issue with an airplane. The companies rank between Nos. 4 and 65 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada. Combined, these companies have purchased $9 billion in new trucks from Freightliner since 2011, and DTNA executives credited them with providing key feedback in the development of the new Cascadia.

“We had numerous talks with all levels of the organizations — the owners, the drivers, the maintenance guys. They know trucks. We asked and we listened,” DTNA President Martin Daum said.

The result, said Richard Howard, DTNA’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, is that “there are a lot of our customers’ fingerprints all over the new Cascadia.”

Swift Transportation, No. 6 on the TT Top 100, “had a lot of input along the way,” CEO Jerry Moyes said.

“They have leaped over another hurdle with the development of this new truck,” Moyes said in an interview.

Moyes praised the collision-avoidance and lane-departure warning upgrades that the new Cascadia will offer, noting that “there has been a significant improvement in our safety” since the Phoenix-based truckload carrier began wider deployment of the technologies.

Likewise, Moyes said he was pleased with the fuel economy benefits provided through the integrated Detroit powertrain, including the DT12 automated manual transmission and engine downspeeding.

“Our drivers love it,” he said, adding that even most skeptical “old, crusty guys” who have long driven manuals are generally won over by the DT12.

“We run 6 million miles a day. A little bit of fuel economy goes a long way,” he said.

Neil Abt/Transport Topics

Max Fuller, chairman and CEO of truckload fleet U.S. Xpress Enterprises, said as a member of Freightliner’s customer council, he had some insight into the new Cascadia, but the Aug. 31 event here was his first chance to see the final product.

“Freightliner has figured out how to get the lead in fuel economy and reduction in maintenance, and this right here is just another example of how they stay a step ahead of their competition,” Fuller told TT as he walked around his company’s new tractor.

A highlight for Fuller was the electric system condensed into one more easily accessible area with a pop-off panel inside the cab, which he said will translate into faster diagnosis and repair times.

U.S. Xpress, which is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, ranks No. 19 on the TT100. Fuller said he has purchased almost 70,000 trucks during his career; 54,000 of them have been Freightliners.

One of two day cabs belonged to less-than-truckload firm Old Dominion Freight Line, which is based in Thomasville, North Carolina. ODFL ranks No. 11 on the TT100.

ODFL President David Congdon said he was equally impressed looking at both the “beautiful and more aerodynamic” exterior and the redesigned interior.

“Getting inside the truck, my first impression is . . . no wonder my drivers love Old Dominion Freight Line because we keep giving them new trucks that are the best in the industry,” he said.

Congdon said Old Dominion was “highly involved with the Freightliner team” as they worked to optimize many features of the truck.

Crete's Ostergard by Neil Abt/Transport Topics

The advancements in electronics was immediately apparent to Winston Ostergard, vice president of maintenance and equipment for Crete Carriers and one of the youngest executives in attendance.

As he took his first look at the new Cascadia, he studied the sloped hood and said “it looks like a completely different truck” from anything else he had seen.

Crete, which is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, ranks No. 33 on the TT100.

The other fleets represented at the event were: J.B. Hunt Transport Services (No. 4), Schneider (No. 7), Werner Enterprises (No. 15), Prime Inc. (No. 18), C.R. England (No. 23), Knight Transportation (No. 29), Heartland Express (No. 41) and Canada-based Bison Transport (No. 65).