Optimism and excitement resonated throughout a lively opening panel discussion at the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue (HDAD) Monday in Las Vegas.
Taking the topic “The Real World View – A Global Perspective” head on were Ken Davis, longtime Eaton executive and founder, Greentree Advisors LLC; Roger Nielsen, president and CEO, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA); and Dean Engelage, president, Great Dane.
Independent Director Chris Patterson moderated the one-hour discussion, leading the trio to discuss many hot-button technological advancements currently in use or being developed for the commercial trucking industry.
The conversation started with the year that was, 2018’s record-setting sales boom and the positive momentum it has provided the OEM channel. Both Nielsen and Engelage said their businesses are anticipating 2019 sales totals to approach (though likely not exceed) 2018 levels and say early January order totals are moving in that direction. Patterson asked the duo if they were concerned about a cancellation cliff — a potential future point where fleets realize they’ve ordered more units than necessary and cancel units en masse. Nielsen said DTNA addressed that issue last summer, removing more than 58,000 duplicative or uncertain orders from its backlog to ensure the trucks on its schedule at this point would be produced. Engelage quipped he’s turned to a higher power and is praying for no cancellations before also admitting Great Dane’s sales team has been working with its dealer partners and fleet customers to confirm the seriousness of their orders.
Monday’s session also focused heavily on electrification, autonomous trucks and telematics. Regarding the former, Nielsen echoed comments found throughout the trucking industry in stating the future of electric trucks will be found in specific markets and duty cycles, but only when the costs drop to a level where the equipment is affordable for fleets without incentive packages. Davis agreed, and added even if the electric truck population one day accounts for 15 to 20 percent of the truck market, general market growth will still provide significant sales potential for traditional drivetrains.
The tenor of the conversation was equally bullish when discussing automation. Though DTNA recently scrapped its research into platooning (a Level 2 technology) because it was unable to find clear payback, Nielsen said the company remains fully committed to the integration of collision avoidance and advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) in its equipment.
He noted “there are a lot of inventions that have to be created” before Level 3 and Level 4 automation can be rolling out in the market, but when those products exist and have been proven they will be used.
“There is a strong business case for automated trucking,” Nielsen said.
Davis added component suppliers will be incredibly important in that development, because unlike OEMs, which are forced to invest in hundreds of new technologies at any given time, component suppliers can invest capital and expertise exclusively into the products they develop necessary to drive automation.
“OEMs need to rely on their partners and their skills,” he said.
The trio also noted the importance of those same suppliers in the implementation of telematics in trucks and trailers to reduce fleet downtime. Engelage said Great Dane is working closely with its component suppliers to deliver full-scale telematics capabilities on its new trailers. He said the trailer maker wants its units to provide the same level of maintenance guidance currently found in the new truck market to further drive customer uptime.
He also added Great Dane is investing in the “analytical and intellectual horsepower” necessary to develop telematics systems that will best address the challenges of its customer base.
“The designers of the future will be the people who can ask the best questions [of customers],” he said.