The electrification buzz in trucking continues to grow as electric trucks come into applications. While the EV headlines continue to dominate (guilty as charged), the diesel is still king of the road for the foreseeable future. Diesel development continues as the industry faces a new round of GHG emissions regulations in 2024, and diesel will play a key role in decarbonization efforts as fleets move towards sustainability goals increased.
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The challenge for OEMs is that there are a multitude of sustainability solutions that are hungry for R&D dollars. So where is North America’s largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer placing its bets on product development?
“We are definitely investing more and more money in the zero-emission vehicle [ZEV] space, but we continue to make sure we have products to cover our customers,” said Mary Aufdemberg, general manager of product strategy and market development, Daimler Truck North America. “It starts with the question: ‘What are the main needs of our customers?'”
Customer focus is a common refrain in today’s trucking industry, but DTNA has continually taken its customers deeper into the product development cycle. Consider that the launch of the (then “new”) Freightliner Cascadia sported customer colors and logos when the truck was unveiled in 2016 as a show of OEM, customer solidarity. From there, DTNA created its Freightliner Electric Vehicle Council to develop the all-electric Class 8 Freightliner eCascadia that made its production debut this year.
This customer advisory approach now influences nearly every aspect of DTNA product development.
“It’s 100% embedded in our culture,” Aufdemberg said. “We have customer councils that represent all aspects of our customer segments. It goes beyond the EV space. We have a board of professional customers; we have advice from customers on the road. Also, when someone from our team goes out into the field, my team talks with the clients about their likes and dislikes.
Gone are the days of iterative product design with a cadence aligned to launching a new product every five years or so.
“It’s all the time,” Aufdemberg said. “We always have big product launches, but there are always smaller improvements and tweaks we’re working on.”
Meeting Trucking Needs, Sustainably
Even with the arrival of new zero-emission technologies, every fleet application is different. While power options may evolve, the need for a targeted equipment solution that meets expectations of productivity and profitability remains.
“The industry is changing, and transformation takes time. There are a lot of things that need to be in place to achieve a goal of total zero emissions,” Aufdemberg said. “We are very attached to sustainable products. You will continue to see us improve our diesel, as you have just seen on the DD13 Gen 5. We continue to make our diesels more efficient, better for the environment. We will continue to invest in this space as we invest in ZEV as the numbers continue to grow in this space.
So when DTNA speaks with increasingly sustainability-focused fleets, the conversation often goes far beyond selling equipment. For example, the company has created Detroit eConsulting services, providing a team of eMobility experts dedicated to supporting the conversion of electric trucks, with three levels of service package.
In terms of new product development, Aufdemberg highlighted the benefits of commonality.
“It’s one of those double wins – it improves the customer experience, but it also improves efficiency for us as an organization when it comes to product engineering,” she said. . “Community is very important.”
Certainly an interesting goal at a time when there are so many unusual answers to questions of sustainability, decarbonization and continuing to drive fleet profitability.
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