Following on from the arduous, but highly successful testing regime for its Benz Actros range, Daimler Trucks has unveiled a similar campaign for its Freightliner brand and the Cascadia model it plans to launch in Australia in the first quarter of 2020.

Freightliner hosted the Australian truck press at a function in Melbourne’s Docklands where it showed the first of its test vehicles a Cascadia 116 with a day cab powered by a Detroit Diesel 13 litre,  coupled to a 12 speed DT 12 transmission and in left hand drive.

Daimler has had to fulfil a number of conditions to gain the permits necessary to start the test program with left hand drive vehicles and both the 116 and a 16 litre  variant also using a day cab have been fitted with an array of cameras to enable the test to start so the company can maximise the testing period ahead of the launch in less than two years. More test trucks including the first right hand drive models are in build at the moment and are due to arrive around the end of the year.

Daimler trucks signalled that the Cascadia would come to market with all of the latest safety equipment and technology and  particularly with twin SRS airbags, a rarity for a conventional in Australia.

A brief inspection and ‘crawl’ over the test truck on hand at the launch revealed a  very ergonomically designed cab, with  high levels of build quality as well as fit and finish. Daimler is determined not to  repeat the problems  encountered with the early Argosy models and the  test program is about ensuring that.

Freightliner Trucks Australia director Stephen Downes said it was the first time the company had started a test program with left hand drive commercial vehicles and  this underlines the effort they are putting in and the importance of the new Cascadia to Freightliner in this country.

“This is a very important truck and we are determined to get it right and deliver  a truck that is absolutely fit for purpose when in comes to market in the first quarter  of 2020,” said Downes.

“Just swapping the steering wheel from left to right is fraught with problems and if you just do that without properly developing  a truck for this market you will be in trouble,” he added.

The Cascadia test truck on show was finished in a striking blue interference pattern camouflage colour scheme, and is seen as the first shot across the bow of  the  competitors, as Freightliner bids to capture a bigger slice of the heavy duty  truck market in Australia.

In the North American market Freightliner is the standout market leader with almost 41 per cent of the Class 8 Heavy duty market . The company last year sold close to 120,000 trucks in North America and is currently holding 85000 orders, emphasising its strong position across the market. Cascadia has been Class 8 market leader in the USA since 2009.

Cascadia was originally launched in its first generation in 2007 in North America and Daimler executives admit that the GFC halted plans for that truck to come here. This new gen Cascadia was launched in the USA last year and a re organisation of Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) export market strategy has meant new emphasis on Australia as one of the key strategic export market and a target for Cascadia. The company has rationalised its export markets from 45 countries to just five key markets.

The importance of the Australian market was underlined by the presence of Richard Howard, DTNA’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, which had flown in  to Australia for the unveiling.

Howard revealed that the Australian testing program for Cascadia is part of a $100million right hand drive development program for this market and New Zealand. This comes on top of the $400 million spent developing the truck for the North American market.

“You have to commit to bring the best of the best to every market you are in and the test program is about ensuring the Cascadia that comes here is exactly that,” said Howard.

The DTNA vice president said the current Cascadia had fuel consumption that was between eight and 10 per cent better than the previous model and had better safety and performance technology.

“As well as our team of 800 engineers we used outside consultants such as Teague who played a key role in the interior design of the Boeing Dreamliner and worked on the design of the Cascadia cabin interior,” he added.

Asked what sort of volume Freightliner  was expecting from  the Cascadia in Australia  and Howard was ebullient, pointing to  the success of  the truck in various markets including Mexico where it toppled heavy duty market leader Kenworth and is now number one. He believes the Cascadia can do the same in Australia.

“That is what we are aiming for and we believe in the truck,” said Howard.

Howard went on to say that Australia is a key market because  it is  on the Pacific Rim and is what he calls a US market.

“ If we are a leader in the US market then we can bring those technologies to the Australian market, we have never been able to benefit from that because we were on different strategies, now we will be on the same strategy, he added.

“We see Australia as a long term conventional market and that is why it is key to us,” he said.

The announced demise of Freightliner’s front line weapon in this market, the cab over Argosy, along with the new export strategy, which will see the Cascadia as the new flagship for the brand has meant a major shift in Freightliner’s approach.

“Our big opportunity is to get ourselves in front of the curve and this testing program will enable us to do that,” said   Stephen Downes.

“We all know Australian trucks run harder, faster and in hotter conditions, so we are conducting a test and development program that is far more comprehensive than anything Freightliner has done in this country,” Downes added.

“There is good reason the Cascadia is the best-selling truck in the United States, but we have to make sure we get it right for Australian conditions,” he said.

Daimler Truck and Bus Australia president and CEO, Daniel Whitehead, said the large investment in the Cascadia right-hand-drive program demonstrates a strong commitment from Daimler Trucks North America.

“This is a massive investment that demonstrates just how serious DTNA is about the Freightliner brand in Australia,” he says.

“DTNA also understands that an extensive local testing and development program is critical for the success of the new Cascadia and has given us its full support.”

“Cascadia means we will be on the same platform as America, using the same electrical architecture and driveline technology and that means that any updates or advances will just be able to roil through and with future technology that is going to be absolutely vital in ensuring we have up tot date machinery,” Whitehead added.

Whitehead said that the outgoing Argosy did fantastically for the past 20 years but that it had not been sold in the North American market for some time and it has always had a variety of electrical and power train architecture.

“That differing architecture always made it difficult for us, it was always a special project but now we are on the same platform and now we are an extension of what is happening in the US and that is very important for the future,” he added.

Daimler says the new gen Cascadia was subjected to several million kilometres of testing before it was introduced in the United States last year.

Freightliner continues testing the new model around the clock with a team of more than 50 drivers departing the Portland Oregon headquarters every day for the sole purpose of racking up kilometres for durability testing.  The Australian test program will feed directly into Portland, which has also recently been announced as the centre, which will lead Daimler Trucks Active Safety program.

Its clear that with Cascadia Daimler Trucks and the Freightliner brand in particular will have a front line conventional truck with which to take the fight to the likes of market leader Paccar, as well as newcomers like Mack’s Anthem and its other revitalized products spinning off the Anthem. It is going to be fascinating watching the heavy hitters slugging it out and the biggest beneficiaries are likely to be Australian truck buyers.

Watch this space !