Daimler Trucks North America building at pre-pandemic levels

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is building new trucks at pre-pandemic levels, recovering from practically no production and the furlough of 15,000 workers in April.

“Our backlog is into the fourth quarter and we have a lot of orders for 2021,” DTNA CEO Roger Nielsen told reporters during a virtual media roundtable on Monday.

“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “Five months ago today, on St. Patrick’s Day, we were wondering what our business was going to look like.”

The July retail volume of 27,000 trucks is repeatable each month for the rest of 2020, Nielsen said. He predicted an industry total of 310,000 medium- and heavy-duty truck sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico compared with 492,000 in 2019.

“This is definitely not 2019,” Nielsen said.

DTNA’s Freightliner brand is the top U.S. seller of Class 8 trucks. Its 4,646 sales in July were 47% below the same month in 2019. Freightliner had a 32.1% share, according to WardsAuto.com.

Winners and losers

Cyclical replacement demand for trucks with 450,000 to 500,000 miles on the odometer began in 2019. And it makes up most of the current order bank, Nielsen said. Buyers such as grocery haulers and final-mile delivery — thriving during the pandemic — are ordering new trucks. Orders from hospitality and restaurant businesses are nearly non-existent.

“Definitely, you can see there’s been some winners and losers in there,” Nielsen said.

DNTA impacts from supply chain disruptions are minimal, impacting production for a day or two at a time. The COVID-19 infection rate in Mexico is a concern. DTNA has two plants in Mexico.

“There hasn’t been a shortage yet that has completely brought us to our knees, and we’re grateful for that,” Nielsen said.

Electrification advances

DTNA is expanding the trials of its eCascadia Class 8 day cab and eM2 Class 6 box truck with a total of 38 trucks in test use. The first 30 trucks NFI Industries and Penske Truck Leasing fleets have amassed more than 300,000 miles of drayage runs and regional deliveries.

The company has 60 direct current fast chargers with a total of 7 megawatts of power at customer locations. It plans 150 chargers with a total of 20 megawatts.

“The public charging infrastructure is not to the point where you can rely upon it to supply your fleet with energy on your regular routes,” Nielsen said. “This is why we have charging on the grounds of our customers, just so we take away that hurdle.”

Plans for commercial sale of electric trucks slipped into 2022 because of the pandemic, Nielsen said. Start of production is mid-2022 for eCascadia and late 2022 for eM2.

During deliveries of electric trucks to California from where they are manufactured in Portland, Oregon, DTNA is using Level 2 public charging intended for passenger cars to top of the trucks. DTNA is working with utilities and others to reach a common charging standard for electric trucks.

DTNA subsidiary Thomas Built plans to deliver 100 electric school buses this year, including 50 to Dominion Energy in Virginia. The batteries, when depleted, will be used to store renewable energy from sources such as sun and wind. DTNA is providing the first of 1,050 buses to the utility by the end of the year.

Protests at home

The outcry over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis sparked months of protests in Portland, the home of DTNA’s headquarters. 

“The late-night riots have focused on a very small area of downtown,” Nielsen said. “It has not impacted our ability to serve our customers or produce, develop and test trucks. But for sure, it has affected our social conscience.”

The company began communicating racial and social justice messages on Monday.

“We are not going to stand silently by and watch this happen,” he said. “We feel as a major corporation here in North America that we have a strong voice.”

Related articles:

J.B. Hunt gets dibs on trying out Freightliner eCascadia

Freightliner electric fleet circles the globe 12 times — sort of

Build electric truck infrastructure and they will come, advocates say

Click for more FreightWaves’ articles by Alan Adler.