DTNA dips into Mercedes-Benz Truck ranks for next engineering leader

Following a 10-year record of success with its current engineering head, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) has once again tapped the well that is sister company Mercedes-Benz Trucks for its next engineering leader.

DTNA has named Rainer Müller-Finkeldei senior vice president of engineering and technology. Müller-Finkeldei, who is director of Mechatronics at Daimler Trucks subsidiary Mercedes-Benz Trucks in Europe, succeeds Wilfried Achenbach, who is retiring. Prior to joining DTNA, Achenbach was director of Mechatronics at Mercedes-Benz Trucks.

“It’s a great opportunity and something I’ve been working for for many years and it’s exactly the right step to move [forward] to now influence the structure of the whole vehicle,” Müller-Finkeldei said during an introductory press conference on Tuesday. He added that he is excited to not only be the “technology guy, but part of the great team that moves this company forward.”

The 51-year-old praised the work of DTNA, particularly its “cutting-edge technology that I consider to be the future [of trucking].”

Müller-Finkeldei will assume responsibility for all DTNA product engineering activities, including design, testing, styling, analysis, compliance and planning functions. He joined Daimler’s research labs in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. From 2006 to 2010, Müller-Finkeldei served as the senior manager of Mechatronics’ integration and validation team and has held increasing roles of responsibility across Daimler business units and engineering functions, including Daimler Trucks’ product creation group, electronics development at Daimler vans, and Daimler’s research and technology department.

He will join DTNA’s operating committee and relocate from Stuttgart, Germany, to Portland, Oregon.

Under Achenbach’s leadership, DTNA has revamped its product lineup, including its flagship Cascadia model. The 2018 model-year updates featured new aerodynamic styling and fuel efficiency gains of up to 8% over previous models. It also featured advanced connectivity solutions that allowed fleets to monitor the vehicle in real time, 24 hours a day, and offered virtual technician remote diagnostics service.

The big changes have come in the past year as DTNA has introduced two new Cascadias — a Level 2 autonomous Cascadia and the eCascadia electric tractor.

The Level 2 Cascadia features the Detroit Assurance 5.0 advanced safety system. The system includes integrated radar and camera systems, object detection on moving pedestrians, active brake assist with full braking on moving pedestrians; adaptive cruise control; automatic wipers and headlamps (the wipers turn on when sensors detect moisture on the windshield; headlamps do the same for low light conditions); intelligent high beam (automatically turns on high beams when the camera detects no oncoming vehicles); and traffic sign display. Optional features include active lane assist that includes both lane departure protection and lane keep assist, and side guard assist that monitors for objects in the passenger side blind spot.

The eCascadia is in trials in California. Müller-Finkeldei was quick to praise the success Achenbach’s team has had and said he is excited to continue to be involved in the development of future technologies such as electric powertrains and artificial intelligence, which is a key component of the autonomous vehicle future.

Müller-Finkeldei noted that he has been involved in artificial intelligence work since 1995.

“When I started this in 1995, no one knew what artificial intelligence was,” he said. “These days, working in autonomous, active safety systems … I can always benefit from my background having done that myself many, many years ago and being in that field and domain for more than 25 years.”

His role leading the Mercedes-Benz Mechatronics team has been particularly exciting for him, and some of that work has been implemented as a base for new technologies in Daimler vehicles worldwide. In the U.S. the work led to the development of Detroit Assurance.

“Over the last 10 years, the electronic, mechatronic portion of our trucks has become a pretty dominant [portion of trucks],” he said, noting that his team was first to develop side radar and was the first to put an automated truck on the road. “One of my greatest pleasures was not only having the chance to do that for one of our brands — Mercedes-Benz trucks — but also to get our mechatronics in all our truck brands worldwide.”