When Freightliner's Cascadia hit the street in EPA '07 trim with a Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine, it managed 6.3 mpg in the company's internal fuel economy testing program. By model year 2015, Freightliner says Cascadia will average 7.9 mpg under the same test conditions.
That bold remark comes from David Hames, Freightliner's general manager, marketing & strategy, speaking to a trade press gathering held last week in Napa, Calif. Hames and others from the sales and marketing side of the Freightliner division of Daimler Trucks North America were outlining the group's priorities for 2011 and beyond. In short, Freightliner says it will put a very high priority on improving fuel economy in the coming years, as well as delivering more customer uptime through its enhanced vehicle diagnostic, service and repair program, Virtual Technician.
"By 2015, we're talking fuel consumption reductions in the order of 15%. It's an aggressive target, but it will keep us ahead of any legislation that might come our way," Hames says. "That's part of Freightliner's pledge to improve fuel economy by 5% every two years."
With the joint EPA/NHTSA announcement of the pending fuel economy rules coming just days earlier, Hames laid out Freightliner's strategy for staying ahead of the regulations. They include driving up customer take rates on existing fuel-saving products such as fairings, side-skirt and cab-extender packages, fuel-efficient tires, direct drive transmissions, etc.
Freightliner will also be promoting additional fuel saving technology such as variable speed fans and predictive cruise control in spec'ing packages that emphasize fuel efficiency.
Embracing Fuel-Saving Options
"We're trying to get fleets to embrace this fuel saving technology," Hames said. "Fleets and dealers often have preferred specs that they are inclined to stick with because they work. We'll be trying to educate dealers and customers on why they should consider these options. There are legitimate reasons for not taking some options, but we're going to make it easier with an optimized fuel economy spec or package of options."
Hames said that while there is a host of advanced technology in development and testing right now, there are gains still to be wrought from existing hardware. Along with reducing the weight of the vehicle and further improving aerodynamics, Freightliner is refining the truck and engine lubrication needs. Engineers are presently well into the fleet testing phase of a program using 5W-30 engine oil to reduce internal engine friction.
"It's not yet released into production, but we've tested it extensively on our current product line," Hames told the small crowd of truck writers. "There would be certain impacts on fleets with changing over motor oils. So were looking at what the aftermarket service impacts are with older engines. Some technical changes would have to happen with those older engines."
Greater vehicle integration will also lead to improvements, Hames said. Citing the success other OEs have had with drivetrain integration, he said Daimler and Freightliner are exploring the possibility of bringing its fully automated PowerShift transmission to North America. That's a 12-speed direct-drive AMT now in European service on Actros and other Daimler trucks.
"We're looking at how to optimize the engine with the transmission along with other predictive technology on the truck to come up with a total package that would be better than what you could do by taking a group of components and matching them together as best you can without sharing proprietary technologies, fuel maps, etc.," Hames noted. "Vehicle and drivetrain integration is where the industry is going, and that's going to be key to driving further improvements in fuel economy."
Loads of opportunity still await commercialization, such as waste heat recovery technology to drive engine systems such as compressors, fans, pumps, etc. Such technology could be required to meet the second round of fuel economy improvements, slated for the 2018 model year, but Hames said Freightliner is already working to bring that technology to market.
"Energy lost to exhaust heat and aero drag at the two biggest targets, at 25% and 21% percent respectively of the total energy expended by a Class 8 truck," he says. "Our goal is to keep the engine dedicated to producing motive power rather than driving subsystems. We can do that in a number of ways. Heat recovery is just one option. We've just scratched the surface there, so expect big things as we go forward."
Nobody likes to see the "check engine" light come on, knowing it will likely mean days of aggravation. Freightliner Vice President of Sales Brian Cota, said Virtual Technician won't keep the light from coming on, but it will lessen the pain of the service experience.
"The situation we have today is even a minor repair can take several days because to time required to triage and diagnose a problem, and then order parts and schedule repairs," Cota told the journalists gathered in Napa. "Virtual Technician will shorten that gap in time, improve the service experience and ultimately reduce downtime."
Announced at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2010 and now offered as standard equipment on 2011 model-year Freightliner (and Western Star) trucks with Detroit Diesel engines, Virtual Technician offers real-time telematic vehicle systems analysis and event notification via email. Cota says it's like having a 3,000-mile diagnostic cable attached to the truck.
"Virtual Technician can detect engine diagnostic codes from sensors and components and relay messages to the Detroit Diesel Customer Support Center. Email alerts are sent to an assigned user or user group, and service and repairs can be scheduled while the truck is still in motion," Cota says. "We no longer have to physically see the truck to diagnose the problem. Once we know what we're up against, we can check parts availability, order parts if necessary, and schedule service. And that's all done before the truck even drives onto the dealer lot."
Wait times for triage and ultimately service have always been big issues with customers, and Freightliner says it's aiming to reduce customer downtime by taking care of much of the triage and troubleshooting remotely.
Virtual Technician is a remote diagnostic and alerting tool at present, but Freightliner is expanding its capabilities to include fuel tax reporting, trip information such as idle time, fuel economy, and vehicle speed reporting. In the future, Cota says, they will be doing remote ECM programming and software fixes.
"It's all about keeping the customer's trucks on the road and out of the shop as much as possible," Cota stresses. "We can eliminate much of the time traditionally wasted waiting for triage, service and possibly the arrival of ordered parts. Virtual Technician can get those balls rolling even before the truck is parked."
In his opening remarks before the session got under way in Napa, Mark Lampert, senior vice president of sales and marketing, told reporters Freightliner is striving for no less than "undisputed market leadership" in the North American heavy truck market.
Those plans include improving awareness of the vocational side of the business, making investments in technology that will better the customer's bottom line, and getting closer to the customer and improving customer service.
"We may not have the largest dealer network out there, but we're going to do everything we can to improve our commitment to the customer, which we think is the most important consideration is a successful relationship." Lampert says. "Going forward, you'll find up much more open and willing to communicate."
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