President Barack Obama speaks to employees at the Detroit Diesel plant outside Detroit, where the new Detroit automated manual transmission will be built.
President Barack Obama speaks to employees at the Detroit Diesel plant outside Detroit, where the new Detroit automated manual transmission will be built.

President Barack Obama visited Detroit Diesel Corp. in Redford, Mich., on Monday to recognize Daimler Trucks North America's decision to invest $120 million in facilities to build the new Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission and the new Detroit DD15 proprietary asymmetric turbocharger in the United States.

It will be the first time Daimler has built transmissions outside of Germany, said Martin Daum, president and CEO of DTNA.

"If we reach the volume of transmissions I see for the United States, we won't be able to import them," Daum said during a meeting with a handful of trucking journalists prior to the president's remarks. "And we don't want to be an imported truck. We want to be a North American truck. And the transmission is too important a part of that."

Daum also said in making the decision, "I always honor tradition, and a company has a heart and soul, and for powertrains and transmissions, that is Detroit in our company."

The state of Michigan and Redford Township also provided economic incentives.

Made in America

The "made in America" theme is what brought the president to Redford Township outside Detroit.

"When it comes to bringing manufacturing back to America, that's why I'm here today," Obama said to an enthusiastic crowd of union employees. "These workers are not just here to punch a clock, they're not here just to build an engine, but to build the American dream."

For too long, he said, companies have been deciding to build overseas.

"Men and women like you, your parents, maybe even your grandparents, have done your part to build up America's manufacturing strength," he said. "That's something to be proud of. And now, you're writing a new proud chapter to that history."

Obama pointed out that eight years ago, the Detroit plant started building axles alongside the engines.

"You started seeing more products stamped with those three proud words: Made in America," he said. "Today, Daimler is announcing a new, $120 million investment into this plant, creating 115 good, new union jobs right here in Redford."

By building three major powertrain components under one roof, Obama said, "Daimler can design these parts so they work better with each other."

He also mentioned the support of Daimler/Detroit last year when he announced the first-ever fuel economy standards for commercial trucks. And he segued from talk about American jobs and the middle class into comments soliciting public support for his proposals for dealing with the "fiscal cliff."

Automated Manuals

Daum compared the automated transmission market in North America to the classic chicken and egg dilemma, but said he is confident that making this investment in automated transmissions will help drive the market.

"This takes a certain type of courage and confidence, but I think we know what we are doing, because we saw the fairly extraordinary results from the get-go when it comes to fuel efficiency."

He cited a 1.5% improvement in fuel economy on average, and noted that it's even better for less experienced and less skilled drivers. In the next few years, he said, as they work on "deep integration" between the engine and transmission electronics and using predictive cruise control, you will see even better fuel economy.

Daum says he is "on a mission to convert the North American truck market to automated manual transmissions. We asked our dealers at our dealer meeting in May to be fully invested when it comes to tooling and training and they promised that, and my promise on our side was we are going to invest heavily."

"Seed" units are currently under evaluation at a number of fleet customers, and the transmission will officially be rolled out to the market in May, first with the DD15 and then with the DD13. Those initial transmissions will still be shipped in from Germany. By 2015, however, Daum says the plant is scheduled to be up and running in Detroit with an initial capacity of 30,000 transmissions a year. A modular system will allow the company to double that capacity relatively easily when warranted.

Read Obama's remarks on the White House website or watch the video:

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Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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