We recently caught up with Berend Bracht, president and CEO of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, at an industry event to talk about his first two years on the job in a rapidly changing industry. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HDT: You’ve been in this position a little over two years. What have your priorities been?
Bracht: I think the first one was to learn the business as fast as I could, not only from the commercial vehicle side, but also the Bendix culture, the [parent company] Knorr-Bremse culture as well, and all of the facilities by visiting as many as I could.
HDT: What were some of the things you learned?
Bracht: It’s a good product, highly engineered. Everybody wants everything faster, and this is accelerating. I think the service level was very good, our aftermarket was positive, and we had and still have a very high market share in the industry – which for a new guy coming in was a bit of a concern, because you need to maintain and expand it. That's why we focus our company around the Customer 2.0 concept. Bendix was always listening closely to the customers, but the idea was to push it up one notch higher.
HDT: What are you proud of accomplishing since then?
Bracht: We have our highest market share ever. We really invested into the new technology, such as collision mitigation and air disc brakes. You never relax, but we are in good shape with our core customers. We also changed a little of the outlook by really focusing on trailer makers. For the first time, we are organized by safety solution, trailer solutions, and powertrain solutions.
HDT: We’re hearing a lot about more autonomous driving technologies and electric powertrains. Where is Bendix going with that?
Bracht: In automated driving, the braking systems, acceleration, and deceleration are very important. The next point is of course the steering — to have the acceleration, the deceleration, and to have the lateral movement [control], and in 2016 [Bendix parent Knorr-Bremse Group] acquired tedrive Steering Systems. We have good technology for steering there that will be part of our total offering. We also are launching our improved Wingman Fusion [collision mitigation] product. Fusion has had great success in the market. Volvo and Mack recently made it standard and we’ll be launching Fusion 2.0 in Q1 next year. Also, if you look at steering and braking, if you modulate brakes differently you can steer the vehicle. If or when we reach a truck that is totally autonomous – many years from now – then you need to have redundant systems so if one system fails, you have that redundant system for safety.
Electrification is a mega trend, and for certain types of buses where this is already happening at this point, we are developing technologies for that electrification.
HDT: What other trends do you see?
Bracht: In addition to fuel efficiency, the connectivity topic, because today, in the industry, the truck and trailer are sort of separate. And if you look at more automated driving topics, there are different applications where in a controlled area you can do some automated driving, like yard maneuvering, but you need to know exactly what you have on the tractor and on the trailer and have that entire entity under control. Another application is platooning. You have to know exactly what is the braking power, on both the tractor and trailer, to know exactly what that combination is, and some of that information on the trailer needs to be available to the driver, and some needs to be available to a back office at the fleet. So that connectivity topic I think is another mega development or global trend.
HDT: How do we see that information all coming together?
Bracht: That’s a very good question. At the end of the day, I believe there needs to be a standard bus connectivity between the trailer and the truck. Fleets have to be able to use all their assets. There needs to be some standardization occurring.
If you talk about [communication] by wire, for example, installation is a topic, and all of these tractor-trailer combinations have to be highly standardized. On the wireless side, you have some problems, as trailers might be somewhere and not utilized for quite significant amounts of time. And then the question is, how long does your battery last? So how can you have a different power supply to that, maybe solar or other technologies, to make sure you have power for the wireless device? I'm sure the industry will find the solutions, but we’re just at the beginning.
HDT: What challenges and opportunities do you see for Bendix?
Bracht: One challenge that we all have in the truck industry, of course, is the ups and downs of the industry. After a relatively difficult 2016, 2017 is a good year, and ’18 looks good. There are opportunities in collision mitigation; a lot of trucks and trailers now need stability control. The other technology really taking shape is the air disc brakes on the truck and the trailer. As we go into automated driving and the integration of steering, [ADB become more important]. I think the automated and autonomous discussions will continue to expand and develop and provide a growth path.
HDT: Why do you believe air disc brakes have been slow to catch on in this country?
Bracht: It did change, this year. If you look at projections for this year, the adoption rate is much faster than what we originally planned for. Many fleets now are recognizing the value proposition of it both on the tractor side and also the trailer side. The trailer side is coming up relatively quickly. If you look at the new International LT model, ADB is standard on all wheels. Paccar was the first one to go standard on the steer axle. So the takeaway is that between 2016 and 17 there was sort of a really good bump, and it continues that way.
HDT: What are you hearing as you talk to fleets?
Bracht: One of the topics that has been in almost every fleet discussion is, how do we increase our training, how do we get our people trained in all these new technologies, that perception-wise are coming very fast to the fleets. That has been a reoccurring topic that we as an industry have to manage. We have a lot of training for our fleets, and also do individualized training at the fleets, of course.
HDT: Speaking of that new technology, we’re hearing a lot of buzz about electric-powered trucks. Without the internal combustion engine, there will be fewer parts. What does that do to the aftermarket business?
Bracht: We will support all of our OEs. We will have solutions for electrified vehicles, but also for internal combustion vehicles, and the total cost of ownership will dictate what vehicles fleets will be running.
You always will have brakes, collision migration, and so on. To be frank, if you look at parts like compressors, the quality and design robustness is increasing year over year anyhow. When you had a certain frequency of replacement in the past, it's gone down and down. That's what we need to do – we need to make the vehicles more robust in the field. We are not afraid of that. We will find other ways, other business models to do the job.