Last January, Kevin Baney celebrated his 25th anniversary with Paccar. Indeed, the Bellevue, Washington-based global OEM, which manufactures both Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks, is the only employer that he has worked for in his Adult life. And last month, Paccar moved him to a high rung by naming him the new general manager of its Kenworth Truck Company division.
It’s been an incredible journey for Baney. His family wasn’t in the trucking business. But as a young schoolboy with a passion for engineering, he grew up in the shadows of Peterbilt’s Denton, Texas, manufacturing plant. Once he graduated from college with his engineering degree, going to work for the hometown team, so to speak, seemed like a logical idea.
Baney may not have had a familial background in trucking, but he says he was hooked on the industry from the minute he began working on his first heavy-duty truck model and saw that vehicle eventually enter production and hit America’s highways.
Since then, Baney has held a number of engineering positions at both Kenworth and Peterbilt, on both the vehicle-design and manufacturing sides of the business, as well as a stint in sales and marketing. His well-rounded resume has given him a unique perspective on the state of trucking now. As fascinating as the new technology surging toward the industry is, Baney says he determined to keep Kenworth customers in the forefront of every decision he makes as the company’s new general manager.
HDT: There is a lot of talk about disruption in trucking today. How do you think the many technological changes coming our way will affect you in your role as general manager of Kenworth?
Baney: It’s certainly an exciting time. I can’t think of another time in my 25 years in this industry when we had so much going on. And we actually have disruption in many forms, aside from technology. We have an ongoing driver shortage. Vehicles are becoming increasingly more complex to maintain and repair. We have a constant push to protect the environment through greenhouse gas and other regulations as well as connected vehicles. So, we have new challenges. And we have old challenges. What has changed for all of us is the rate of change, which is accelerating rapidly.
HDT: For all the talk of autonomous vehicles and alternative fuels, there is a school of thought that the first real tech revolution coming to trucking is actually telematics.
Baney: Every truck is a connected truck, today. That’s a fact. We have more data coming off the vehicles and at us than ever before. So, it is critical for us as manufacturers to figure out how to take that data and package it into a format that our customers can use quickly and effectively to solve their problems, enhance efficiency and reduce downtime.
HDT: And, of course, the truck driver remains a critical part of the equation for fleets today.
Baney: Exactly. When you look at all the things going on now, you have to cut through all that noise and static and remember that everything still has to be about the customer. And for many customers, it’s all about their drivers. So, every time we make a decision here at Kenworth, it comes back to, “What does this do for our customers and their drivers to make their lives easier?”
HDT: Kenworth has long had a reputation as a “driver’s truck.”
Baney: That’s one advantage I have as I settle into my new role. I’ve been with Kenworth since coming over from our sister brand in 2012. And I don’t have to get to know a new team of people. I know my team here. I have a strong engineering group at my disposal, I have strong sales and marketing teams, and we are very efficient in our manufacturing and operating processes — particularly coming off running our manufacturing plants at full capacity for the past two years. We will be hitting the ground running. Customers will see that in better ways to leverage the data coming off of their trucks, and we are developing new products. Paccar has long believed in investing in new products — even in a down market. We understand that we have to keep our product lineup fresh. We have a pretty solid roadmap for the journey ahead.
HDT: While — as you said — keeping the focus on your customers?
Baney: Yes. And right now, that often means thinking about new ways we can make our trucks better for the drivers. Yes, there will be autonomous trucks one day. But we don’t know when. And we don’t know how much — or how little — human interaction they will require. Until that time comes, we are focused on applying these new technologies in ways that give drivers a more controlled environment to work in. So, we will continue to develop safety systems like blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance and similar systems to keep drivers safer while making fleets more efficient.
HDT: You mentioned alternative fuels. What are your thoughts on some of those new technologies?
Baney: Long-haul segments in trucking are going to be dominated by diesel for a long time to come. When you start looking at final mile and more localized delivery operations, I think you’ll start to see new technologies like hydrogen fuel cells and pure electric vehicles being deployed. And these are technologies that are being researched and developed across Paccar by our engineering teams. We’ll let these technologies mature and define what the best applications for them are as we understand their capabilities and limitations better. We’re not interested in winning a race to develop new technologies. We’re interested in working with our customers on developing winning new technologies that can help them make more money.
HDT: You mentioned hydrogen fuel cells What can you tell us about the Kenworth-Toyota partnership to develop a truck powered by this new technology?
Baney: That partnership is a good example of how we look beyond Kenworth to help find our customers viable new technologies for trucks. When we leveraged grant money to begin looking at alternative fuel systems, we partnered with both Toyota and Shell on a project to develop a hydrogen fuel cell truck for mid-range trucking operations. Two challenges that we know concern pure electric vehicles are range and battery charging times. That won’t work for regional-haul applications that need longer range trucks. Toyota has a variety of hydrogen fuel cell cars operating in California, and they believe that technology could be scaled up for trucks. That, along with the hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure they were developing in California, made them an ideal partner for us. But that is only one of several new technologies Kenworth is working on today.
HDT: Changing gears a bit: There is a lot of uncertainty around the economy today. What is your outlook moving into next year?
Baney: The last two years were unprecedented in trucking with an outstanding market. And we think we’ll be looking at an outstanding to good market next year. Even if we have just a good 2020, it could still be the fourth strongest year we’ve seen this decade. We want to make sure we have a smooth transition into whatever economic conditions arise next year. So, we’re making sure to right-size for whatever that may be. But really, what we’re talking about is going back to business as usual. We’ve been managing our backlog since June of 2018, with anything from 30,000 to 50,000 orders a month coming in. We’ve never seen a backlog like that. We knew coming into 2019 that this year would be about cleaning up that backlog. And it’s likely that next year will be about going from managing backlogs to selling trucks and business as usual.