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Daimler executive critical of natural gas, hopeful for U.S. trucking industry

“My alternative fuel is diesel,” Wolfgang Bernhard said at the Q&A portion of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association Breakfast and Briefing at the Mid-America Trucking Show today, where he was the keynote speaker. (The Trucker: DOROTHY COX)

By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff

3/28/2014

While interest in natural gas may have seen a surge last year, head of the Daimler Truck and Bus Division Wolfgang Bernhard said that tide has rolled out.

“My alternative fuel is diesel,” Bernhard said at the Q&A portion of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association Breakfast and Briefing at the Mid-America Trucking Show today, where he was the keynote speaker. “I don’t see any replacement of diesel in the near future, not even in the long run.”

Bernhard added that second to diesel would be gas or a hybrid configuration that has seen success in Japan, albeit through “very special applications.”

“Our best bet would be the diesel engine,” Bernhard said. “I’m convinced a highly efficient diesel engine will be [the way] to reduce emissions.”

More than 900 trucking industry executives, suppliers and media attended the event.

Daimler, a leading automotive company, will continue to grow in technology leadership through three key areas, Bernhard said: efficiency, touting that the Cascadia Evolution saw a seven percent improvement on fuel consumption than competitors; safety, explaining how the company was the first to deploy lane departure, drowsy-driver alert and other safety systems; and connectivity, through “Detroit Connect,” which allows a virtual technician to be alerted if there is a problem on a truck as it’s out on the road. The system can then alert a company official who can assess whether or not the problem must be immediately addressed. If so, Bernhard said a driver can go to the nearest service center, which will already have the parts ready to go for repair, having a signal sent from the truck.

Bernhard said the company expects to see 10 percent growth in the U.S. market, while continuing to expand in other countries including Japan, Brazil and Indonesia, as well as the greater Europe market-base. On the intelligence platform side of performance, the company has seen interest grow in the United States for a European product.

“We now have the heavy duty transmission in Europe and we’re bringing that over to the United States. It’s proven,” Bernhard said. “We have 17,000 orders from our border books on that transmission already.”

In regard to greenhouse gas standards, Bernhard was receptive to always being compliant with new U.S. standards and EPA requirements, but urged the government to do its part as well.

“Why don’t we ask the government for a change in the infrastructure,” Bernhard said. “If a driver sits in traffic and idles all the time, that doesn’t help either. Think of it as a basketball game – you can’t win a game with the point guard alone,” meaning all parts of the truck and the nation’s infrastructure must work toward the goal.

Also, making sure the payback is there for the customer regarding EPA regulations is a must.

“If the EPA goes beyond the point where the customer doesn’t want to buy it … it’s too far,” Bernhard said, adding the payback should be seen in about 18 months. “We should push the EPA and regulators … to make sure they’re not doing stupid things.”

Another important point Bernhard emphasized was trade specifications, particularly from the United States. The confusion with shipping and labeling parts or products is outdated, “still lurking around from the 50s and 60s,” he said.

“It’s mind-boggling. It’s not helping anybody and we could do much better,” citing Pacific countries like China that are exceeding the U.S. and Europe in trade. “We need to make sure we get common standards. Some of those regulators on both sides of the Atlantic … need to dock their regulatory egos in the parking dock.”

However, Bernhard said the future was bright for Daimler, particularly in the U.S. as the economy bounces back and technology innovations continue to emerge.

“If you think about it in the future, there are endless combinations of combining these things for benefits of the customers,” Bernhard said regarding safety advancements and connectivity. “We [Daimler] will not stand still and be complacent … We’ll continue to push the envelope.”

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