Daimler ready to deal

STEPPING UP: Freightliner will be set to have a major impact on the Australian market.
STEPPING UP: Freightliner will be set to have a major impact on the Australian market. David Meredith
Daimler Trucks Australia boss Daniel Whitehead.
Daimler Trucks Australia boss Daniel Whitehead.

After working overseas for 17 years, Daniel has set himself a two-fold objective - to return the company's brands to the kind of market prominence they used to enjoy, then to the level of performance it should enjoy.

Working with the Daimler organisation for 17 years, he knows that Freightliner, which has 38.5% of the US market (in sectors where it competes), is only getting 7.5% here.

Benz is only on 5%, when it's the market leader in Europe.

Fuso is doing well but is not up to potential.

Looking at the problem in more detail, he sees the Mercedes-Benz product as unquestionably good but neglected here in Australia.

Daimler's Strategic Future Truck Platform (SFTP) will transform the HD product line to all six-cylinder inline engines, instead of the current modular V8 configurations.

The new product is already in a 12-month localised testing program, which is critical to success in the local market.

Freightliner has the biggest margin for improvement and the Argosy operating lease promotion has been a startling success in bringing prospects into the dealerships.

It has been more moderately successful as far as Argosy itself is concerned but the enquiry for the financial package on other models in the range has been healthy.

An interesting development has been how much the program has caught the eyes of chief financial officers in larger companies with the substantial capital appeal of the lease.

Daniel feels more operators will look to fix costs over defined periods as contracts become harder to win and harder to maintain profitability.

Internally the program allows many opportunities for companies as they can better manage their used truck turnover.

For example, in response to market conditions, he can see pulling back leased trucks early to suit market conditions.

It's potentially better for the customer and allows Freightliner to stagger the return of Argosys or other models into the dealer network as used trucks.

After an HR disaster several months ago, Freightliner has finally appointed a new general manager.

Former PACCAR executive Stephen Downes, who will join the company on January 1, is tasked with getting the brand heading towards the market share it enjoys elsewhere.

It's a big shift for the group, which has traditionally recruited internally for senior roles.

Daniel also noted the company would accelerate the blending of some of the advanced safety features from the European products into Freightliners being built for Australia.

The Fuso end of the business meanwhile continues to go well indeed.

Daniel is happy with the range available through the dealer network, and sees a steady climb to a position where it will compete with the two major Japanese brands.

Down the road, the Detroit relationship with the group brands will likely be firmed up further, with the release of Detroit's new fully automatic transmission, which will inevitably displace the Eaton Ultrashift Plus.

A full automatic in a linehaul truck is yet to see the light of day but, in this instance, Freightliner may have the jump on the competition.

Daniel's push will, if nothing else, spur the current market leaders to some sharper trading. Better for all truck operators I'd say.

Topics:  transport

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