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Dr. Wilfried Achenbach, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Technology, Daimler Trucks North America.

Higher levels of connectivity, automation drive commercial vehicle sector

Increased and enhanced connectivity is a megatrend impacting all ground vehicles, from passenger cars to commercial vehicles to off-highway equipment. So it’s no surprise that connectivity is the theme for the SAE 2016 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress (, with several panels devoted to different aspects of the topic, such as how CVs will be affected by the Industrial Internet of Things. Helping to shape the event’s program was Dr. Wilfried Achenbach, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Technology, Daimler Trucks North America, and other executives from DTNA, which is fulfilling the Executive Leadership role this year. Dr. Achenbach’s responsibility covers the full development process including styling, design and testing for all Class 6-8 conventional trucks for the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other export countries. DTNA’s Engineering and Technology department is part of Daimler Trucks’ Global Engineering operation and is headquartered in Portland, OR. He recently shared his thoughts about a variety of pressing technical issues, to be discussed in greater detail at the ComVEC event from October 4-6 in Rosemont, IL.

What’s new for this year’s ComVEC?

As for ComVEC’s value for the industry and mobility engineers, it is truly a special event where we come together to share our challenges and successes in the commercial vehicle industry. Daimler’s executive leadership team is working with our industry colleagues to provide a relevant and valuable experience for participants visiting ComVEC in 2016. In collaboration with Tom Stover’s ComVEC 2.0 committee we will pilot several activities that should benefit those attending this year’s event. To point out some of this year’s highlights to come:

We have a new symposia format including two interesting topics: “Autonomous Commercial Vehicles” and “Meeting the Challenges of Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The symposia will have a day dedicated towards keynote speeches and technical content focused on these two topics.

The leadership team has focused on bringing in a broader mixture of participants to ComVEC, emphasizing the importance of bringing together governmental agencies, academics and industry partners at ComVEC to discuss challenges for the future.

To benefit young professionals new to the commercial vehicle industry we have a team working on ideas which will help ComVEC participants to get in touch with younger generations. Ideas include bringing back mentoring sessions with a new format and exclusive networking events.

What are some of the mutual challenges facing both the on- and off-highway sectors?

Compared to the passenger car business, one major challenge is dealing with significantly lower volumes. In addition, the variability of applications for our equipment is crucial but also challenging for the industry/engineers. The customization drives the complexity in the product as well as the organization. We have to be smart managing and differentiating between value-add and unnecessary complexity to maintain a highly efficient organization and quality product.

Where do autonomous vehicles stand and what are the challenges to implementation?

Technology supporting autonomous driving has been and will further impact the commercial vehicle industry. When Daimler Trucks North America showcased the “Inspiration Truck” in May 2015 another milestone of AV [autonomous vehicle] technology integration was achieved contributing to discussions on creating a path towards partial autonomous driving. We did not expect that to take place for years to come. Over the last years the industry investments in autonomous driving technology has grown rapidly, leaving a wide range of opinions on how the future of autonomous driving will look like.

Despite DTNA’s continued effort to develop technology for the next reasonable steps forward, it is important for us to be in sync with expectations and acceptance in our society and the legal framework supporting it. New standards are to be placed and the industry to be aligned and ready to support those very demands.

We are looking forward and will dedicate significant time [at ComVEC] to allow discussions for a broad mixture of industry experts, to learn about the current status, latest achievements, challenges and next steps.

What are the implications of Phase 2 GHG regulations? And what’s Daimler’s take on Phase 2?

DTNA has focused for decades on improving freight efficiency in order to lower customers’ total operating costs. As the market leader in fuel efficiency, and the first to certify all of our products to Phase 1 GHG (greenhouse gas) standards, DTNA shares EPA and NHTSA goals to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases. We believe that the rule should reflect realistic vehicle production and operating conditions, and consider the cost-efficient, fuel-saving technologies in fleet operations in order to successfully meet our shared goals.

The Phase 2 rule has not been finalized yet, so it’s too early to know its implications, but I can tell you the proposed rule is very aggressive and will require the invention of new technology to meet the proposed standards. It takes time to do that, which is why DTNA has urged the EPA and NHTSA to not attempt to accelerate any of the stringency from the proposed rule.

One executive panel discussion centers on the Industrial Internet of Things? What does this entail? How does this intersect with commercial vehicles?

People are more familiar with the Internet of Things (IoT) where consumer products are increasingly becoming more connected with each other. Some examples include fitness applications working between watches and smart phones or a learning thermostat controlling a home air-conditioning unit. Applying this concept of connectivity towards industries has potential to provide similar benefits for convenience and efficiency.

As for the intersection with commercial vehicles, the optimization of asset utilization and maximizing vehicle uptime are some of the immediate benefits being realized today. The ComVEC panel discussion on IIoT will be an interesting one, especially for what the industry experts predict for the future.

The various SuperTruck vehicles will be on display at ComVEC. For the Freightliner SuperTruck, in particular, what are the next steps for Daimler?

DTNA is committed to developing the most fuel-efficient and cost-effective vehicles in the market. Systems developed within SuperTruck that demonstrate an attractive payback for the customer continue to be transferred to production vehicles. The Cascadia Evolution aerodynamics package and the Integrated Detroit Powertrain are examples for successful transfer of knowledge and systems from SuperTruck.

DTNA has submitted a proposal for the SuperTruck 2 program, with the goal of over 100% freight efficiency improvement while simultaneously removing cost barriers and making technologies more commercially viable.

How do you leverage the knowledge and technologies gained from this project?

The SuperTruck program enabled the aerodynamic team to further develop capabilities in terms of analytical methods for evaluating vehicle drag. The CFD tools and processes are being applied to development programs for production vehicles.

SuperTruck also highlighted limits of certain technologies such as waste heat recovery. This technology is still in the early prototype stages and presents fundamental design questions around reliability, weight and system costs.

A parallel hybrid-electric powertrain was incorporated in SuperTruck, which manages kinetic energy while driving across hilly terrain. The system recharges the Li-ion batteries as the vehicle descends a grade. Another system onboard, called "Predictive Technologies," is designed to do essentially the same thing. In this case, GPS and 3D-digital maps are combined with clever software to anticipate upcoming terrain. The system adjusts the cruise speed, shifting and eCoast to optimize kinetic energy to save fuel.

(Read more on Daimler’s SuperTruck program and its lessons learned in this previous Q&A with Principal Investigator, Derek Rotz:

What are some of the most promising technologies stemming from SuperTruck?

Powertrain enhancements investigated in SuperTruck have shown commercial feasibility including downspeeding of the engine using direct drive AMT [automated manual transmission] and a 2.28:1 rear axle ratio as well as eCoast. Furthermore, DTNA continues to develop predictive powertrain controls by using GPS and 3D digital maps to more intelligently control the vehicle across hilly terrain.

Cybersecurity is a huge topic right now. What’s Daimler doing in this area to be ready?

It is certainly a topic of increasing importance and something we take very serious. Cybersecurity and preventive countermeasures are part of our discussion around the Electrical/Electronics – Architecture for our vehicles. The whole topic will change the industry approach for open architectures, for sure.

We decided for our vehicles to implement a Hardware Firewall between the core EE-systems on a truck and the rapidly developing Telematics systems. We benefit from being part of a larger overall organization having access to standards developed for our passenger cars to ensure the highest security standards and experience.

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