After a long gestation period and some false starts, the Freightliner Cascadia is coming to Australia. In fact, there are already Cascadias on the ground, as part of an ongoing development and evaluation program. Diesel News attended an unveiling of the new models in a darkened film studio in Melbourne.
Ever since the introduction of the Cascadia on the US market, back in 2007, there has been a lot of speculation about if and when the model would be introduced to Australia. There was talk of the truck being unsuitable for Australia. In North America it is sold as a mass-produced highway truck used as a generic prime mover to haul the standard trailers on smooth interstate highways at masses below 40 tonnes.
Freightliner in Australia had persisted with the older model designs like the Argosy, Coronado and Columbia. These are based on a vehicle platform which predates the development of the Cascadia. The design of which integrates many more global elements in the design, which are common across the Daimler truck family.
The success of the Cascadia in North America has seen Freightliner regain number one status right across the heavier end of the market, as it continues to grow market share to over 40 per cent in the heavy duty prime mover market. US interstates are populated with processions of Cascadias with a few competitor brands sprinkled into the mix. A completely new Cascadia was launched onto the US market last year bringing the whole vehicle platform bang up to date and Freightliner in the US is claiming fuel improvements up to eight per cent for operators, over the previous model.
“The business case of the truck is unquestionable,” says Daniel Whitehead, Daimler Trucks President and CEO in Australia. “Once operators test the truck and get bums in seats, we’re expecting to be equally successful in both large and small fleets. We have very high ambitions.
“We’ll be selling Cascadias in the first quarter of 2020 and handing over keys. There will be right hand drive Cascadias on the road in early 2019. We learnt a lot of good lessons from the Mercedes Benz evaluation program. Stephen Downes sat down with the Benz guys and went through their whole testing program, and asked what they would have done differently in hindsight. It was a key success factors for Benz and it will be one of the key success factors for Cascadia as well.
“Nothing ends as a result of Cascadia. What we have with the 116 and the 126 is launch group one. When we get to launch group two we haven’t got a clear definition of those models, not yet. Columbia and Coronado, they keep going, there’s no decision yet. When we have defined the later Cascadia trucks, we will revaluate the trucks on the older truck architecture.”
Initially, the Cascadia in Australia is to be tested in its left hand drive form. This is an opportunity to test aspects like driveline and running gear while the right hand drive aspect can be developed and refined back in the US. The second wave of evaluation trucks will be right hand drive as Freightliner gets closer to the final specifications required to suit Aussie conditions.
“For the Freightliner brand in Australia the Cascadia represents an unparalleled opportunity,” says Stephen Downes, Freightliner Australia Director. “It’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and deliver all of the things we know operators are looking for. The opportunity is in the technology the model delivers, whether that’s from the safety point of view, connectivity, fuel efficiency, telematics or just the quality and reliability of the vehicle.
“Cascadia is a real game changer for the Australian market, for conventional trucks. If I had told you five years ago we would have a conventional with not one, but two driver airbags, you would have laughed at me. That is not too far away. It’s an opportunity to get safety system you might find in a high level passenger car out into the trucking industry.
“I need to be 100 per cent certain the Cascadia will be fit for purpose in Australian conditions with Australian operators under our own unique set of circumstances. For that reason we are going through an effort we have never been through before make sure these trucks are really up to scratch.”