Samantha Parlier loved cars in high school. She spent her after-school job money on improvements to her first car. That passion carried her to Seattle University, where she studied mechanical engineering “obsessed with metallurgy, metal and automotive.
“I was naive enough to think that the automotive industry and big trucks are the same because they have wheels and engines,” she said. “It turns out they’re not at all. But that’s actually what got me into the industry.”
Parlier’s “deep love” of the Pacific Northwest led her to spend nine years at Kenworth Truck Co. in Renton, across Lake Washington from Seattle. Seven years followed at Kenworth’s parent PACCAR Inc., in Bellevue, where she rose to senior product director.
Parlier joined Portland, Oregon-based Daimler Trucks North America in 2017. She took on development the 49X, which was underway when she arrived. Now, the most tested product in company history holds Daimler’s hopes to rise from third place among off-highway entries.
FreightWaves spoke with Parlier during a media program last Wednesday at Daimler’s High Desert Proving Ground in Madras, Oregon. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
What takeaways do you have from the different places you have worked?
I have an incredibly diverse and fortunate background. I started in engineering [and] design. And then I moved into different customer application areas. Then I went out into field service and worked directly with customers with broken trucks. So, I got a lot of product knowledge. I also developed a thicker skin from talking to angry customers and helping them. But what I really tapped into was that I loved solving problems, which engineers like to do by nature. I can bring it to the vocational market in a unique way because I like to look at what the customer is trying to accomplish and come up with a better solution that they’re not even asking for.
What opportunity does the 49X present for Daimler to gain off-highway market share?
Western Star is our leading brand in the vocational segment. It’s around a 70,000 to 80,000 truck market a year, of which Daimler Trucks North America is currently third. And we want to be first. So, this new product is a tool to help us get there.
Why does it take six years to develop a vocational truck?
There’s a lot of things that go into vocational truck development. Durability testing is absolutely paramount. Think about a logger. They’re going 50, 60 miles off highway into the woods. There’s no cell phone. There’s no service. [The truck] is their wingman. It has to work. And quite literally, it’s a matter of life and death sometimes. You can’t do the development work to that level of accuracy quickly. Six years for a vocational product is actually really quick.
How do you account for variations required state by state?
Vocational trucks are very different from the everyday on-highway truck because every single county in the United States, of which there’s just over 3,000, can have their own laws. A city can have their own laws. People will spec that truck to be the best business tool for their area. Creating a product that can span all that variation takes a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of investment.
Does the 49X feel well-timed to a federal infrastructure repair program?
It couldn’t be better. The infrastructure bill has been long in the making. But it seems that there’s a lot of momentum behind it now. There are a lot of people calling for it. Obviously with COVID-19, it’s a way to get the country back to work and improve infrastructure that’s been needed for years. And what better time than to launch right on the cusp of that? When we’re all ready to get back to work on infrastructure, the truck is there and ready to go