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FreightWaves Truck Talk: Clearing the air edition

Over-the-air updates; Cummins' mask material; and TuSimple's future

TuSimple has $400 million new reasons for self determination in when and whether to go public. (Photo credit: TuSimple)

This week, we’re looking at standardizing more convenience in over-the-air updates; 108 million breathe-safe N-95 masks from Cummins’ repurposing of engine filter material; and public self-determination for TuSimple.

Over-the-air updates (with convenience) … Mack Trucks is following sibling Volvo Trucks North America in standardizing the convenience of over-the-air (OTA) updates. Mack says the driver download activation feature will be included in factory-equipped models built since last Nov. 30. That includes the Class 8 Anthem, Pinnacle and Granite models. Software to retrofit 2019 versions of those models also is available. Volvo went into full production of Driver Display Activation (DDA) at the end of November following a series of pilots over four months. Putting the activation step into the cab and the hands of the operator allowed approximately 400 software updates in less than four weeks. Each vehicle update took minutes to complete instead of the typical three hours. DDA cuts administration and updating time in half. It also makes round-the-clock service available. Daimler Trucks North America, Navistar International, Kenworth and Peterbilt all offer standard OTA with varying degrees of execution. “It is one of those game-changing things that takes place“silently behind the scenes,” IHS Markit trucking analyst Antti Lindstrom told me. “In the long run, it will change the way the driver does their routine work, adds to their convenience and benefits the fleet/truck owner with more uptime, which means better productivity.”

No masking Cummins’ success in repurposing engine filter material … President Biden is making greater use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to gain on the unrelenting spread of COVID-19, seeking faster vaccine distribution and more personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers. The DPA lets the federal government cut in line to get goods and services deemed necessary for the good of the country. Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) has been working with DuPont (NYSE: DD) since last April without prompting to repurpose engine filter material as feedstock to make linings for N-95 masks. Asked for an update on the program, spokeswoman Katie Zarich offered some pretty stunning statistics. At year end, Cummins had used its filter technology to provide 146 tons of filtration media to help mask manufacturers around the globe produce more than 108 million masks and 556,000 power air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). (Photo insert) The PAPRs can be used to protect health care personnel at risk of exposure to aerosolized pathogens that cause acute respiratory infections.

To SPAC or not to SPAC … After $400 million in investment from Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN), Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), U.S. XPress (NYSE: USX) and a host of financial institutions this week, startup autonomous truck systems maker TuSimple can take its time on choosing when and how to go public. That may not be via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The involvement of mobility consultancy VectorIQ does not mean a reverse merger with TuSimple is a sure thing. SPACs typically need the cash that comes from combining business with a blank check company. After this week’s capital raise and formation of an executive advisory board loaded with big names in trucking and rail, TuSimple holds the cards. For VectoIQ’s part, CEO Steve Girsky tells me his group is satisfied being an investor and adviser in TuSimple while it seeks a target for its second SPAC. VectorIQ was the first of dozens of blank check companies to go for an electric vehicle startup when it merged with Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) last June. Still, VectoIQ could be a backup plan for TuSimple down the road if VectoIQ doesn’t find another target before its two-year window closes. 

Adding experience … Much has been made of Hyliion Holdings (NYSE: HYLN) founder Thomas Healy’s age. The 28-year-old serial entrepreneur founded the heavy-duty hybrid driveline maker in 2015. His maturity impressed both Vince Cubbage, the CEO of Tortoise Acquisition Corp., the SPAC that brought Hyliion public last October, and auto industry veteran and former Department of Transportation Secretary Andy Card, now a Hyliion board member. Healy is bulking up with varied industry experience in key roles. With the retirement of Greg Van de Vere as chief financial officer, former food industry financial executive Sherri Baker will join Hyliion as CFO on Feb. 8. Baker’s resume includes vice president of commercial finance for dairy giant Dean Foods following 13 years in finance and accounting roles at PepsiCo.’s Frito-Lay unit. She joins Hyliion from PGT Innovations (NYSE: PGTI), where she was senior vice president and CFO. Healy is turning to 30-year trucking and electrification veteran Bobby Cherian to oversee sales and supply chain as senior vice president. Cherian most recently was at Dana Inc. (NYSE: DAN) as senior director of electrification and North America original equipment manufacturer (OEM) sales for commercial vehicles. Dana provides the electronic axles and other components for Hyliion’s current product and its ERX Hypertruck that is planned for early production later this year. He is also tasked with building the customer relationships Hyliion needs to grow its order book. Cherian also worked at Meritor Inc. (NYSE: MTOR), General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F).

Thanks for reading FreightWaves Truck Talk. See you next week.

Alan Adler
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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.