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The Light Load: Everybody wants Freightliner CPCs

Daimler Truck has its work cut out finding the culprits after microchip pirates target hundreds of innocently parked rigs

Where is Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

The thefts of common powertrain controller (CPC) modules from parked Freightliner and Western Star trucks feels like a game of Clue minus the conservatory, candlestick, Col. Mustard and, well, clues. Come to think of it, it’s nothing at all like Clue, but I digress.

Anyhow, unless Miss Marple clears her schedule, Daimler Truck North America and the authorities are going to have to sort through a passel of suspects, usual or otherwise, to get to the bottom of this high-tech poachery.

The purloined modules are rich with semiconductors — you know, those microchips vital for trucks that wish to make the leap from Park to Go. As you may also know, only baby formula and McDonald’s soft serve rival semiconductors when it comes to shortages.

There are far too few — semiconductors, not bottles of formula or Oreo McFlurries — to meet demand for new truck production, so fleets are hanging on to older trucks. Or they’re making not exactly less-than-truckload piles of cash selling them.

 Hundreds of semiconductor-rich common powertrain controller modules have gone missing from parked Freightliner and Western Star trucks. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

“Everybody Wants You,” Billy Squier once crooned to some lass. I have never been in said lass’s predicament, but everybody sure wants those microchips. Some were even willing to sneak onto the grounds of an auction yard in Pennsylvania, risking a run-in with a pack of corgis or other guard dogs, to indulge their chip-lust.

The CPCs go for 1,400 smackers apiece in a legal purchase but nearly six times that on the black market. Putting the number of incidents in the hundreds, Daimler is understandably as mad as an old wet possum about the whole sordid business.

“The theft of CPC modules is a crime that threatens the livelihood of customers and disrupts our dealers’ operations,” Paul Romanaggi, DTNA chief customer experience officer, said in a press release.

Indeed it does. But where do Daimler and the police even begin looking for the bad guys? Are they primarily lone wolves or part of a syndicate? If we all want semiconductors and we all need semiconductors, then even if there ain’t no way we’re all ever gonna love semiconductors — RIP, Meat Loaf — aren’t we all just so many defendants-in-waiting playing feline and rodent on a dilapidated gameboard from the ’40s?

If so, to return to the Clue metaphor that we previously established doesn’t really work in this column, can I put in an early request to be Professor Plum? In the kitchen? With the knife? And a plate bearing one of mother’s fresh-baked chocolate chip pound cakes?*

Stuff to ponder

— Do any Pams work at P.A.M.? Reckon they get a special parking spot?

— Do actual martens live near Marten Transport? People who make a profession of knowing where martens reside say these distant and more lovable cousins of the common house skunk and rat weasel have put down roots in parts of Wisconsin, Marten’s home base, so I guess it’s possible. If there’s a Marten Museum, does it have both trucks and a petting zoo? I’d make that trip.

— If the former Con-way Freight had a theme song, I hope it was, well, you know.

*The key to chocolate chip pound cake is miniature chocolate chips. Mother made me share that tip: “I don’t care if you’re writing about trucks. Truckers deserve good cake too. If you mention chocolate chip pound cake, they’re gonna wanna make it. They’ll rush off and find the first recipe that pops up online, and it’ll be a gummy mess because they’ll use those oversized morsels that wind up on the bottom of the bundt pan. Tell ’em to flour the pan too. Be useful for a change.” (OK, she didn’t say that last part, but I feel it in my heart.)

The Light Load is an occasional look at the world of transportation and logistics through the eyes of an industry greenhorn.

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Steve Barrett

A copy editor for FreightWaves since 2019, Steve Barrett has worked as an editor and/or reporter for The Associated Press as well as newspapers in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Nebraska. He also served as a senior managing editor for a medical marketing company, collaborating with some of the nation's most respected health care organizations and specialists in major markets in New York and Pennsylvania. He earned a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of Georgia and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish from the University of South Dakota.