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NewsNewslettersTruck Talk

Truck Talk: Tuning up the volume edition

Great musical acts, chippy supply chains and magic school buses

This week, we talk with retiring Daimler Trucks North America CEO Roger Nielsen about hosting a generation of big name music acts; follow electric school buses in Maryland and LA; and check in on the semiconductor chip shortage. You can subscribe to Truck Talk and other FreightWaves newsletters here.

Listen to the music

Outgoing Daimler Truck North America CEO Roger Nielsen offered thoughts on a range of industry issues as he prepares to retire in April after 35 years. One thing that continues when John O’Leary takes over on April 1: the super-secret big-name concerts DTNA hosts for customers at the American Trucking Associations’ annual confab.

Daimler Trucks North America CEO Roger Nielsen, left, with Carlton Rose of UPS in 2019. (Photo: Daimler)

Daimler Trucks North America CEO Roger Nielsen, left, with Carlton Rose of UPS in 2019. (Photo:

FW: Did these start with you or Martin Daum (Nielsen’s predecessor)?

Nielsen: “We started in 1995 with Elton John on the Navy Pier in Chicago. We may have missed one or two years. But it’s been a long tradition, going over 25 years.”

FW: Lots of guesses every year, but nobody really knows who will step out on stage. What lengths do you go to in order to keep the performer’s identity secret?

Nielsen: “There’s only three of us in the company who work with the production company. We go through a process at this time of year to find a band that we think will appeal to our customers — something unique that they might not otherwise be able to experience.”

FW: Rod Stewart — twice. The Eagles. The Rolling Stones. Paul McCartney. Billy Joel. Carrie Underwood. They’ve all done gigs. Do you have a favorite act from over the years?

Nielsen: “I really enjoyed one year [when] we had Keith Urban in Las Vegas. Same with Tim McGraw one year. The most enjoyable entertainers are the ones willing to interact with our customers.”

Final act?

FW: So, do you get to pick one more act?

Nielsen: “When John and I were talking about how to divide the decision-making during the transition period, he goes, ‘You can do the long-term pricing and whatever else. But I want to decide who the entertainment is going to be for [the ATA] in Nashville.’ I said ‘OK, you get to select the entertainer. But you have to send me an invitation.’”

Magic bus

One of the earliest and best electric vehicle applications is buses. They travel predictable routes and return to a depot for overnight charging when electricity is cheaper. 

School districts in Los Angeles and Maryland flipped the switch this week, placing orders for zero-emission transit. The Montgomery County Public Schools will buy 326 Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley models over four years. Electric bus and infrastructure supplier Proterra makes the Jouley for DTNA.

The Los Angeles Unified School District placed an initial order for 10 LionC school buses from Canada’s Lion Electric Co. And in case you’re wondering if the kids are all right on those long rides to and from school, Navistar’s IC Bus subsidiary is using Kajeet SmartBus hardware and service bundle to make Wi-Fi available on board — cuts down on using pricey cellular on the students’ smartphones.

The Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school bus. (Photo: Proterra)

Feeling chippy

We’re still not hearing of downtime at North American truck plants because of the semiconductor shortage. But supply chain experts and purchasers are scrambling for alternatives. Volvo AB was unable to build trucks in Ghent, Belgium, last week. The parent of Volvo Group siblings Volvo Truck North America and Mack Trucks repeated its Q4 earnings warning that the situation may worsen. A Volvo Group spokeswoman said its plants have been able to work through issues so far without interrupting production. 

Nielsen says DTNA is discovering workarounds, such as what chips can be interchanged or reprogrammed. Electric truck startup Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) said 2021 production in Germany won’t meet targets because of shortages of chips and battery cells. Multiple industries are chasing silicon wafers. The much-harder hit auto industry already projects a bottom-line impact. Next on the supply chain worry meter: a scarcity of already high-priced steel. The industry’s V-shaped pandemic rebound last summer and fall is stressing supply chains overall. 

Howdy, partner

Commercial vehicle battery maker Romeo Power (NYSE: RMO) is working with Ecellix Inc. to reduce the weight of a 1 megawatt battery by up to 9,900 pounds. Ecellix makes battery materials that could replace graphite in lithium-ion batteries. A 25% weight reduction in a battery-electric Class 8 truck could lead to a 660-mile or greater driving range on a single charge.

People, place and things

Less fanfare than for the redesign of the Model 579, but Peterbilt is upgrading its vocation Models 567 and 520. A cab-mounted side mirror, bigger diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank. The 567 gets the 15-inch customizable digital display standard on conventional PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) models that allow thousands of configurations, including full power takeoff (PTO) integration. The 520 gets a 7-inch version.

The Peterbilt Model 520 refuse hauler. (Photo: Peterbilt)

Catching up on two recent DTNA appointments: 26-year marketing vet Andrew Johnson is the new head of corporate communications. Johnson’s last post was brand manager for Western Star Trucks. … Rakesh Aneja is the company’s new head of eMobility. He leads product strategy, platform management, customer consulting and charging infrastructure services. 

As the race intensifies to get more electric trucks on the road, your current leader is Daimler’s FUSO subsidiary. Since launching the light-duty eCanter in 2017, FUSO has put 200 of the 7.49-ton battery-powered urban delivery trucks in service — 40 in the U.S., 100 in Europe and 60 in Japan. 

Here’s some good news if you are waiting for a PACCAR pension. The company plans to contribute up to $150 million to its defined benefit plans this year. It only has to put in $19.7 million. The plans were already overfunded as of Dec. 31, according to the recent 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Alan

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

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