Watch Now

Truck Tech: Taken for a ride edition

Red tag sales, a fuel cell ride, intuitive transmission and a Tesla semi tease

This week, Paccar whittles down its red tag inventory. Two Nikola hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks take a test ride, but to where? Tesla shows multiple Semis but is mum on production.  Mack Trucks gets predictive with its automated manual transmission. And the best of the rest.

Red tag sale

Paccar Inc., the first automaker to build and park trucks during the semiconductor shortage, made some nice progress in whittling down its so-called “red tag” inventory in Q4. About 7,000 of 10,000 trucks awaiting microchips at Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF Truck plants were completed and shipped. 

CEO Preston Feight declined to predict when the overhang of almost-finished trucks would go to zero, but he sounded hopeful on Tuesday’s Q4 earnings call with analysts. Pressed about where most of the unfinished trucks were — North America or Europe — Paccar President and CFO Harrie Schippers said they were evenly spread among brands.

“We see improvement through the [first] quarter,” Feight said. “But every day the team is working together with the supply base to work through that. So some portion may remain off-line, but it’s decreasing.”

Like other purchasing, logistics and sales teams at truck manufacturers, Paccar is reprogramming some chips to get trucks out the door.

The Paccar Parts-branded charger is off to brisk early sales with the parent company of Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF Trucks selling them along with the first 100 electric trucks it has leased. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Feight also said Paccar is already realizing additional revenues from selling electric chargers to go with the 100 or so battery-electric trucks it has sold. Part of a six-month overall backlog of orders is another 100 BETs. 

The generally upbeat assessment of the Paccar business brought three upgrades to Paccar (NASDAQ: PCAR) stock. 

  • Credit Suisse analyst Jamie Cook raised the price target to $114 from $109 and maintained an outperform rating on the shares.
  • Morgan Stanley analyst Courtney Yakavonis increased the price target to $98 from $94 and kept an equal-weight rating.
  • Raymond James analyst Felix Boeschen raised the price target to $108 from $105, maintaining a strong buy rating.

Paccar shares closed Thursday at $93.22.

Taken for a ride

Two Nikola Tre Class 8 hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks took a test drive from the plant in Coolidge, Arizona, west on Interstate 10. The trucks were spotted surrounded by an entourage of several vehicles, not law enforcement serving as chaperones, but camera and video crews capturing the moment.

How far and where the two “Alpha” versions of the fuel trucks went, how much range they achieved before needing a fill-up and other details were among the questions Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA) declined to answer. 

Nikola hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks were on the move last week with an entourage of camera and video crews to capture the moment. (Photo: Nikola)

With the ride, Nikola kept a promise to test its FCETs this year. It also committed to providing preproduction models to early customer Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD) for testing between its operations in Van Nuys, California, and Chandler, Arizona. More to come on that. Maybe soon.

As Nikola closes in on production of battery-powered trucks this quarter, the early-stage FCETs are in the mix as well. The latest count is seven — two assembled in Ulm, Germany, at Nikola’s joint venture with Iveco and five hand-built units in Coolidge. Two are pilot builds and three are in validation and testing.

Nikola has some letters of intent to buy or lease the fuel cell trucks expected to go into production in 2023. Groundbreaking on its first hydrogen station powered by cheap electricity made from renewable solar power should be this year. TravelCenters of America (NASDAQ: TA) reiterated this week its plans to build hydrogen fueling stations for Nikola FCETs.

Tesla Semi tease?

There’s no indication the Tesla Semi is any nearer to production than Elon Musk’s latest prediction of late 2023. But that doesn’t mean there has been no progress. This photo adorned Tesla’s shareholder letter in advance of this week’s Q4 earnings. But Musk was mum in the subsequent earnings call with analysts.

Are these Tesla Semis part of the expected fleet order for Pepsico’s Frito-Lay operation in Modesto, California? (Photo: Tesla)

According to Tesla watcher Electrek, the Semis are the most ever seen at one time in one place. They are parked next to what could be the Tesla Megacharger, or those could be mobile powerpacks deployed from time to time at its Supercharger network.

The dilemma Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) faces with its Megacharger is how to offset demand charges that a utility could levy depending on when one or more power-thirsty Semis roll in to charge. One solution is having stored battery power nearby to help offset those charges. Tesla has promised 400 miles of range for the Semi in a 30-minute charge. No word on the cost.

Predicting what’s next

And to think you used to have to shift the gears yourself. 

Mack Trucks is making Predictive Cruise Control with Econo-Roll standard on its on-highway Anthem and Pinnacle models. Combining the Mack mDrive automated manual transmission (AMT) with GPS, the system will monitor driver speed, engine load and road topography when the cruise control is set.

The next time the truck travels the same route, Mack Predictive Cruise will tell the transmission to pick the best gear for fuel efficiency. And it can store up to 4,500 routes. 

It doesn’t need a permanent GPS installation. A short connection to trigger the memory can improve fuel efficiency by up to 1%. That’s significant considering the typical Class 8 truck uses 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year. 

“The system can store up to 4,500 routes, offers maximum fuel efficiency and improves total cost of ownership for customers.

 Stu Russoli, Mack Trucks highway product manager

After the short GPS hookup, Mack Predictive Cruise recognizes the hill, sends the communication to mDRIVE, which automatically knows the optimal speed and gear strategy for the upcoming terrain. The truck maintains the highest gear possible and stays in that gear to prevent downshifts if unnecessary to crest the hill.

Econo-Roll temporarily disengages the driveline before the downhill descent, allowing the truck to roll, reducing fuel consumption. On the descent, Econo-Roll temporarily disengages the driveline, allowing the truck to roll and consume less fuel.

Because the hill is stored in the vehicle’s memory, Predictive Cruise recognizes it and knows when the gradient will even out, allowing the truck to maintain its speed for the next incline.

Best of the rest

The Advanced Clean Transportation Expo will be a sort of coming out party for Mathias Carlbaum, who will give a keynote address during the event in Long Beach, California, in May. Carlbaum was recently named president and CEO of Navistar, which is now part of Volkswagen AG’s Traton SE truck holding company. 

The $3.7 billion acquisition of Navistar gives Traton a foothold in North America against major manufacturing competitors Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks and Paccar.

Speaking of major addresses, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose the Daimler Truck-owned Detroit Diesel plant to deliver her annual State of the State address.

Young Liu, the chairman of Foxconn, the new owner of the former General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, says the Lordstown Endurance electric pickup truck will begin shipping in the second half of the year. Liu spoke about Lordstown in an interview with Nikkei Asia.

Foxconn, best known as an assembler of Apple iPhones, paid $230 million to buy the assembly complex from startup Lordstown Motors. It is expected to build the Endurance as a contract manufacturer.

The Lordstown Endurance battery electric pickup truck. (Photo: Lordstown Motors)

Will the rush to electric trucks be the death of natural gas-powered trucks? Don’t bet on it. ACT Research reported that while the hype is around battery-electric trucks, natural gas trucks, which run cleaner than diesel but are less powerful and still a fossil fuel, rose about 3% in the September-to-November period of 2021 versus the same three months a year earlier.

The prospects for natural gas infrastructure are iffy, however.

“We’re seeing an overall increase in electric charging stations, both existing and planned, but a continuing decline of total natural gas stations, particularly those planned for the future,” ACT Vice President Steve Tam said.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to subscribe to Truck Tech for email delivery on Fridays.


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.