Feature, Truck Reviews, Truck Technology

DAF flexes muscle

Destined to make DAF a stronger competitor in every sense, Paccar Australia is intently ticking all the boxes in the lead-up to the launch of its highly anticipated XG models. Trial units are now running full throttle with several hard core fleets, among them Lindsay Australia.

 

If it’s true that all good things come to those who wait, then Paccar Australia’s people would be entirely justified in thinking they’ve waited long enough for a DAF with the muscle to rumble among the big players in the European cab-over class.

It has, indeed, been a long wait but in just a few months – most likely May – the Cummins-powered XG models will make their official debut and, in the process, mark that point where DAF finally has the muscle and the merits to be far more things to far more people. In effect, to step into the heavyweight ring with a top-shelf, high horsepower contender genuinely capable of going toe-to-toe with the top toilers of Volvo, Scania and Mercedes-Benz. And ultimately, almost certainly, even have a crack at Kenworth’s classic K-series.

Whatever, there’s no denying XG and the flagship XG+ are exciting newcomers, designed entirely to fill the void which has seriously hamstrung the Dutch truck’s capacity to challenge its continental competitors in the top end of the Australian market. And in a broader corporate context, perhaps realise the potential Paccar’s global powerbrokers have long sought for the brand in our part of the world.

Still, it has been a long and occasionally rough road to this point, stretching far deeper into DAF’s evolution than the ‘light bulb’ moment almost seven years ago when Paccar Australia’s brains trust first proposed the coupling of a radical new Cummins 15 litre engine with a completely reworked line-up of flash flagship models.

What we’re about to see in these new trucks is, in fact, a precisely localised version of an absolute triumph in revival and renewal forged over almost three decades.

It all stems back to a road first trekked in late 1996 when Seattle-based Paccar Inc. rescued a severely ailing DAF Trucks from what was almost certainly the corporate scrap heap, paying US$543 million for the Dutch truck and engine maker.

This was not, however, Paccar’s first venture across the Atlantic. In 1980, Britain’s iconic Foden became part of the Paccar portfolio but by 2006, after largely failing to ascend to heights hoped for, the Pommie brand was discreetly shelved. Yet while Foden wafted into obscurity, a rejuvenated DAF was careening its way back into commercial consciousness.

Lindsay Australia linehaul shuttle drivers Hayden Rogers (left) and Nathan Senenikow give the DAF XG+ a quick spruce before another Coffs Harbour to Sydney leg. Lindsay Australia is one of four prominent fleets putting DAF’s flagship through its linehaul paces

Nonetheless, economic analysts and industry observers in the late ’90s openly wondered about the DAF acquisition, questioning the wisdom of such a high-priced purchase for what was plainly a company teetering on the edge of extinction. Yet, with the advantage of hindsight, it’s easy to suggest that analysts and observers alike failed to comprehend Paccar’s vision for DAF or perhaps more accurately, the conviction of Paccar Inc’s supreme leader, Mark Pigott, to turn the tables on Europe’s powerhouse players.

Little doubt, Mark Pigott was on a path to take Paccar beyond Fortress America and DAF was the weapon of choice for what would become a determined assault on Europe and beyond. In 1997 he took the executive reins of Paccar Inc. following the retirement of his father Charles ‘Chuck’ Pigott, becoming the fourth generation of Pigotts to lead the famously profitable company and to put it mildly, he did not delay in sharpening a course which would make Paccar a truly global player.

In the US, of course, Paccar’s Kenworth and Peterbilt brands are household names and in arguably the corporate world’s most successful example of sibling rivalry, each brand has built formidable followings among North American truckers. However, not all American truck brands had done nearly so well and in the early ’80s, European giants Daimler and Volvo were quick to take advantage, building a US beachhead with acquisitions of several high profile but financially troubled truck makers.

Volvo started the ball rolling by buying White and later acquiring Mack via the Swedes’ takeover of Renault. Likewise, German giant Daimler didn’t hesitate to grab Freightliner and much later, Ford Trucks. Thus, under the guidance of European executives, the Swedes and Germans cut deep into the North American market and it would be immensely naïve to think Paccar hasn’t felt the pain of Europe’s incursion.

At the wheel. Comfort, road manners, switchgear functions and overall ease of operation are high on the list of likes from the driver’s seat

Even so, Paccar’s later purchase of DAF caught many by surprise but from the outside looking in and again with the clarity of hindsight, it was a stunningly smart move. Mark Pigott was masterminding Paccar’s lunge into the highly competitive European market based around a truck maker complete with its own engine production capacity. In fact, the engine aspect of Paccar’s purchase cannot be overstated with the remarkable acceptance of Paccar MX engines in all three brands – DAF, Kenworth and Peterbilt – on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

It took time, but Paccar’s acquisition and subsequent rebirth of DAF could nowadays be fairly ranked as the greatest achievement and most successful initiative in Paccar’s history, with DAF today in daily battle for overall leadership of the European heavy-duty truck market.

Obviously enough, it is a similar battle Paccar Australia aims to provoke with the addition of the XG and its premium XG+ partner.

DAF down under

However, facts and figures tell the story that DAF hasn’t yet come remotely close to replicating its continental conquests since becoming part of Paccar Australia’s portfolio in 1998. True, the last few years have seen improvement in the Dutch truck’s annual sales tally, with last year’s spectacularly strong heavy-duty market delivering DAF a 4.7 per cent stake of the sector on the delivery of 827 units, easily the best result in the brand’s Australian history.

Overall though, DAF’s Australian presence has largely fallen far short of corporate expectations since Paccar took control.

Why?

Well, long story short, DAF got off to a rough start in Australia. Really rough!

In pre-Paccar days, for instance, the brand came here as a fully-backed factory operation from the Netherlands before being unceremoniously offloaded to entrepreneurial types looking to cash in on the heavy-duty cab-over class: Former Transpacific and Western Star supremo Terry Peabody comes quickly to mind.

Worst of all though, early attempts by Dutch executives to make a mark in Australia saw formative models being carelessly sold into applications where they simply weren’t suited and subsequent shortcomings created a poor reputation which in some quarters has endured despite dramatic improvements under Paccar’s parentage.

DAF first entered the Lindsay fleet in 2015 with the versatile CF model, building a strong reputation for reliable, efficient operation in rigid, single trailer and local B-double work. Now, two XG models have been ordered

Yet despite the drawbacks, including a limited model range, the DAFs of Paccar have evolved to become far more appealing machines but typically perhaps, old opinions can sometimes die hard in the trucking game, not least in our neck of the woods.

But then, Paccar Australia hasn’t always been kind to DAF, either. Australia is one of the very few markets where DAF and Kenworth sell alongside each other and to put it as delicately as possible, the Dutch truck has not always fared well in Paccar’s local structure. Or as a salesman candidly commented some years back, “It’s a lot easier and a lot more profitable to sell a Kenworth than it is to sell a DAF.” What’s more, there’s no question some previous administrations at Paccar Australia were less than enthusiastic about the European truck, despite the urgings of head office in Seattle.

Fortunately, attitudes have improved dramatically over the past decade but more to the point, so has the brand’s reputation and reliability. Sure, Kenworth is king but within Paccar Australia, DAF is today recognised and accepted as the brand with the greatest growth potential for the company. In fact, it’s not so long ago that a family member of the vast Brown & Hurley dealership group remarked that the Dutch truck was accounting for up to 30 per cent of all its truck sales.

Simply stated, DAF has steadily filled gaps that aren’t always able to be filled with Kenworth, notably in single trailer and rigid applications where the versatile CF range has made solid gains powered by Paccar’s MX-11 and MX-13 engines, the latter now pumping out up to 530hp and 2600Nm (1918lb-ft) of torque.

Therein, however, has dwelled the dilemma for DAF in the big end of the business: Simply not enough grunt! Try as it might with much the same MX-13 powertrain as the CF, the existing XF model just hasn’t had the performance muscle or market appeal to match it with the Swedes and Germans, specifically in the burgeoning linehaul B-double business.

Our first run in an XG+ was in this trial unit in Melbourne several months ago. First impressions were undeniably positive

As Paccar Australia sales and marketing director Michael Long commented several months back, there are at least 1200 European cab-over trucks of 600hp or more being sold annually in Australia and as things stand at the moment, DAF has no presence in that sector of the market.

This is, of course, a void Paccar Australia is particularly eager to end and the XG and XG+ with the all-new, lighter and markedly more powerful Cummins 15 litre engine are the keys to cracking into the big boy business where demand for heavy-duty trucks continues to set sales records and defy assertions of a downturn. Last year’s total of 17,569 heavy-duty deliveries, for example, was a new record few would have imagined following the previous record result in 2022, indicating that Michael Long’s ‘1200 European cab-over trucks of 600hp or more’ may be now a tad on the conservative side.

Simply put, these are boom times and given the extraordinary interest in the new DAF flagship during a surprise appearance at last year’s Brisbane Truck Show, timing for the new model’s release probably couldn’t be better.

Yet after more than six years of fastidious engineering, intricate planning and extensive testing spanning the vast global networks of Paccar and Cummins to create a continental cab-over like no other, Paccar Australia is taking nothing for granted as the official launch of the new models now looms into view. Paccar’s local leaders know only too well that opportunities like this, moulding the features of the superbly equipped XG family with the most advanced big bore truck engine every created by Cummins, are a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

Obviously, cab and chassis components of the new generation DAFs went through years of extreme testing prior to their European launch in 2021 and so, too, had Cummins put a huge effort into ensuring the durability and efficiency of the engine which has become broadly known as the M15. Australia, however, demands a great deal of its trucks – especially those at the top of the tree – and testing and validation of the cab and powertrain under real world conditions have been arguably more intense than anything ever before undertaken by Paccar Australia.

Lindsay Australia general manager of operations Rob Dummer. It’s early days but there’s ample faith Paccar and Cummins will get it right

As the spearhead of DAF’s emergence from the fringes of Australia’s heavy-duty ranks to a level which at the very least is designed to challenge every premium player in the continental cab-over class, Bayswater’s boffins know as well as any that there are no shortcuts to success. More to the point perhaps, particularly given the brand’s history here, there’s the blunt awareness these top-shelf DAFs will need to be ‘on the money’ from the outset.

Test drives

In what is probably a case of stating the obvious, the entirely new Cummins engine is the most critical component in Australia’s XG program. Ensuring the engine’s reliability and efficiency continue to be top priorities and as we’ve reported in previous articles, detailed field tests saw engines installed in Kenworth K200s before the arrival and subsequent on-road evaluations of the first DAF XG+ trial units.

Despite being physically smaller and significantly lighter than the current Cummins X15, the highly advanced newcomer boasts a considerably bigger bite and will hit the market in two ratings – 660hp with 3200Nm (2300lb-ft) of torque and a 600hp setting with 3000Nm (2212lb-ft) of torque. On the figures alone, neither rating will be timid in the tugging department.

However, the engine will be badged ‘Paccar’ rather than Cummins and reinforcing the corporate message even further, it will be painted black instead of the usual Cummins red. A move, in effect, signifying Paccar’s total control of the program which sees DAF electrical protocols commanding a powertrain stirring through ZF’s highly regarded Traxon automated transmission rather than the usual Cummins connection to an Eaton shifter.

As we reported in our November ’23 issue, we were fortunate to be given an exclusive update on the XG program by Paccar Australia senior executives and the same day, granted a short drive of a fully loaded XG+ B-double trial unit on suburban and arterial roads around Melbourne. The truck was, in fact, one of four running around-the-clock to notch up mileage and operational data before being delivered to high-profile fleets for intense duties in the real world of linehaul freight.

Key to the success of the DAF XG range will be the reliability and efficiency of the new Cummins 15 litre engine. Lindsay’s K200 was one of several early test beds

Typifying the new model’s initial specification, the XG+ trial truck sat on a 3.9 metre wheelbase and carried a gross combination mass rating of 97 tonnes. Importantly, it also carried fuel and AdBlue capacities of 1200 litres and 130 litres respectively.

Underneath was the 660hp version of the new Cummins stirring through a 16-speed Traxon transmission into a Meritor drive tandem on Paccar’s Airglide rear suspension, with disc brakes all-round.

While time behind the wheel was limited, it was at least long enough to form the view that over a set-back front axle, it’s an easy climb into the cab on well-placed steps, fit and finish appear finely crafted and gratefully, it didn’t take long to become familiar with the digital dash layout, major switchgear and control functions. Overall, first impressions of build quality and operational layout were undeniably positive.

The only dislike was the use of cameras and internal digital screens in place of standard glass mirrors. We’re told, however, that traditional glass mirrors will be the standard in production models. Wise!

We were, of course, keen for more time at the wheel but with the countdown to the new models’ formal release winding down, we’ve had to wait a while. The intensity to streamline and evaluate every detail of the specification has been Bayswater’s top priority and it wasn’t long after those initial tests that trial units were deployed to several major fleets.

One of those fleets – along with Victoria’s Cahill and Dyer companies, and Nolan’s in Queensland – is Lindsay Australia where a 660hp XG+ is pulling B-double reefers on a linehaul shuttle operation between Sydney and Brisbane with the only scheduled stop being a daily driver change and fuel top-up at the company’s Coffs Harbour base.

Working under the fiercely pragmatic gaze of Lindsay Australia general manager of operations Rob Dummer, the truck had six weeks’ work under its belt when the go-ahead came to share the truck with Lindsay driver Hayden Rogers on an overnight return run of almost 1000km between Coffs Harbour and Sydney.

Originally from New Zealand, the affable 34 year-old father of three lives in Coffs Harbour and in six years with Lindsay Transport, has moved through the driver ranks from rigids to semi-trailers on local deliveries before starting B-double shuttle duties three years ago. He’s quick to admit liking the job that sees him home with his wife and children in the mornings before heading to bed and in the afternoons, stepping back into the truck when long-time Lindsay driver Nathan Senenikow arrives back in Coffs from Brisbane.

Lindsay Australia linehaul shuttle drivers Hayden Rogers (left) and Nathan Senenikow give the DAF XG+ a quick spruce before another Coffs Harbour to Sydney leg. Lindsay Australia is one of four prominent fleets putting DAF’s flagship through its linehaul paces

On this particular run, it’s early evening before we’re southbound from Coffs with Hayden at the wheel of a combination grossing 60.7 tonnes, loaded with Queensland produce and with little more than 61,000km under the DAF’s belt.

The conversation flowed easily with Hayden declaring that while it’s still early days he’d happily stay in the truck permanently, adding that Nathan Senenikow holds much the same view. Comfort, road manners and practicality all rate highly, he insists, and there hasn’t been the slightest hint of a squeak or rattle anywhere. Likewise, he cites easy familiarity with the various control functions and switchgear, particularly after early tuition on the model’s extensive features. Critically, the DAFs extensive suite of standard safety functions also figure favourably in this family man’s estimations.

Meantime, performance of the Cummins has been impressive, he remarks without hesitation. “Yeah, it’s going really well and getting better all the time as it gets more mileage. There’s definitely nothing shy about the way it pulls.”

The XG+ first arrived at the Coffs depot with almost 21,000km on the clock and since being scheduled into the fleet, has been notching around 10,000km a week. Asked about fuel consumption, Hayden simply scrolled through the truck’s on-board computer to reveal that in the previous 17,000km, fuel usage had averaged 2.1km/litre, or a fraction under 6.0mpg in the old measure.

Kilometres rolled past quickly down the highway and it was easy to sit back as Hayden steered into the night, the engine pulsing calmly at 1350rpm with cruise control set at 100km/h. It’s quiet in the cab, but not so clinically quiet that you can’t hear or appreciate the healthy hum of the Cummins burbling underneath. It might be a totally different engine but the note has a distinct family resemblance.

However, one notable difference between this truck and the unit I’d driven a few months earlier in Melbourne was the transmission, with the Lindsay truck running a 12-speed Traxon shifter instead of the 16-speed version. At this stage it’s unknown if Paccar was simply trialling the 12-speed box or intends to offer both speeds but either way, partnered with the considerable grit and grunt of the livewire Cummins, the 12-speeder certainly lacked nothing in slick selection of the right slot at precisely the right moment.

The only other noticeable difference from the truck driven earlier was the replacement of digital mirrors with excellent glass mirrors. Again, a wise move.

Despite relatively few kilometres on the clock, the Cummins was responsive and strong, cresting the sharp Coolongolook climb in 8th gear at 1500rpm with road speed dropping no lower than 40km/h.

A few hours later, the longer and marginally tougher run up Moonee briefly pulled the truck back to 38km/h in 7th gear at 1800rpm.

Hayden Rogers. No hesitation in stating he’d be happy if they left him in the new DAF permanently

Midnight wasn’t far away as Hayden uncoupled trailers at the Berowra siding on the old Pacific Highway and just minutes later, a northbound B-double set arrived and was quickly transferred to the DAF. For the record, the on-board computer showed fuel consumption for the southbound leg of almost 500km at 1.9km/litre, or 5.37mpg.

From here on, Hayden had his first run in the passenger seat but rather than the truck hauling produce, express freight bound for Brisbane meant a modest gross weight of around 43 tonnes.

Clearly, the Cummins made easy work of the return run and behind the wheel, familiarity with the DAF’s various control functions was soon second nature. Just as first impressions months earlier were positive, so too was it easy to forge considerable regard for the DAF’s road manners on the highway back to Coffs Harbour.

Simply stated, the XG+ was a sweet truck to drive in every sense. Perhaps steering could be judged a tad too light but then, it’s certainly not so soft to be wayward. Meantime, there were no squeaks, no rattles, controls are well sited, the dash layout is pleasing and practical, ride quality and road noise on the perpetually cracked concrete around the NSW Central Coast raised no issues, throttle response of the Cummins was quick and strong, and overall, the XG+ trial truck gave the distinct impression of solid strength and inherent quality.

Sure, these are very early days but at the distinct risk of jumping too soon with a blunt opinion, this new DAF appears to have all the hallmarks that will allow it to do what it has done so successfully in the northern hemisphere; compete head-to-head with Europe’s finest top-shelf toilers.

Dawn was a hint of colour on the Pacific horizon as the DAF turned into the Coffs depot, the trip computer showing fuel consumption of 2.2 km/litre for the 968km run, or 6.2mpg. Either way, a highly respectable result.

With well-practiced routine, Hayden and northbound driver Nathan Senenikow soon had the truck refuelled, washed of the night’s bugs and grime, and heading to Brisbane, continuing to build the mileage and the credibility Paccar Australia is so keenly seeking as the new DAF’s debut races to reality.

An hour or two later, Rob Dummer would quickly peruse the previous night’s reports of all the equipment in the vast Lindsay operation, the new DAF just one among the many.

Cautious confidence

A man who doesn’t mince words when it comes to the estimation of all forms of transport equipment be it trucks, trailers or rail cars, Rob Dummer offers a shrewd smile when asked about the new DAF’s prospects. “Too early to tell,” he says simply. “Ask me again when we’ve put another hundred thousand kays on it.”

As for the point in the XG’s future when a decision to purchase might be made, he says sharply, “It’ll need 500,000km under it before critical decisions like that are made. Price will be a deciding factor, for sure.”

Funny thing though, he admits that while Paccar Australia hasn’t yet finalised pricing of the flagship DAFs, two of the new XG models have already been ordered, due off the Bayswater production line in the next few months. Set to replace Lindsay’s only two Volvo FH models, a succinct Dummer says the DAFs will be “… a continuation of the testing exercise for us”.

Nonetheless, there’s no hiding the fact that Rob Dummer has developed a considerable regard for DAF since the first units joined the Lindsay fleet in 2015. In our exclusive feature report on Lindsay Australia early last year, he remarked, “We still have our original DAF and seriously, we can’t fault it.

“As a single trailer truck and eight-wheeler rigid, and even on local B-double work, we can’t go past DAF,” he said, referring to the 100-plus MX-powered CF models in the fleet.

However, as a linehaul B-double truck, DAF’s opportunities within the Lindsay operation have been basically non-existent. Until now!

In late 2022, Rob Dummer was among a group of Australian truck operators given a close look at the new XG range during a visit to DAF facilities in Europe. He didn’t deny there was a lot to like in the new DAF cab and the installation of the lighter, more powerful Cummins underneath certainly fired his interest.

Meantime, while Lindsay’s early testing of the new Cummins engine in Kenworth K200s was effectively a first step with somewhat marginal results, it’s an upbeat Rob Dummer who admits to considerable faith in the long and mutually beneficial relationship between Paccar and Cummins and vitally, their obvious intensity to “get it right” in the new DAF.

“There’s definitely a lot at stake in this new truck for both companies,” he said recently, voicing a strong opinion that in a project of this scale with so much riding on its success, there’s little likelihood that anything will be left to chance.

RELATED ARTICLE: Conventional conjuring from The Netherlands

Subsequently asked if the new DAF could ultimately be a preferred choice over Kenworth’s perennial K-series cab-over, a thoughtful Rob Dummer explained, “The DAF tares about half a tonne lighter than a K2 but even so, we’re not a big cab-over user on linehaul and shuttles. There are about 340 prime movers in the fleet and right now, only about 30 of them are either K200s or K220s.”

Still, his close involvement with the XG program doesn’t disguise a cautious confidence in the future for the new DAFs.

Again though, he maintains that price will be a potent factor in purchasing decisions. Like, when asked last year if the top-shelf DAF had the ability to gnaw at Kenworth’s cab-over business, a shrewd Rob Dummer said simply, “Could be. The K220 is an expensive truck.”

Whatever, for Paccar Australia it has never been  a question of DAF versus Kenworth. It is entirely about a clash of the continentals, with DAF finally having the performance, the appeal and the operational credentials to do what it has never before been able to do in this country. That is, go head-to-head, toe-to-toe with Europe’s big boys.

Bring it on!

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