Truck Reviews

DAF Primes for the big time

In this initial report, we reveal the extent of Paccar Australia’s commitment to creating a continental cab-over like no other, moulding the features of DAF’s superbly equipped XG family with the most advanced big bore truck engine ever created by Cummins. From the boardroom and from the cab, Steve Brooks profiles a truly dynamic step in Paccar Australia's future.

It is more than a tad possible than in the annals of Australian truck production and more specifically, in the bulging story book of product development at Paccar Australia, the launch next year of DAF’s XG and flagship XG+ models will mark a milestone moment.

That moment when the corporate cohesion of global powerhouses Paccar and Cummins, and a critical yet hard-won concession from the Federal Government to change a stifling design rule, came together to mark a dramatic, evolutionary shift in the scale and scope of trucks for the Australian market.

While it’s still six months or more before the new DAFs are formally launched here, it’s inevitable that the XG and the taller XG+ will be the first entirely new models to enter the Australian market following years of urging by major truck suppliers for the Federal Government to increase the width limit of new trucks from 2.5 to 2.55 metres.

The government’s agreement finally came on September 28 in a statement from Senator Carol Brown, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

Appropriately perhaps, whether by chance or choice, the celebratory photo issued along with Senator Brown’s statement was snapped outside Paccar Australia’s Bayswater (Vic) headquarters with the upcoming XG+ flagship providing a bold backdrop.

Not surprisingly, the government’s concession comes with strings attached, defined in the senator’s statement as new trucks to be equipped with ‘devices to reduce blind spots, electronic stability control, advanced emergency braking, a lane departure warning system,’ etcetera, etcetera.

Of course, none of these ‘strings’ are an issue for the new DAFs which, like all top-shelf continental cab-overs these days, bristle with a full suite of advanced safety features as standard equipment.

An enhanced image of the XG+ interior. Enhanced or not, the fit and finish appears excellent.

“These changes will be a real game changer for the industry,” the senator commented, adding that the government’s decision, “responds to direct calls from industry to increase the width limit of trucks.”

Moreover, it’s highly likely that among the most insistent in providing government with ‘direct calls’ over the past three years or so was Paccar Australia and its director of product planning, Ross Cureton.

Seated in the Bayswater boardroom alongside chief engineer Brad May, sales and marketing director Michael Long and marketing manager Ryan Hooper, it seemed a somewhat relieved Ross Cureton who remarked that after six years of intense planning and engineering development spanning the global networks of Paccar and Cummins, the government’s decision came as something of a belated bonus in preparing the new DAFs for the Australian market.

Paccar Australia’s director of product planning, Ross Cureton. Developing the DAF XG for Australia has been a global project.

After all, as both Ross Cureton and Brad May asserted, the DAF XG program was going ahead with or without the width increase.

Sure, the 2.55 metre ruling vastly enhances the viability and practicality of the exercise simply because it accepts Europe’s standard cab width and, in so doing, cancels Australia’s archaic requirement for a 50mm narrower cab width. Still, there were significantly more critical factors at play than years of waiting in limbo for a government decision.

Indeed, it was about six years ago that the stars started to align for Paccar Australia’s long-held ambition to take DAF to a whole new level in this country.

First, there were already secret details of a massive project to develop an entirely new range of premium DAF models for the European market.

The first XG+ on display at the Brisbane Truck Show. Never has there been such interest and excitement in a DAF model in our market.

Then, around much the same time came quiet insights of a radical project by engine giant Cummins to create a highly advanced 15 litre engine, physically smaller and considerably lighter than its existing X15 offering yet punching outputs up to 660hp and 3200Nm (2300lb-ft) of torque.

It is, consequently, easy to imagine the brains trust within Bayswater starting to put these exciting prospects together and subsequently formalising a plan to gain corporate approval for what would be a dynamic bid to take DAF where it has never been before in the Australian market: that is, the top tiers of heavy-duty competition.

After all, and even in the most simplistic view, these new creations from DAF and Cummins were the platforms for something very special and hugely unique in the Paccar world.

Something beyond anything Paccar Australia had previously achieved despite decades of home grown achievements and most vitally, something to spearhead DAF’s emergence from the fringes of Australia’s heavy-duty ranks to a level which at the very least, would challenge every premium player in the continental cab- over class.

Short ‘n sweet. Our exclusive drive in the DAF XG+ highlighted an exceptional standard of build quality and smooth road manners. We’re already keen for a much longer run.

As sales and marketing director Michael Long explained, in the current heavy-duty market there are around 1200 European cab-over trucks of 600hp or more being sold annually. Right now, DAF has no presence in that sector of the market, a void Paccar Australia is particularly eager to end.

In effect, these new models are DAF’s springboard into the big time but of course, not before all the boxes for a barnstorming arrival are ticked and re-ticked.

As a succinct Brad May put it, “We’re busy. Very busy.”

High praise

Launched in Europe in the middle of a COVID-constrained market in 2021, DAF’s ‘New Generation’ XF, XG and XG+ models were nonetheless quick to gain accolades and orders, and by the time of Germany’s all-encompassing Hanover Truck Show in 2022, DAF principals were loud and proud in spruiking the brand’s ascension to the top of continental sales charts.

However, the biggest engine in DAF’s European stable is the 12.9 litre MX-13 which powers the current XF model.

Australia needed more and of course, the new 15 litre Cummins was the key, not only because of its greater grunt and lighter weight but also its smaller physical dimensions to fit comfortably under the new cabs.

Thus, behind the scenes in Europe, engineers and component specialists at DAF headquarters in the Netherlands were fully engaged with their Australian counterparts and likewise, Cummins’s senior technical people in Europe and Australia.

Obviously, the new trucks had gone through years of extreme testing prior to launch and so, too, had Cummins put a huge effort into ensuring the durability of the engine which had become broadly known as the M15.

However, testing and validating the engine for Australian conditions were essential, with Cummins Australia undertaking detailed field tests of engines in the Kenworth K200s of several leading customers before the arrival and subsequent on-road evaluations of the first DAF XG+ trial units.

Thumbs up all-round for the long-awaited government decision to increase the cab width limit to 2.55 metres. Senator Carol Brown is front and centre with the new DAF XG+ providing an appropriate backdrop.

Yet the engines in the DAFs differ in a number of ways to those first installed in Kenworths. For starters, they’re coupled to ZF’s hugely successful and highly intuitive Traxon automated transmission rather than the usual Cummins coupling to an Eaton ’box.

Of a less technical nature but certainly imparting the message that the new DAFs are first and foremost a Paccar product, the engines are painted black instead of the usual Cummins red, and like the MX-13, topped with a rocker cover boldly stamped ‘Paccar’.

Whether or not the new Cummins is marketed as an MX-15, well, time will tell. And whether or not Cummins was entirely happy about the colour and branding change of its latest and possibly greatest truck engine is unknown. Either way, both matters now seem something of a moot point.

Yet with its local evaluation program in full swing, Paccar Australia was keen to gauge market reaction and shelved its normally secretive protocols to put one of the new DAFs front and centre on its stand at the Brisbane Truck Show earlier this year.

To say the new truck was a standout attraction would be an understatement of major proportion, thrilling and surprising Paccar insiders with levels of interest from customers and show goers never before experienced for the DAF brand in this country.

As for us, we were keen as seagulls on a chip to get behind the wheel.

Night moves. One of four DAF XG trial units running around the clock at full B-double weights. All four will be soon working in real world conditions with various fleets.

Again though, there was still plenty of work to do. As Ross Cureton put it, “pulling all the threads together” to ensure each aspect of the new generation DAF was specifically tailored to the Australian market.

With six months or more still to go before the official launch, the intensity to streamline and evaluate every detail of the specification has not waned in the slightest according to Bayswater insiders, with four fully imported trial units running around- the-clock before being prepared for real world work with several prominent fleets.

Meanwhile, by the time this report appears the first locally assembled XGs will have already rolled off the Bayswater line.

Fortunately, after months of haggling and hope on our part, Paccar agreed to a short but highly exclusive drive in a trial unit coupled to a fully loaded B-double curtain-sider, grossing upwards of 62 tonnes.

Of course, a stint of 100km or so on Melbourne freeways and suburban arterials is hardly a definitive sample but the privilege of being handed the reins of a critical new model driven by less than a handful of ‘outsiders’, and particularly a model with so much at stake for its creators, was not taken lightly.

Perhaps most strikingly though, the exercise signalled Paccar’s burgeoning confidence and on first impressions, the confidence is definitely not misplaced.

Paccar Australia chief engineer Brad May at the helm. Wisely, glass mirrors will be standard and digital mirrors optional.

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 (a 600hp rating with 3000Nm2212lb-ft of torque is also likely to be offered) stirring through a 16-speed ZF Traxon automated transmission into a Meritor drive tandem on Paccar’s Airglide rear suspension, and with disc brakes all-round.

From any angle, the external styling is modern and clean with rounded corners and curved roofline clearly indicating DAF’s close attention to aerodynamic detail, not least with the truck’s optional fitment of external cameras and internal screens in place of standard glass mirrors.

Wisely, as Brad May confirmed from inside the cab, glass mirrors will “definitely” be the norm and cameras the option.

With a set-back front axle, it’s an easy climb into the cab on well-placed steps and throughout, inside and out, build quality appears first-rate.

True, time in the truck was short, but it didn’t take long to be familiar with the digital dash layout, major switchgear and control functions, as well as form an appreciation for the roominess and appointments of the high-rise XG+ cab.

Have no doubt, in features and finish the XG+ has all the trappings of a top-shelf truck, including a generous and electrically adjustable bed.

As our exclusive report revealed early this year, the new Cummins 15 litre engine was first trialled in Kenworth K200s. However, in the DAF XG it’s painted black and stamped ‘Paccar’.

Meantime, there’s a polite, reassuring hum from the new Cummins which does more than just hint at a fine mix of manners and muscle. Most notably though, the level of throttle response is extraordinarily sharp.

Quite simply, it’s a smaller engine with a bigger bite and according to Paccar’s people, early indications suggest a healthy regard for fuel efficiency.

That’s enough for now. After all, it was a short drive and it’s still early days. Very early, and so much hinges on the durability and efficiency of the new engine.

But this much is already certain: XG represents a major cultural shift for Paccar Australia and there will be no shortcuts in achieving the goal to not only put DAF on a far higher heavy-duty mantle but equally, forge a foundation to take the brand and the company into a broader competitive realm.

Similarly certain, this will not be our last report on the new DAF before its official launch next year. In fact, the likelihood is that a much longer run will be provided over the next month or so.

Stay tuned!

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