Quiet revolution behind new DAF range

By: Steve Brooks


The recent launch of DAF’s Euro 6 range marks significantly more than the introduction of a smarter, stronger, safer and altogether more compelling crop of continental cab-overs. Critically, it highlights the escalation of a vast cultural shift at Paccar Australia, feeding all the way down the commercial food chain. Kenworth is king but have no doubt, the Paccar pendulum is swinging more and more to a Dutch touch

 

DAF XF flagship steaming around the Mt Cotton circuit. More power and more torque give the Dutch truck more bite

Since November 2018, the general manager of DAF Trucks Australia has been an affable executive from Spain named Felipe Rubio.

To perhaps state the obvious, it doesn’t take long in his agreeable and educated company to realise he is neither a typical nor traditional Paccar man. At least, not in the Australian context.

Here, a tried and true Paccar man is generally someone who lives and breathes Kenworth. Someone burnt to the bone with the KW ‘bug’ and who, for much of the past two decades since DAF first became part of Paccar Australia’s portfolio, has benignly endured rather than boldly embraced the Dutch truck.

But as the emergence of executives such as Felipe Rubio hints, bug-brained Paccar purists are a diminishing breed as the tide turns and a new reality continues to gain momentum. A reality revolving around an increasingly stark acceptance that times are a’changing and whether the bug brethren likes it or not, DAF’s growth potential far exceeds Kenworth’s.  

Sure, it might be like trying to turn a container ship with a ‘tinnie’ but given persistence and the right conditions, there will come a change in direction. And at Paccar Australia it’s happening right now, with more energy, optimism and apparent commitment than ever before.

None of this is to infer or foolishly predict that Kenworth won’t continue to reign supreme. Far from it. Paccar principals are much too clever and the Kenworth brand too respected and deeply ingrained in the market’s mindset for such cataclysmic upheaval to occur in just one or two generations. Besides, in the coldly calculating commercial world, it is fundamentally easier and almost certainly more profitable to sell a Kenworth than a DAF.

Even so, to deny or ignore the emergence of DAF as an increasingly critical contributor to Paccar Australia’s future prospects would be naïve and foolhardy in the extreme.

Nowhere was DAF’s modern ascension more evident than at the recent upmarket launch of the new Euro 6 range, which saw Paccar Australia senior executives, engineers, managers, dealers, salesmen and customers openly acknowledge the latest line-up’s appeal. Perhaps for the very first time in DAF’s Australian history, there was true pride and acceptance of the Dutch truck across the full Paccar spectrum rather than isolated and largely patronising pockets of corporate kinship.

As one high profile Paccar dealer principal confirmed, DAF now represents 30 per cent of all sales and the number is gradually increasing. Better still, he added, it’s all growth business because DAF doesn’t necessarily compete directly with Kenworth, so the sales are coming from people who in many cases might otherwise buy a Volvo, Scania or Mercedes-Benz. Or Japanese.

Another hard-nosed, cemented Kenworth veteran was more candid: "Once upon a time you’d sell a DAF and turn your phone off before something went wrong. It doesn’t happen like that anymore.

"DAF these days fills in the gaps we can’t fill with Kenworth."

Specialist. DAF Trucks Australia general manager, Felipe Rubio. New man for a new era

 

PEOPLE POWER            

Yet perhaps the most revealing example of the quiet revolution which continues to take place within Paccar Australia is the people. People like Felipe Rubio and perhaps less obviously, but certainly more critically, Paccar Australia chief executive Andrew ‘Hadge’ Hadjikakou.

Hadge is unlike his predecessors in a multitude of ways. Sure, he is totally and utterly committed to the Paccar cause: profit means viability and viability means survival, in that order. But where he differs dramatically from such rusted-on chief executive stalwarts as the long-serving and somewhat legendary Andrew Wright, the highly pragmatic and fiercely focussed Joe Rizzo, and the charismatically corporate Yank Mike Dozier, is in the simple fact that Hadge’s executive career was not conceived in Kenworth.

He came to Paccar Australia in 2007 from the steel industry during Joe Rizzo’s reign, serving as marketing and sales director for both Rizzo and Mike Dozier before being handed the reins to the top job in 2016 when Dozier was called back to head Kenworth operations in the US.

Whether by corporate dictum or commercial desire, or both, Hadge has from the outset of his leadership appeared to have been more receptive to the Dutch brand and subsequently more cognisant of its long-term opportunities than any of his predecessors.

Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe it’s simply that DAF is now evolving to the higher plane Paccar Inc’s powerbrokers have long urged for the brand in this country. An urge that perhaps fell on defiantly deaf ears under earlier executive regimes where the superiority of Kenworth and subservience of DAF held the two brands poles apart.

Inside the utilitarian CF with upmarket trim package. In XF and CF models, it’s a much improved layout

Whatever, with Paccar rather than Kenworth in the blood, Hadge is almost certainly the right man at the right time to nurture DAF’s passage into a bold and seemingly bountiful future while upholding all that is treasured, trusted and lucrative about Kenworth.

Nor, apparently, is he without the internal allies who, under the heavy hand of earlier administrations, may have once been less than loving towards DAF. Tenacious allies such as sales and marketing director Brad May – a man born and bred with the bug in his blood – is nowadays first to remind anyone in earshot that Paccar’s greatest growth will come from DAF.  

"It has taken a very long time and it hasn’t been an easy road with Kenworth as the cultural base [but] DAF is now a critical part of the Paccar culture," a resolute Brad May said at the Mt Cotton (Qld) media introduction of the new range. Yet strangely, and surprisingly given the apparent importance of the message that DAF is on the cusp of an entirely new era, Hadjikakou was missing at Mt Cotton.

Meanwhile, a little further along the executive chain, US-expat and Paccar Australia chief engineer Noelle Parlier and the company’s astute director of product planning Ross Cureton talk with convincing candour of the opportunities and potential of current and future DAF product while in the next breath confirming that exciting new Kenworth developments are running full steam ahead. And that’s the thing: in an engineering perspective, the evolutionary emphasis is today balanced between two brands rather than teetering toward parochial preferences.

In the case of the new DAF models, for example, more than two years of detailed discussion and development are said to have preceded the Australian launch.

Then there’s Felipe Rubio. Unlike his predecessors, the 41-year-old Spaniard is a DAF devotee with absolutely no doubt of the brand’s ability to tackle its continental competitors. More to the point though, he’s a DAF specialist rather than a senior Kenworth operative co-opted or coerced into the general manager’s role to improve the Dutch truck’s sales results.

Yet try as Felipe’s forebears have, and one or two tried very hard indeed, DAF’s sales figures have to date remained stubbornly modest despite recent assertions of improved numbers by some Paccar dealers. In 2017, DAF’s share of the heavy-duty market was 3.2 per cent, 3.4 per cent in 2018 and 3.4 per cent again in 2019. Hardly the form to inspire confidence in a dynamic new future where DAF hopes to repeat its European performance by running neck ‘n’ neck for market might against its Swedish and German competition.  

Word has it, however, that Felipe has arrived with a sales pedigree of some distinction, securing one of the biggest orders for new trucks ever achieved by DAF.

Wisely though, he knows European performance will count for little here. Australia is like nowhere else and DAF is coming from the back of the pack, factors which he says excited and challenged his interests enough to put his hand up for the general manager’s job when he was encouraged to apply. So, towards the end of 2018, he moved wife and kids from Spain to Australia, and went to work at Paccar Australia’s Bayswater (Vic) headquarters.

Paccar Australia chief engineer Noelle Parlier and director of product planning, Ross Cureton. There’s now far more engineering equality between the Kenworth and DAF brands

What counts now, he insists, is putting the right plans and products in place, effectively starting with the latest Euro 6 range and blatant determination to put the past to the sword.

Still, in a sign that patience and purpose rule, Felipe forecasts there will be no sudden spurt up the sales ladder but rather, a steady and carefully executed enterprise to make DAF more appealing to more people and ultimately, provide Paccar Australia with the tailored models it will need to counter the ongoing assault of continental competitors.

It will take time but the process is underway and there’s every indication that this year and next will be a watershed period in DAF’s emergence as a stronger market force.

The top end of DAF’s versatile CF range, for instance, is already being assembled alongside Kenworths on the Bayswater line. However, it’s next year when Paccar will celebrate 50 years of Australian truck manufacturing with the opening of a $37 million expansion of the Bayswater facility that local assembly of DAF models is planned to significantly increase, allowing trucks to be better tailored to Australian requirements.

By 2022, production capacity at Bayswater will be doubled and the obvious goal is for DAF models to consume a considerable slice of that extra capacity. 

Pocket rocket. The Mt Cotton drive event saw the first MX-11 engine put through its paces. It’ll be available later this year

 

PRODUCT PLANS

In time, and following the expected European launch of an entirely new range of DAF models within the next few years, product evolution for the Australian market will see even greater developments. It is not beyond the bounds of believability, for instance, that there will come the introduction and local assembly of a high horsepower (600hp [447kW] or more) XF flagship. Nor will it be surprising if it’s punched by a Cummins X15 engine driving into either a new generation Eaton 18-speed automated transmission (word from the US says it’s called Yukon) or ZF’s advanced Traxon automated shifter.

Whether this top-shelf DAF will be the thin edge of the wedge in eventually replacing Kenworth’s iconic K-series cab-over is unknown, but one thing’s for sure: despite the increasing costs of producing K-series purely for the Australian and New Zealand markets, Paccar Australia insiders are adamant they will never voluntarily withdraw or kill off their classic cab-over. Market forces alone, they say, will determine K-series’ future but judging by the fact it is still Kenworth’s biggest seller, this incredible survivor will be around for many, many years yet.

In effect, if people are prepared to keep paying for it in sufficient numbers, Paccar Australia will continue building it. What’s more, word is now seeping out that a refreshed K200 design is already on the drawing board.

All these things, however, are somewhere in the future. Right now, it’s all about the latest Euro 6 range and what we saw and drove recently at the Mt Cotton test track in Brisbane was enough to suggest that DAF’s appeal has been given an almighty boost. Sure, it’s a long way short of ‘Pure Excellence’ as DAF’s ‘Trumpish’ marketing mantra claims, but this rejuvenated range is certainly a significant step forward.

Externally, the changes are subtle yet obvious. It’s simply a smoother, more stylish and in some areas, more practical presence while on the inside, both CF and XF have undergone worthwhile changes in design and layout which include a more efficient and effective climate control system. Overall, it’s simply a more appealing, functional and altogether more comfortable environment for the driver.

Baby of the bunch, the new LF model was launched well ahead of its CF and XF big brothers

Predictably, aerodynamics are said to be improved and likewise, aid in the assertion of 10 per cent better fuel consumption over the new models’ Euro 5 predecessors.

However, the big factor in both improved fuel consumption and notably stronger performance are Paccar’s MX-13 engine, a drivetrain which has undergone substantial change, and what is said to be completely new electrical architecture equipped with a new vehicle control unit for dedicated driveline integration.

Additionally, says Paccar: "MX engines have been further improved by applying a more efficient variable geometry turbocharger, a new EGR system (the MX-13 uses a combination of EGR, SCR and diesel particulate filter to achieve Euro 6 emissions compliance) and new valve actuation design. Thermal efficiency has been enhanced by developing a new combustion system, including new pistons, injectors and injection strategies (up to a whopping 2,500 bar/36,000 psi injection pressure) while higher compression ratios are employed."

There are also new variable speed cooling, steering and oil pumps to achieve lower fuel consumption through lower parasitic losses off the engine, and a heavily revised cooling package which, according to DAF, reduces engine fan engagement by as much as 50 per cent.

In performance terms, the MX-13 engine powering both CF and XF models has been given an overdue hike in horsepower to a peak output of 530hp (395kW) accompanied by 2,600Nm (1,918lb ft) of torque at 1,000rpm. The extra muscle has allowed DAF to employ a faster 3.09:1 rear axle ratio in place of the previous 3.4:1 standard, bringing engine cruise speeds down to further favour fuel consumption.

Adding to the attraction is the latest ZF Traxon automated transmission, offered in standard 12-speed form or an optional 16-speeder.

Engine braking has also been given a substantial boost. "Maximum braking power of the MX-13 is no less than 360kW and in the important 1,200 to 1,500rpm range, braking power has increased up to 30 per cent," says Paccar.

Yet one of the biggest surprises at Mt Cotton was the first Australian appearance of the Paccar MX-11 engine. In fact, the 11-litre CF model arrived in the country just days before the drive event.

First offered in Europe in 2013 and two years later in the US, the MX-11 is a double overhead cam design coupled to the Traxon 12-speed automated transmission.

Set to be launched here around September this year at outputs of 370 (276), 410 (306) and 450hp (336kW), the MX-11 figures prominently in DAF’s Australian plans, including an eight-wheeler version which will use Paccar’s proven Airglide airbag rear suspension to enhance tare weight.

Impressive to say the least, the 450hp CF at Mt Cotton was something of a pocket rocket, displaying lively throttle response and a gritty willingness to hold revs despite just a few hundred kilometres on the clock and hauling a gross weight of more than 42 tonnes. Critically, with maximum engine braking power of 340kW, it also does well downhill.  

Meanwhile, its 13 litre bigger brother didn’t disappoint either whether it was at 480hp (358kW) or the top 530hp (395kW) setting. Reflecting justifiable confidence, Paccar assembled a wide range of realistically loaded CF and XF models for runs around the Mt Cotton circuit in both single trailer and B-double configurations. All were notable for good handling and road manners, quiet and comfortable cabs, improved function and form in switchgear and gauge layouts, and appreciably stronger performance standards.

As plans stand at the moment, it shouldn’t be long before we climb behind the wheel of a 530hp XF model on a linehaul B-double run. Stay tuned!

With the MX-13 engine boosted to 530hp and 2,600Nm (1,918lb ft) of torque, B-doubles are now well within the versatile CF model’s abilities

 

SELLING SAFETY

Simply stated, there’s much to like in this substantially improved range, not least a standard safety package which makes Kenworth appear archaic in comparison.

With an advanced safety inventory that includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, advanced emergency braking system, lane departure warning, vehicle stability control, side camera, cornering lights and LED lighting, this new DAF line-up is far beyond anything that has come before it.

Even so, if history and discussions at Mt Cotton are anything to go by, Paccar principals certainly won’t appreciate safety comparisons between its two brands. Nonetheless, when it comes to safety there is no comparison. DAF wins hands down.

Funny thing though, the same Paccar people who lauded DAF’s safety standards in Queensland recently are the same Paccar people who assert that Kenworth customers don’t want or aren’t interested in the added complexity and cost of safety systems offered as expensive options.

Or is it that those same customers simply don’t want to pay the extra price of Kenworth’s optional safety packages?

Whatever, Paccar Australia can now boast it at least has one brand which runs second to none in the safety stakes.  

No doubt there are those who might suggest we’re being too tough on Kenworth and its Paccar parent on the safety issue.

Maybe so, maybe not. It depends how earnestly the safety of drivers and other road users is judged. Either way, Paccar Australia certainly isn’t alone in what could be easily judged as corporate hypocrisy when it comes to the safety chasm separating its two brands.

Ironically, in a sad and somewhat sardonic way, Paccar Australia’s greatest competitor, Volvo Group Australia is equally hypocritical when it comes to safety.

On one hand, the Volvo nameplate is renowned for its historic application to delivering world class levels of standard safety systems yet on the other, offers a relatively rudimentary safety package at an expensive, optional price on its Mack models.

From this angle, it seems cultural shift still has a long way to travel in both camps.

Anyway, to finish on a positive note, there’s no question the new DAF line-up is a significant advance over its predecessors. But as we see it, this is just the start of something bigger for Paccar Australia. Significantly bigger!

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