DAF Trucks' new MD Robin Easton intends to bring greater global insight to the UK truck business, building upon retired MD Ray Ashworth’s eight-year legacy.
Easton spent 12 years with DAF parent Paccar, latterly as managing director at Paccar India where he ran the business for two years.
He recognises his new role is “different to what I’ve done before”, but he understands the UK landscape and many of the major customers.
“I bring the Paccar perspective; the greater insight from our global business that will complement how the business here has grown up,” he says.
“For example, I will compare and contrast the UK with how DAF has managed its business across Europe and in the US, learning from other experiences. We’re always learning.”
Six months in, Easton has spent a lot of time getting to know the dealer network, which he believes is a major reason behind DAF’s success in the UK; it has led the market for more than two decades.
This year is no different, with the company tracking slightly ahead of 2016 in a market comparable in size.
Registrations are up across the product range, which has been strengthened with the launch of new XF and CF at the CV Show in April, and updates to the LF in September.
“We touch a lot of customers with a broad product spectrum. Our priority is to consolidate and gradually continue to grow our market share,” Easton says.
New engines and transmissions have improved efficiency, including a new 3.8-litre PX-4 engine for the 7.5-tonne LF City making it more suitable for urban operation.
This version also features a passenger door window to comply with Transport for London (TfL) Direct Vision Standards, and it has stop-start for efficient running in low duty cycles.
DAF worked closely with TfL on the window design and its regulations on safety, but believes that while legislation continues to evolve, the market will be best served by retrofit.
Marketing manager Phil Moon explains: “We still don’t know what safety systems will be required and in what way so we can’t respond yet.
But there are aftermarket services available. We are, as an industry, seeing sensors and cameras, and evasive actions like braking – we’re on the verge of making them robust and reliable enough to be mainstream.”
DAF has also introduced DAF Connect to the LF. The fleet management system gives operators real-time data on vehicle and driver performance, including fuel consumption, mileage and engine idling, via an online dashboard.
The Live Fleet feature provides fleet managers with information about location, routes and driving time, which will help them optimise fleet planning and utilisation.
“With MY17, we have improved our product offering, taking weight out, introducing new engines, reducing emissions and increasing payload.
"They are additional benefits over and above the basic product line-up and they position us well for an uplift in the market,” Easton says.
He is looking ahead to 2018 with confidence, albeit with “one eye on Brexit and what might happen”.
So far, there has been little impact; customers are still ordering and the market remains buoyant.
Easton’s strategy is to not focus on one product or one customer base, but to increase share across all, which requires specific focus.
The business is divided into fleet (customers with national presence and multiple locations serviced through national teams) and retail (companies in a single location, serviced via the dealer network).
The latter has been particularly strong this year.
“Traditionally we have been an even mix, but we are slightly higher now with retail,” says Easton.
Moon adds: “This reflects the changing customer base and also a strength in that size of fleet. It’s about winning new business.”
Moon has seen customer demand and expectation intensify during his four years at DAF.
Customers increasingly want to work in partnership and trust is paramount.
But they also demand more in terms of quality, reliability and breadth of service, as well as consistency.
Easton points to developments in last mile distribution which he believes create a medium-term opportunity for DAF with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. “This is where the industry is going,” he adds.
DAF operates an electric LF at its manufacturing plant in Leyland, while in the Netherlands it is looking at lithium-ion battery technology on a 40-tonne tractor for short distances. A production model is still some time away, though.
In the short-term, the company has authorised the use of second-generation biofuels for its MY17 trucks.
“There are concerns about the internal combustion engine but Euro 6 is very clean; they have low NOx and particulates and are cleaner than alternative fuels like natural gas,” Easton says.
“But second generation biofuels bring lower tailpipe emissions and improved air quality. Not long ago they were exotic and out of reach; now we are offering them.”
Some DAF customers have also started trialling new gas-to-liquid fuels (a process which converts natural gas to diesel) with Shell.
From a compatibility perspective, DAF does not expect any problems; gas-to-liquid can be used in all its current trucks, according to its own tests, with no impact on vehicle performance or maintenance schedules.
However, with at least 29 councils preparing to tackle air quality, the one likely outcome is Euro 6 diesel as a minimum standard – and that has major implications for the truck industry.
With truck operating cycles typically six-to-eight years, complying with new rules will come at a cost.
“The industry deserves more clarity from local authorities on emissions zones, charges and bans,” says Moon.
DAF is further addressing last mile concerns with the launch of a silent mode option for the XF, CF and LF, which minimises noise during restricted operating hours.
Such technology could reduce congestion during the day by enabling night-time deliveries.
Moon says: “There is already a lot of rescheduling taking place in London. Silent mode is a real benefit and it’s been taken up by a number of our customers.”
The company is due to start work on a new head office two miles from its current premises in Thame, Oxfordshire.
Due to open in July next year, the 4.5-acre site will feature a 60-seater auditorium, training bays and new technology and facilities.
It will also support a relatively new regional driver training programme launched by DAF 18 months ago.
The network of 20 centrally developed trainers help drivers to get the best from their truck, in terms of improved fuel economy and safety.
Training ranges from a brief handover to a full day, and also extends to train the trainer for larger customers.
“Our new site is an opportunity for us, our dealer staff and our customers to utilise the facilities,” says Easton.
Platooning could ‘improve efficiency and traffic flow’
DAF has signed up to a two-year truck platooning trial in the UK led by the Transport Research Laboratory.
The trials will take place on selected routes on the strategic road network and are scheduled to begin in the coming months.
The company has been involved in platooning trials since 2015 in the Netherlands with its test drivers travelling tens of thousands of miles on public roads and DAF’s test track.
“Platooning has a lot of potential to increase efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, and improve traffic flow,” says Robin Easton.
“We have been involved in European studies and, as the market leader, we are delighted to be involved in the UK.”
Advanced Wi-Fi, radar and cameras enable multiple trucks to travel at a short distance apart, potentially saving 10% in fuel and CO2 emissions due to slipstreaming.
There are critics but, as Easton points out: “The only way to understand the benefits is to undertake a long-term study.”