(Photo above: Aerial view of test track site | courtesy of Daimler)
Daimler Trucks North America Launches State-of-Art Facility in Madras
Some of the world’s best big rigs will be put through their paces in Madras after Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) officially unveiled a new $18.7 million state-of-the-art test facility, which company chiefs say will accelerate the development of new vehicles and deployment of cutting-edge technologies.
Billed as the ‘High Desert Proving Grounds’, the site spans some 87 acres bordering Madras airport leased from the City and includes a custom-built test track featuring 3.5 miles of highly engineered surfaces that allow engineers to simulate a typical vehicle’s full service life of over a million miles in just six months.
More than 30 new jobs are being created in association with the development, primarily involving driving and test engineering, with a hi-tech 33,000 square foot shop and office building incorporating instrumentation labs, heavyweight cranes and 14 service bays for technicians to work on and inspect the durability of test vehicles
The complex, which general contractor Kirby Nagelhout broke ground on just over a year ago, is some 120 miles from DTNA’s new $150 million corporate headquarters in Portland, and the relative proximity to the company’s main base will enable engineers in the office and in the field to work more easily on projects together.
Prior to the completion of the new facility, DTNA utilized a shared test site in Indiana which involved lengthy travel times for its core group of engineering specialists.
DTNA executives said the proving grounds, which are actually a major expansion of a remote location the company has had in the area for over 40 years, will be a key component in merging “real-world” validation of the company’s research & development and engineering initiatives as well as helping bring new technologies to market faster than ever before.
Roger Nielsen, president and CEO for Daimler Trucks North America and himself a graduate of Oregon State University’s renowned engineering program, said the facility will prove critical for assurance of reliability, durability and fuel efficiency for associated Freightliner, Western Star, Thomas Built Buses and Freightliner Custom Chassis vehicles, with the track being a key component in the company’s ongoing testing, particularly in the areas of truck platooning and autonomous vehicles.
(Truck platooning is an innovative transportation sector direction involving having a number of trucks equipped with state-of-the-art driving support systems – one closely following the other. This forms a platoon with the trucks driven by smart technology, and mutually communicating.)
Nielsen added: “Daimler Trucks North America is the undisputed leader of the North American commercial vehicle market. That doesn’t happen by accident; it takes countless hours of research and development, testing, and validation to engineer and deliver products that pace the industry in safety and fuel economy.
“The opening of this facility will ensure the future reliability of our products, as well as expedite future technologies that enhance our customers’ bottom line.
“This is truly a place for us to bring products faster, quicker … and better than our competitors can ever do.”
GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION
A recent grand opening celebration included attendees such as Wilfried Achenbach, DTNA’s senior vice president of engineering, who was a major part of the initiative, Madras Mayor Royce Embanks, and local and state officials as well as media and trade representatives from throughout the trucking industry.
“This is a great day for Madras. Having Daimler Truck North America invest in our city is a testament of a long partnership,” observed Mayor Embanks. “Daimler Trucks North America has a long history with the City of Madras and the partnership has been a win-win for both parties. We look forward to the future and supporting the market leader in the commercial vehicle industry.”
Embanks paid tribute to additional members of the team that helped bring the vision to fruition, including Business Oregon, Oregon Department of Transportation, Jefferson County and EDCO, spearheaded by its Jefferson County branch, which helped facilitate grant assistance and Enterprise Zone property tax abatement incentives.
Achenbach said the proximity to the engineering team and variable climate options were vital pieces of the location selection.
The route from Portland to Madras additionally provides vehicle real world validation through experiencing various conditions by including portions on the interstate, rural roads, and mountainous terrain through the mountain pass. Most recently the route has been used to validate the potential gains of truck platooning for the future benefit of long-haul fleet customers.
“The new grounds give our engineers the resources to rapidly and accurately evaluate advances in the areas of safety, fuel efficiency, and connectivity,” said Achenbach. “Together with our full scale wind tunnel other state of the art engineering test facilities in Portland, the proving grounds will help us stay ahead of the competition. This is really an engineering dream.”
He said the relatively shorter commute from the company’s headquarters will enable engineers “to come here to modify software and get into the truck and try it out,” all in the space of 24 hours.
The main test track features nine concrete test events comprised of 379 precast panels.
“This replicates any road surface you can find around the world,” added Achenbach.
Daimler has a similar test facility in Germany, and has commissioned construction of another, in Brazil.
“Bumps are bumps, wherever you go,” Achenbach said in expanding on the company’s plans to share test results between locations. He also noted that Madras’s climate – hot in the summer and reasonably cold but not too extreme in the winter – makes it an ideal location for testing.
EDCO’s Economic Development Manager for Jefferson County Janet Brown, who was an instrumental part of the team that made the project a reality, said: “Freightliner Trucks actually has had a presence in Madras since 1976 when they built an oval truck test track using a portion of an abandoned WWII B-17 runway at the Madras Airport. Trucks were brought in occasionally and they leased an old WWII shop.
“Daimler purchased Freightliner a few years back and until this year there had been no employees based in Madras and trucks were few and far between.
“In early August of 2014, executives from Daimler asked for a meeting with the City of Madras and Jefferson County EDCO to let us know we were one of the sites (worldwide) in competition to build their new state of the art truck test track.
“Rapport and relationships were established immediately, meetings were held often, processes were taken on and Madras was chosen over other cities in Oregon, other U.S. states, Germany, and other international sites.
“Groundbreaking ceremonies were held March of 2016, improvements were made to the existing test track immediately, people were hired, trucks began testing 24/7, agreements were finalized, construction began on the first phases of the new test track complex, and we immediately began designs for phases two and three.
“The impacts of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) developing in Madras has been tremendously felt by businesses in and near the City of Madras.
“Daimler rigorously tests their new model and design of trucks on this highly sophisticated track system looking for ways to improve their trucks’ durability, aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, and other elements. Trucks tested on this track are not yet on the market for sale or use.
“They actually try to break the truck to find and fix weak areas and go through truck tires and parts like crazy! In one example, they have a standing purchase order in the tens of thousands with The Tire Factory store in Madras. The Tire Factory has hired one new full time employee and assigned others as needed just to service Daimler.
“In a community of 6,500, adding 30 new, well-paying jobs is a nice increase. In addition to the $18.5M investment, the company also extended their lease with the City and remodeled and added technology at their current shop. New employees have been hired with more added each month, and are buying homes in Madras and renting here and in surrounding communities.
“Personally, I immediately connected with the personalities and drive of the Daimler team and it has truly been a pleasure to work with them. I consider them new friends.
“We are now working on future phases to be added to the complex.
“Madras competed with other sites in Oregon, the US and internationally. To be selected as their site of choice, we had to do several things including leading the drive expand our Enterprise Zone boundary to include the project site west of the Madras Airport.
We also worked closely with our local Regional Solutions Team of state agencies and were successful in being awarded state grants for roads and infrastructure, as we had a ‘bird-in-hand’ that would immediately create new family wage jobs in Jefferson County.
“We also worked closely with the Oregon Legislature during the 2015 session and successfully passed SB534, allowing wastewater service to be extended outside our Urban Growth Boundary to serve the Daimler project on our Airport Management lands, which is, ironically, located adjacent to our wastewater lagoons.
“The Daimler project is one of EDCO’s fastest turnarounds. We first met with Daimler in August of 2014, broke ground March of 2016 and held the grand opening May of 2017. This is darn fast in the world of economic development, especially with an international company of this size and a City of Madras’ size. Madras and EDCO are a team and Daimler fit hand and glove into our team.”
Brown added that the Daimler project was nominated for, and subsequently won, the “Business Development Success Story of 2016” accolade awarded by Oregon Economic Development Association (OEDA)
Daimler Trucks North America was founded by Leland James over 70 years ago as Consolidated Freightways before becoming Freightliner Corporation in Portland in 1947. In 1981, Daimler-Benz AG (now Daimler AG), one of the world’s premier automotive companies and builder of heavy-duty commercial vehicles, purchased Freightliner Trucks from Consolidated Freightways, and in the following decade, vehicle sales more than doubled. With its vast technological resources, Daimler-Benz helped Freightliner Trucks reach the top of the North American heavy-duty truck market by 1992. Today, DTNA is North America’s leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles, selling approximately 140,000 commercial vehicles annually, including significant export sales worldwide.
Daimler Trucks North America
Daimler Trucks North America LLC, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, is a leading heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America. Daimler Trucks North America produces and markets commercial vehicles under the Freightliner, Western Star and Thomas Built Buses nameplates. Daimler Trucks North America is a Daimler company, the world’s leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.