The trucking industry is undergoing a period of intense scrutiny, with publicity about automation and electric vehicles generating excitement and apprehension in equal measure.

Jos Smetsers, a member of the Board of Management DAF Trucks NV and Executive Director PACCAR Purchasing Europe, welcomes the recognition of the importance of the haulage industry, but is realistic about the introduction of these new technologies.

“I would never say ‘never’ but the idea of using electric vehicles for longhaul road freight movements does not seem likely in the near future. There is no battery yet that will provide enough energy for the distances trucks need to cover,” he says.

Hybrid models, using diesel for motorway driving and then electric power for the last 10-15 miles in the city, is a possibility and one that DAF Trucks explored a few years ago. “But there was hardly any demand because the costs are too high,” explains Smetsers.

He suggested that more cities need to bring in tougher air quality regulations in order to drive the demand for cleaner vehicles, and then there will be a level playing field for costs to be passed on to the customers.

“But, in the meantime, we need to keep working on diesel as the solution – making it more efficient. Modern diesel engines are far cleaner than before. You could say that the air coming out of the vehicle is cleaner than the air it is going into. It might be better – and simpler – to stop the older polluting vehicles entering the cities.”

DAF is known for its innovation and has been doing its part to help reduce emissions with the launch of its new CF and XF models, which have been voted International Truck of the Year 2018 by an independent jury of leading road transport journalists from 23 European countries.

The CF and XF feature completely new powertrains with highly efficient transmissions and rear axles. Together with the new compact after-treatment systems, sophisticated software and aerodynamic optimisations, these innovations result in a fuel efficiency gain and CO2 reduction of an impressive 7%.

As far as automation is concerned, Smetsers says he experienced a ride in an automatic car prototype in Las Vegas and “was actually pretty relaxed about the experience. But you still need someone behind the steering wheel and this car was prepared for that particular test track so I am not convinced that we will see lots of them on our roads that soon.”

Public perception and acceptance will play a huge role, with many people sceptical about the experts’ claims that automated cars and trucks will be safer because they eliminate human error.

This concern is also evident in reaction to platooning, where DAF is involved in a two year trial in the UK. Platooning enables trucks to drive in close formation – which reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and improves traffic flow – by using advanced driver assistance systems that also contribute to increased road safety, it is predicted.

“Platooning is another way to increase fuel efficiency with trucks driving in each other’s slipstreams,” explains Smetsers. “If it proves to work and the legislation allows it, we want to make sure we could do it relatively quickly. We would need to bring the system for that application into play, but the truck itself would not be to be very different in terms of shape or whatever.”

There are still many considerations to take into account, including how the benefits would be shared if the trucks in a platoon were owned by different companies and how they would all communicate with each other. “A lot needs to be done before we get there,” he says.

In the meantime, DAF continues to experience strong demand for its vehicles “and we expect it to remain strong in 2018,” predicts Smetsers. “We aim to further increase market share – driven by the recognition of the quality of our products and we also have a very efficient sales network.”

DAF is producing 225 trucks a day in Eindhoven and Leyland in the UK, and also has a production plant in Brazil. “Even in Brazil, where economy has been down in recent years, we are growing faster than the pace of the market and we have won best truck awards there in 2016 and again 2017.”

The UK’s decision to leave the EU will affect the links between the two production plants but it is impossible to predict exactly how at this stage, says Smetsers. “Truck companies have to be very flexible in terms of volumes as demand can change quite rapidly, so we are very well organised for that and we will be able to cope with the new circumstances whatever they are.”

The company continues to invest and has recently opened a new state of the art cab paint facility in Belgium which has increased capacity from 200 to 300 cabs a day. “This 100 million Euro investment reflects our trust in the future.”

Smetsers explains that the number one requirement from customers is reliability. “They also look for improved service intervals – ours are every 200,000kms, and for fuel efficiency. And, of course, we need to build a truck that the drivers will love – both in terms of functionality and as a living space. Driver shortages will be a bigger issue in the so we need to do everything to help our customers attract the best people.”

The partnership between Jan de Rijk and DAF Trucks “is very strong in terms of both sales and the service they provide us,” says Jos Smetsers. “It is a long-term relationship that works well for both of us and we an excellent personal relationship with Jan de Rijk himself and Sebastiaan Scholte the CEO. They have a very trustworthy management and that is key.

“We are very pleased with the dedication of the team. People make a difference and they have an excellent crew. And we know they are smart people – it shows that by far the largest part of their fleet is DAF!”

Jan de Rijk supplies logistics services to DAF, including delivering inbound parts for production lines on a just in time basis, as well as some pre-assembly.

DAF Trucks is the major truck supplier to Jan de Rijk with another 100 added in 2017. More than 95% of Jan de Rijk Logistics’ trucks are DAF.