Cascadia in, Argosy out
Expectation is high as Freightliner cranks up Cascadia’s impending arrival in Australia while winding down its Argosy production. A special report from Steve Brooks
New era beckons for Freightliner Australia
THE RECENT appearance on social media of a camouflaged Freightliner Cascadia at what is almost certainly an Australian test facility heralds the first stage of an entirely new era for the brand in the Australian market. There has been much speculation over the past few years surrounding Cascadia’s eventual arrival on the Australian market, though for the most part Freightliner’s local leaders have been reluctant to discuss timing or specification details. However, the appearance on social media of the lefthand drive day-cab model accompanied by the words ‘the first durability test truck is here’, confirms that engineering evaluation of Cascadia for the Australian market is underway in preparation for an official launch early in 2020.
While the image has been since withdrawn from the site, further confirmation of Cascadia’s upcoming launch has arrived with Freightliner issuing a press release announcing the planned departure of the Argosy cab-over at the same time as Cascadia’s debut on the Australian market. The announcement finally verifies repeated assertions that Argosy has been living on borrowed time.
According to the press statement, Argosy “… will depart Australian showrooms in early 2020, the same year the company launches the all-new Freightliner Cascadia.”
“It is fitting that we will say goodbye to the venerable Argosy in the same year that we welcome the cutting-edge Cascadia, which will signal the beginning of an exciting new era for Freightliner in Australia,” Freightliner Australia Pacific director Stephen Downes comments.
With a detailed press event slated for mid-June, Freightliner principals are for now keeping their powder dry except to say that Argosy has served the brand well for the past two decades.
Still, there’s no doubt Cascadia’s appearance on Australian soil marks Freightliner’s first salvo in its long-awaited lunge at a higher stake of the conventional truck market, aimed squarely at market heavyweights Kenworth and Mack.
With the sole exception of the original FLC112 model, Freightliner’s performance on the Australian market has largely failed to realise the brand’s considerable potential.
Today, the brand accounts for less than 4 per cent of the heavy-duty category, yet most industry pundits and competitors acknowledge Freightliner has always been capable of far greater volumes.
Cascadia will be the key to realising the brand’s true potential in this country and, from all appearances, principals on both sides of the Pacific will not be taking any shortcuts in ensuring the model’s suitability for Australian conditions. The undisputed leader of the North American heavy-duty truck market, Cascadia is now in its second generation in the US and, according to several sources, the model has evolved to exceptionally high standards of durability, comfort and safety that will certainly be replicated in Australian models.
It won’t surprise, for instance, if Cascadia becomes the first conventional truck on the Australian market to be fitted with a driver’s side airbag. Daimler’s commitment to safety will no doubt be a major part of Cascadia’s armoury.
Even so, it now seems inevitable that the left-hand drive engineering prototype revealed here is effectively the precursor to a right-hand drive test fleet that will endure an intensive development program before the model’s Australian launch.
While keeping specific details under wraps, Freightliner insiders both here and in the US have, on several occasions over the past few years, emphasised that any plans to bring Cascadia to Australia will be partnered by the most comprehensive, demanding and expensive test program ever undertaken by the brand outside the United States.
The unequivocal intention, it appears, is to not repeat mistakes of the past. Releasing models on the Australian market without an extensive local test program prior to launch, and subsequently slow reaction times by the US in fixing durability issues, have cost Freightliner dearly over the past two decades. Argosy is arguably the greatest example.
Despite the fact the current version is easily the best in the model’s history, Argosy’s exceptional design has been repeatedly hampered by a succession of durability dilemmas that have consistently damaged the model’s reputation.
Hesitant to reveal details of Cascadia’s test program at this stage, Daimler Truck and Bus managing director Daniel Whitehead at least asserted that while thorough and ongoing local testing continues to be a critical factor in the exceptional success of the new Mercedes-Benz truck range, even greater test parameters have been set for Cascadia’s entry to the Australian market.
“This will be the biggest thing Freightliner has ever done in this country,” he comments. “We will get this right. You can count on it.”
For now, of course, specific model details are being kept close to the chest but it certainly won’t surprise if Cascadia features an all-Daimler powertrain and driveline, initially punched by 13- and 16-litre in-line engines feeding into a 12-speed automated transmission and putting power to the pavement through Daimler drive axles mounted on Freightliner’s existing suspension package.
Nor will it surprise if the engines are configured to the latest US emissions regime rather than the Euro 6 standard, which would require complex and largely unnecessary engineering adaptations by American engineers.
Likewise, day cab and various sleeper options will all be part of a Cascadia range which from the outset is sure to target everything from local, short-haul delivery work to road train triples roles.
As for the rest, time will soon tell.
Above: Cascadia is on top of North America’s heavy-duty truck market
Top right: “This will be the biggest thing Freightliner has ever done in this country,” Freightliner Australia Pacific director Stephen Downes says
Below: Argosy! Its days are numbered. Sad, really, because the latest version is unquestionably the best in the model’s historyOpposite below: Snapped! The first Freightliner Cascadia in Australia