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

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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.

Real­is­ing po­ten­tial

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.

Past mis­takes

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

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