ITOY Interview with DAF Trucks President Harald Seidel
Back to Jury News

Harald Seidel, DAF Trucks President, on sustainable transport solutions:

‘We need all the horses in the race’

Not surprisingly, an interview with DAF President Harald Seidel quickly focuses on the remarkable growth of the Dutch truck manufacturer over the past decade, its ambition to grow in the rigids and vocational segment and on being the first to apply the new European masses & dimensions regulations. In addition, DAF has a clear-cut vision when it comes to sustainable transport solutions. ‘There is no one-size-fits-all technology that meets all demands.’

The interview with DAF’s president takes place in the historical boardroom at the DAF head office in Eindhoven. The wooden panelling, the decorative chandeliers – complete with LED lightbulbs now – and the beautifully finished ceiling all illustrate the company’s rich heritage. ‘If these walls could speak,’ Harald Seidel begins, ‘we would learn a lot about board decisions taken over the past few decades, going back to the 1950s when the company was still headed by its founders Hub and Wim van Doorne. And look where we are today. DAF has developed into a leading European truck manufacturer. Last year we built over 70,000 medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, a record in our 95-year history.’ 

Numerous awards

In Harald Seidel’s own words, 2023 was ‘a wonderful and exciting year’. The production of the 50,000th New Generation model, the 250,000th MultiSupport Repair & Maintenance contract, the start of construction on the new PACCAR Parts Distribution Center in Germany and the launch of the New XD Distribution truck represent only a few of DAF’s 2023 milestones, not to mention the opening of the new Electric Truck Assembly. ‘After winning the prestigious International Truck of the Year Award twice in a row, this year we also won three other awards in recognition of the industry-leading fuel efficiency and sustainability of our New Generation DAF vehicles. Something to be very proud of.’

Time to grow in rigids is now

With the focus now on building upon the company’s success, the question is where DAF believes the biggest opportunities lie. ‘One of these key areas is the vocational and rigids segment,’ says Harald Seidel. ‘I’m aware that we have been advocating this objective for quite a while but we now have the best products on offer ever. Take, for instance, our new Construction vehicles, which according to our customers are exactly the kind of trucks they have been looking for. In addition to delivering best-in-class products, it’s all about the ease of doing business, both for the customer and the body builder. As a result, new initiatives are being taken, including plug-and-play solutions, ready-to-go vehicles, additional engineer capacity and, of course, a good relationship with the body builder. Huge progress has been made in this respect and the time to grow in rigids is now.’

Euro VII – bigger fish to fry

Harald Seidel says that DAF’s vision and mission have been redefined to include technology leadership, customer success and sustainable transport solutions. ‘The latter goes further than just achieving the lowest CO2 emissions with our New Generation DAF trucks,’ he continues. ‘We are committed to contribute to a more sustainable world by providing even cleaner transport solutions to our customers. Therefore, developing and marketing alternative drivelines is a key priority. And yes, new Euro 7 legislation has been announced, but that would mean a very big investment for a relatively small environmental gain. It is far more effective to replace the Euro 3, Euro 4 and Euro 5 vehicles on the road instead of pushing the industry towards the Euro 7 norm by the end of the decade, when electrification will also come into play. We have bigger fish to fry.’

From dozens to hundreds per quarter

‘DAF has always been a frontrunner in sustainable transport solutions,’ stresses DAF’s president. ‘In 2010 we were really ahead of our time with the first hybrid vehicle. In fact, we were even way too early. However, we obtained extensive experience with electrification, which benefited the development of our New Generation DAF electric vehicles for which a brand new assembly plant has been commissioned. This year we will start delivery of the first of these new electric vehicles to customers, with production ramping up to thousands of vehicles per year.’

50,000 public charging stations needed

Despite growing interest from transport operators in electric trucks, and availability of BEV vehicles by OEMs, there are still major challenges for its high-volume adoption. Harald Seidel: ‘Having BEV trucks available is only one part of the story. Availability of charging infrastructure and cost parity will be the key factors for success. If I’m driving from Amsterdam to Madrid, where can I charge? If I’m willing to invest in electric chargers at my depot, when can I get my connection to the grid? These are the questions that transport operators are asking. We need massive investments in green energy infrastructure, and that requires a masterplan at the European level. To give you an indication of what’s required: in order to meet the 2030 CO2 reduction goals set by the EU for the truck industry, we would need the same amount of green electricity as 17 million households. Three years later we would need double that amount. And that’s only for the transport industry. Seven years from now we are going to need 280,000 chargers of which 50,000 public charging stations. The adoption curve of battery electric trucks by transport companies will depend on the speed of these infrastructure investments. DAF is committed and ready for zero emission trucks. To solve the chicken-and-egg scenario, we need a concerted effort with local governments and the energy sector to make it happen.’

Challenge too big to bet on one horse

‘A range of technologies for a range of applications’ is DAF’s credo when it comes to sustainable road transport. ‘Apart from battery electric trucks, DAF invests in hydrogen as a promising zero emission technology. Hybrid technology is also interesting to de-risk the infrastructure challenges, when combined with HVO and e-Fuels’, confirms Harald Seidel. ‘HVO is a biodiesel that is made from waste products such as vegetable oil and waste fat. It is ready to use in existing trucks, it supports a circular economy and brings an immediate 90% CO2 reduction benefit. Unfortunately, HVO does not count towards the 2030 CO2 targets for the truck industry. These kind of inconsistencies in European legislation are not helpful. Fact is, we are going to need all available technologies to decarbonise road transport: HVO, hybrid, electric and hydrogen. The sustainability challenge is too big to bet on one horse, we need all the horses in the race.” 

In the meantime, 2024 has arrived. What does Harald Seidel expect from this year’s market? ‘Well, I don’t have a crystal ball,’ he replies. ‘The 2023 market was very strong, with a total volume up to 330,000 units in the heavy class, which is not surprising given the supply constraints in the years before. For 2024, we expect the market to be between 260,000 and 300,000 trucks. That is still a strong market, especially when you view it from a historical perspective. With our multi-award winning New Generation DAF vehicles, our comprehensive range of services and our professional dealer network we are ready to prolong our success this year and in the years to come. So that Hub and Wim van Doorne, the founding fathers of our company, would feel extremely proud if they were around to see us celebrate 100 years of DAF in 2028.’