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Schmidt leads Torc Robotics autonomous mission

When Michael Fleming decided in August to hand over the CEO role at Torc Robotics, it appeared majority stakeholder Daimler Truck North America was asserting a prerogative of ownership.

But as Fleming told me at the time, he wasn’t pushed. Stepping away from day-to-day leadership of the company he founded in 2005 was part of the negotiations that led to Daimler’s undisclosed stake in the Blacksburg, Virginia-based autonomous vehicle technology company.

“I was shell-shocked when Michael said, ‘I want to step down. Peter, please take over,’” Peter Vaughn Schmidt told me at the recent Manifest supply chain conference in Las Vegas. “After 24 hours, I thought maybe he had the right gut feeling. And after 17 years, he also deserved to step down.”

As the German truck maker’s head of autonomous efforts globally, Schmidt was an obvious replacement.

Peter Vaughan Schmidt took over as CEO of Torc Robotics in October. (Photo: Torc Robotics)

“It made total sense because I was a driving force behind acquiring Torc Robotics,” he said. “I was sitting on the board. I was designing all those trucks that Torc is using, and most Torc employees knew me very well. 

“So, it was pretty clear it could be a pretty natural transition that doesn’t create too much churn in the organization instead of putting a completely unknown person in.”

Torc’s growth from one to five locations and a significant jump in the size of its workforce required a leader with significant operational experience. Schmidt gained that in developing Daimler’s first multibillion dollar world engine program.

“It’s different being a founder and having a small business and running a large global engineering organization and preparing it for product launch. I launched this thing and developed it,” he said, motioning to the engine compartment of a nearby Freightliner Cascadia.

Torc Robotics is growing up

Though Torc had generated revenue and profit in the years Fleming ran the company, Schmidt sees a difference in the Torc of today. Less focus on cool technology. More on industrial rigor.

“Spending gets higher. So it’s also important to deliver on your promises, quarter by quarter, making things more measurable, more KPIs [key performance indicators]. Assume there’s no rounding error on a consolidated Daimler Truck balance sheet,” Schmidt said. “It’s bringing it to the next level with my expertise that I can bring in.”

And he is having fun.

Schmidt relocated to Blacksburg in October, resigning from Daimler Truck and becoming a Torc employee.

“I’m a more small-city guy. Small cities have one big advantage. You get integrated quicker. And it’s a student town, which I also like. I grew up in Heidelberg, which is a German version of Blacksburg. Heidelberg had 40,000 students, 100,000 inhabitants, the same as Blacksburg. I like that style of cities.”

Republic Services goes electric with Oshkosh

Republic Services will go with Oshkosh Corp. as it moves to make more of its refuse trucks run on electricity.

Oshkosh, a surprise winner of the federal contract to make next-generation delivery vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service in 2021, didn’t exactly come out of nowhere on this long-term deal.

“Oshkosh has proven experience building heavy-duty EVs, including military, construction and firefighting vehicles,” Brett Rogers, Republic Services vice president of operations technology, told me in an email. “Their McNeilus Refuse division is one of Republic’s longtime suppliers of recycling and waste collection truck bodies.”

Remember when Nikola Corp. was going to supply Republic Services with electric-power refuse haulers? Yeah, we sort of forgot about that too.

With a plan to have half of its 17,000-unit fleet running on battery power over the next five years, Republic still considers Mack Truck, which has its LR Electric in testing with Republic, a player.

“We continue to operate two Mack electric collection trucks in North Carolina and expect to add additional Mack EVs to our fleet this year,” Rogers said. “We also operate a growing fleet of Peterbilt electric collection trucks in Idaho.”

Republic Services has chosen Oshkosh Corp. to lead its transition to battery-electric refuse haulers. (Photo: Republic Services)

In the news …

Nikola’s very busy week

As if Nikola did not make enough news this week with its collaboration with Plus to incorporate autonomous technology beginning late this year, the company also announced its fourth hydrogen fueling station under its new HYLA brand in West Sacramento, California. 

That still leaves 56 more to reach its goal of 60 stations by 2026. Look for at least a third of those to be in California, where the first deliveries of hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) should happen in the fourth quarter.

Nikola also advanced its hydrogen push in Europe this week with the announcement that logistics service provider Richter Group will transition its fleet of 160 trucks toward the Class 8 Tre over the next four to five years starting with a letter of intent for 20 Tre FCEVs in 2024. 

Richter also will use green hydrogen from Nikola and partner E.ON. The two will collaborate on a refueling infrastructure.

The first deliveries of the Nikola Tre fuel cell-electric vehicle are expected in the second half of 2023. (Photo: Nikola)

ZF adapts lane centering technology to commercial trucks

ZF North America will provide Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks with the first commercial vehicle application of its lane-keeping assist technology.

This is a big deal because 32% of truck accidents are due to unintentionally leaving the lane of travel, according to the German-based Tier 1 supplier. 

The ZF OnTraX technology works above 40 mph by using a forward-facing camera that “sees” the edges of a marked lane. If the tractor drifts out of its lane without activating a turn signal, the ZF ReAX adaptive steering module adjusts the steering torque and slightly nudges the truck back into the appropriate lane.  

Lane centering is not new. It is integral to the development of autonomous trucks. Daimler Truck has offered lane-keeping assist as an option in its Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety system since the 2020 model year. Most applications to date are in passenger vehicles, where ZF started with lane centering. 

Volvo Group claims global leadership in electric trucks

Volvo Group makes plenty of noise about near silent-running battery-electric trucks. It says it has sold more than 4,300 electric trucks in 38 countries. The Gothenburg, Sweden-based truck maker claims a 32% share of electric truck deliveries in Europe and “nearly half” of all electric truck registrations in North America, which it counts as the U.S. and Canada.

Separately, Volvo Trucks North America claims it now has more than 25 dealerships that have completed the Volvo Trucks Certified Electric Vehicle (EV) Dealer program.

“Selling the truck is only part of the equation,” VTNA President Peter Voorhoeve said in a news release. “It takes an entire support ecosystem to successfully transition to battery-electric trucks. Without our dealer partners, accelerating the shift towards the widespread commercial adoption of electric vehicles would not be possible.” 

Duke Energy plans microgrid near Daimler Truck North America plant

Duke Energy will build a microgrid fleet electrification center at its Mount Holly Technology and Innovation Center in North Carolina. That will help Daimler Truck North America (DTNA) demonstrate its electric trucks, even though they are built across the country in Portland, Oregon.

DTNA builds medium-duty trucks in Mount Holly.

The Duke facility, expected to be finished by the end of the year, will provide commercial-grade charging for fleet customers evaluating or launching electrification strategies.

“The first-of-its-kind, microgrid-enabled fleet depot will be critical to advancing fleet electrification and building confidence with fleet owners,” Jeff Allen, DTNA senior vice president of operations and specialty vehicles, said in a Duke news release.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech in your email on Fridays. And tune in to Truck Tech on Wednesdays on FreightWaves TV. Next week’s scheduled guest is Alex Rodrigues, co-founder and CEO of Embark Trucks.