MADRAS, OR. Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) officially has opened its new test facility here, which the company said will speed the development of new vehicles and deployment of advanced technologies.
Known as the High Desert Proving Grounds, the facility is 120 miles from DTNA’s headquarters in Portland, OR. It took one year to construct and represents a major expansion of a limited-use facility the company has maintained for more than 30 years. Previously, DTNA utilized a shared facility in Indiana, a lengthy travel commitment from its Pacific Northwest home.
“This is truly a place for us to bring products faster, quicker . . . and better than our competitors can ever do,” said Roger Nielsen, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America.
The opening was Nielsen’s first media event since taking over for Martin Daum on April 1. Daum was elevated to president of Daimler’s global commercial vehicles unit following the departure of Wolfgang Bernhard.
“This is an engineering dream,” said Wilfried Achenbach, DTNA’s senior vice president of engineering and technology.
He said the short drive from the company’s headquarters will allow engineers “to come here to modify software and get into the truck and try it out,” all in one day.
In an interview with Fleet Owner, he said the distance between Oregon and the test facility in Indiana created a disconnect making it hard to keep engineering teams engaged. The new facility also eliminates the need to spend several days moving test vehicles long distances.
DTNA said it invested $18.7 million into the 87-acre facility, which will house about 40 full-time engineers, technicians and truck drivers, apart from existing employees based at other locations. Last year, it opened a new $150 million headquarters in Portland.
The test track in Madras is 3.5 miles of engineered surfaces, allowing DTNA to simulate a typical vehicle’s full service life in about six months. The track features nine concrete test events comprised of 379 precast panels.
“This replicates any road surface you can find around the world,” Achenbach said.
DTNA said the facility will improve the durability and fuel economy of its vehicles, while also more rapidly advancing platooning and autonomous technologies.
Daimler has a similar test facility in Germany, and is constructing one in Brazil.
“Bumps are bumps, wherever you go,” Achenbach said in explaining the company’s plans to share test results between the locations.
Achenbach also noted Madras’s climate – hot in the summer and cold (but not too cold) in winter – makes it an ideal location for testing.
Additionally, the route from Portland to Madras also provides real world validation by including portions on the interstate, rural roads and mountainous terrain through the Mount Hood pass.