Dr. Akif Askar, Head of Business Development, Strategy and M&A, TRATON AG
Andrea Rexer, Head of Companies and Markets, Handelsblatt

When automotive managers talk about the breakthrough in electromobility, they usually mean cars. The heavyweights – the 40-tonne long-haul trucks – are rarely mentioned. But at the Handelsblatt Auto Summit.

Akif Askar changed all that. The top-level manager of the Traton Group (VW’s truck division) shared his take on tomorrow’s topics in the truck industry. At the moment – before new drive technologies even arrive – these are mostly defined by new alliances.

That begins within the corporate landscape. Scania and MAN, once fierce competitors, now stand side by side under the VW Group umbrella. According to Akif Askar, VW has succeeded in creating trust within this difficult patchwork family. Among other things, this involved taking differences in company cultures on board, as opposed to brushing them aside, so everyone could benefit. „We’re adding value for both brands.“ In the truck sector, Askar said, powertrains account for 60 percent of the total costs. “Today, 40,000 MAN trucks use a Scania transmission – something nobody could have imagined six years ago. And as of 2021, we’ll be rolling out a joint engine platform.“ On the other hand, Askar added, both brands were free to design their own cabs, and there was no cooperation in sales.

Beyond corporate frontiers, Traton was pursuing global partnerships in regions where its own brands had low or no representation. The group was market leader in Europe and South America, but „That’s just one third of the global profit pool“. In Asia the brand was cooperating with Hino, a 50 percent subsidiary of Toyota; in China it had a proven, long-term cooperation with Sinotrac; in North America, Traton was teaming up with Navistar. „We won’t see any Scanias there”, the chief strategist explained, “But we’ll be sharing the powertrain with Navistar. That way, we can participate without building up our own production facilities. We call that approach Smart Partnership.“

Electromobility and autonomous driving were also huge issues for Traton, Askar said, but the situation in the truck sector was very special. Costs were key – no commercial customer would buy a truck with an expensive drive for environmental reasons alone. On the other hand, the fact that purchasing decisions in the sector were almost 100 percent rational made it much easier to calculate the turnaround than with passenger cars. As a rule of thumb, Askar said: „Urban distribution will be electrified sooner, long hauls later.” That said, „later“ may come a sooner than expected because „battery prices are dropping faster than we thought.“ However, pure battery-electric drives were not the only option on the table: „We’re going to be looking at hybrids,“ promises the Traton manager.

Akif Askar sees electrical distribution in city centres as a realistic option by the early 2020s, but thinks the shift to autonomous driving will occur on (less complex) long-haul routes.

For both these future topics, Askar sees considerable synergies between the VW Group’s car and truck divisions. From purchasing batteries to charging infrastructures and autonomous driving technologies, being a Group member had its benefits.

Automotive Summit 2018 – Executive Summary

In early December 2018, over 600 automotive experts from all over the world – including manufacturers and suppliers, tech and energy companies, politicians and associations – attended the auto industry summit in Wolfsburg, Germany. From 3 – 5 December, the industry’s big hitters discussed strategies, concepts and technologies for tomorrow’s automobiles and the future course of their industry.

We’ve compiled the highlights from the Handelsblatt Auto Summit 2018 in an interactive follow-up report.