Daimler Trucks North America opens grueling new test track in Madras
Daimler engineers spent two years carefully measuring the worst roads they could find around the world, carefully calculating the strains they put on big-rig trucks.
In the high desert of Madras, they’re taking those horrific roads and turning them up to 11.
The company on Thursday opened its $18.7 million High Desert Proving Grounds. Its centerpiece durability test track is designed to put 1.2 million miles worth of wear on a truck after just 6,000 miles of driving. That makes it possible to test a truck’s lifetime stamina over the course of about six months.
Previously the company conducted testing in South Bend, Indiana, mostly on a third-party test track also rented to Daimler’s competitors. But the geographic disconnect between the company’s engineers in Portland and its testing facility sometimes meant days or weeks of delays.
“You can’t do it with a location that is several thousand miles away. You have to do it at your doorstep,” said Wilfried Achenbach, Daimler Trucks’ senior vice president of engineering. “And for the durability testing, there’s nothing better than having the broken part in your hands.”
Madras also provides a location that experiences the full spectrum of weather conditions, and it’s also convenient to the Interstate 84 corridor where Daimler conducts fuel-efficiency testing.
The privately owned track, the first of its kind for the company, also lets it use the facility as an interactive showroom, said Roger Nielsen, the company’s chief executive.
Daimler plans to bring customers to the facility and let them drive the trucks in the most grueling environment they’re likely to encounter.
And Madras’ location in Central Oregon will also appeal to Daimler Trucks’ rural customer base.
“This is like home for them,” said Nielsen, who was born in Oregon and attended Oregon State University. “Their joy in coming here is not in experiencing the city, but in experiencing the environment and getting to enjoy trucks and drive a variety of trucks.”
The facility also includes a track designed to look like more typical roads. There, the company will experiment with autonomous vehicle technology and “platooning,” in which trucks follow one after another at close distances to save fuel.
The facility is located in an Enterprise Zone, giving Daimler a five-year property tax break through a state program intended to create jobs. And a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation helped pay for a new access road.
The company last year opened a new waterfront headquarters on Swan Island, where it also builds Western Star trucks. That decision helped quell years of uncertainty over whether the company would continue to move headquarters functions to South Carolina, a move it began in 2007 but suspended soon after.