Name: Michael Von Mayenburg, senior vice president, engineering and technology, Freightliner LLC.

Background: Von Mayenburg joined Freightliner in October 1990, having been employed by Daimler-Benz AG (now DaimlerChrysler) since 1961. He served as chief of staff for Daimler's Commercial Vehicle Development group from 1986 to 1990. Before that, he worked for eight years as project leader for government-related vehicle development projects, with stints in Daimler's service and design departments for diesel engines and truck chassis. Von Mayenburg has an engineering degree from Technischen Hochschule, Vienna, Austria.

You might think a vehicle engineer like Michael Von Mayenburg would only be focused on the technical details of Class 8 truck design. The reality, however, is far different.

“The most critical issue we face is the perception of our trucks in the public arena,” Von Mayenburg said in an interview with FLEET OWNER. The public's concerns about environmental and safety issues have a huge impact on engineering decisions, according to the Freightliner engineer.

“With safety, the emphasis is not on reducing accidents; it's on avoiding them altogether. That means making a variety of changes to trucks, including improved visibility, better brakes and steering systems, as well as add-on systems that help drivers avoid accidents, such as collision warning and rollover detection devices,” Von Mayenburg said. “That creates a need for more active devices such as intelligent steering and braking systems that can engage by themselves to prevent accidents. All of this means far more electronic systems on trucks in the future.”

If that wasn't complicated enough, truck engineers also need to find ways to make their vehicles produce less pollution. And they have very little time to figure out how to do so in a cost-effective and reliable manner.

“There is no way around the exhaust gas limits proposed for 2007,” said Von Mayenburg. “We must have exhaust-gas aftertreatment systems in place to meet them. These systems will be required to handle complicated chemical and physical reactions, and they must be developed in the next three to four years to meet the 2007 deadline. At this time, we must minimize the negative effects these systems might have on the truck's performance.”

Meeting the goal of reducing emissions without compromising operational ability keeps Von Mayenburg awake at night. “Trucks will be more complicated, which means they'll be more expensive and require more maintenance.”

In addition to those engineering issues, Von Mayenburg must take into account what customers want. “All customers want to pay less than they did three or four years ago, yet they also want lower fuel consumption and less maintenance,” he said. “Right behind price is vehicle weight. The logistics business of today now dictates a higher average load than in the past; all of our customers are interested in light vehicles so they can carry more freight.”

After those initial concerns, however, customer viewpoints diverge. “Fleet customers are primarily focused on low-cost vehicles. Owner-operators, on the other hand, are looking at a vehicle not only as a tool for business, but as a home. They're looking for higher horsepower, styling and comfort,” Von Mayenburg said. Meeting the different demands requires “separate lines of approach.”

Taken together, all of those issues — vehicle weight, emissions, safety, price, etc. — make a truck engineer's job a lot more complicated, Von Mayenburg explained. Yet those challenges have to be surmounted quickly, especially in light of today's highly competitive truck manufacturing industry.

“We are in a very competitive industry,” he said. “We must have good engineering, but we also must be lean and fast. It makes our job all the more interesting.”

Each month this new column will look at emerging truck technology issues through the eyes of some of the industry's leading engineers.