Harald Seidel (55) succeeded Harry Wolters as chief executive officer of DAF Trucks on 1 August this year. He has worked at DAF for 21 years, mostly in financial positions. For the last five years, he was already Chief Financial Officer at DAF. His name sounds German, but that link is generations away, according to Seidel. Seidel’s parents came from Amersfoort. Harald Seidel’s cradle was in Oss, in the province of Brabant.
That’s a nice starting point. You are as Brabant-like as DAF Trucks!
My parents came from Amersfoort and moved to Oss. My father worked at Zwanenberg Vleesfabrieken. Oss is an industrial city so I also grew up in an industrial environment. By the way, I graduated in econometrics, so by birth I am a mathematician.
How do you look back on the year 2022 for DAF Trucks?
It has turned out to be a fantastic year. We launched new DAFs, record production and record market shares, and won the International Truck of the Year Award again this year. DAF is doing incredibly well. Whether it can do better? There is always room for improvement, but what we are seeing now is the first reflection of the excellent products and services we have in the market. And I see that success as a result of real, optimal teamwork. Incidentally, that really comes into its own in crisis situations, such as the chip shortage. That’s when walls between departments fall away and everyone works together to find a solution. It won’t happen to us that the customer doesn’t get his car. Outside Europe, we score 7400 units less than in 2021 (8800), but that is mainly because the Russian market has fallen away. The 200 trucks we delivered there this year were from January and February.
How is the business in Russia doing?
That is at a complete standstill. We no longer deliver trucks or parts, our offices are effectively closed. Whether we will ever work in Russia again? Nothing to say about that at the moment.
Where will DAF finish at the end of 2022 in terms of market shares? I hear you talking about records…
Year-to-date, so up to now (week 47 – TTM.nl editors) we have a market share in Europe of 17.4 per cent, an absolute record. And in tractors it is 20.5 per cent, there we are still the market leader in Europe. And that with a market size of 275,000 to 295,000 trucks. In all European countries we are gaining market share, in Germany and France we are scoring record market shares.
How many trucks does DAF currently produce?
About 250 units per day. Never before has DAF made so many trucks per day. Whether we are at the top of our capacity? No, we can always make more. We are constantly looking at how we can improve our procedures and produce just that little bit more. No, I’m not saying where our maximum capacity is at. But there is always room for stretch.
Talking about chip shortage, what is the current situation?
The supply chain situation has improved, but it is still incredibly tight. For all suppliers, they have had to scale up after Covid and there is always one that cannot keep pace. The big shortages are behind us though, but when you produce as much as we do, you have to look for creative solutions. Yes, we have parked unfinished trucks in the field because a part wasn’t there. We only did that if we knew a part would be there in the foreseeable future. All those trucks that were once parked have now been delivered.
How many units of the NGD XF, XG and XG+ have been sold now, and how many of the XD?
Of the XF, XG and XG+, from the beginning we have now sold more than 60,000 units. And of the XD several thousand, but we have only been selling it since September. Without exception, the trucks are very well received. Customers are very satisfied. The XG and XG+ are really premium, the XD offers so much visibility like no other truck in its class. Delivery times? That had depended a bit on the country and specification, but generally you should be able to get a DAF Truck in the second quarter of 2023. Have to order quickly though!
DAF has now won the International Truck of the Year Award twice in a row. That’s a great accolade, but what’s the practical use of it?
Winning the ITOY award means independent confirmation, from the best international commercial vehicle media, that your truck is the best new truck. Dealers can do a lot with that towards their customers. Also important is the confirmation for us at DAF internally. DAF has traditionally been a modest company, and the awards are confirmation of what we can achieve with our products and our team. We should be proud. And yes, shaking off that modesty, we are getting better at it.
When I drove onto the factory premises here, I saw the new Electric Truck Assembly. Is it open yet?
That one is just operational yes. It is currently building field test trucks that will start driving to customers from January. From April/May, the first trucks will be produced to order. The chassis and cabs will just be built with the other trucks here. In the Electric Truck Assembly, they will get the electric motor, control module and battery packs. We deliberately chose to build this new generation of e-trucks ourselves. That’s what we do at DAF, build trucks. You can see the previous generation, which we developed together with VDL, as a start-up phase, as an exploration. Dozens of the CF Electric have been sold. With this assembly hall, we can scale up considerably. We can build thousands of units of the electric XD and XF.
Almost at the same time as the start of the Electric Truck Assembly, the European Commission is piloting the Euro 7 standard. How does DAF view this?
We have always said that there is a future for the combustion engine. Its role is far from over. But at the same time, we wonder whether the step to Euro 7 is the right one. From Euro 6 to Euro 7 only a very small gain in NOx and particulates can be made, but it costs a lot of money. We think it would be more effective for air quality if the Euro 3, 4, and 5 trucks were replaced by the latest generation, clean Euro 6 trucks. And yes, it is true that several truck manufacturers have expressed this view. We are fairly harmonious about that.
You have held many finance positions in your career. Are you really into numbers and is that an advantage in the new position?
I am always looking for the connection between the figures and the people, the business processes. Therefore, I am not a pure finance guy. After my studies, I started working in organisational consulting and that was because even then I knew that figures are the end result of what people create as a team. At DAF, for instance, I have always found pleasure in working with different departments. How can we work together so that we achieve a good result, but also so that the customer is satisfied and the business process is good. I enjoy that, it gives me energy. The financial background is an advantage, by the way. We also steer on KPIs other than just profit, but the fact that you can quickly comprehend figures is definitely an advantage when you are in this position.
What do you see from the current global crisis in the markets where DAF operates?
We were already suffering from high raw material costs before, to which we are now adding high energy and personnel costs. So there will be higher cost pressure. There is uncertainty in the market, also for next year. At the same time, we also see that the need for transport is not declining. Fleet owners have held on to trucks longer because of Covid, now they will renew or expand. There is more demand than we can produce. So yes, there is uncertainty, but we are currently very happy with the transport market. What the world looks like next year, however, is unclear for everyone.
On LinkedIn the other day, you posted a post about teamwork, with a Bible text attached. Is the Bible an inspiration?
Those who follow me on LinkedIn know that I often use aphorisms. ‘Two are better of than one, for they can help each other to succeed’, this one came from the book of Jesus Sirach, a wisdom book thousands of years old. He also refers to working together, to teamwork. I find it beautiful and inspiring that such an old saying still applies today.
What will 2023 bring DAF Trucks?
We want to expand our market position. To 18 per cent in the heavy-duty segment and 11 per cent in medium-duty. In building and construction, we can grow with our new trucks. The Electric Truck Assembly will really start running next year, which is an important milestone. And also very important: continuing an open culture within DAF. I try to do that myself by not just sitting behind my desk, but also joining teams. Work shoes on and into the factory. And I have lunch once a week in the company canteen. I learn a lot from that.
Your predecessors were presidents of DAF Trucks and all left for Paccar in the US. What are your ambitions?
Ha, I have just been president-director for four months! My ambition in the coming years is to be of service to DAF Trucks, to the customers and our employees and to achieve great results together. Helping employees getting better and making great strides in innovation. Until now, every job I’ve had, I’ve done because I liked it. I never looked too far ahead. Don’t look too far ahead in your life, you only have today.
Are we finishing with an adage then?
Yes indeed. Let me phrase it properly: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.
TEXT: ARJAN VELTHOVEN PHOTOS: KOOS GROENEWOLD