Harry Wolters, CEO of DAF Trucks: I look forward to 2021 with confidence

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Harry Wolters, CEO of DAF Trucks

Does a president-director also work from home? Or doesn’t that suit the job?

I also work from home, one day a week. Our employees work from home as much as possible. In the office, of course, but not the production staff. We are now experienced in meeting in Teams. It’s not preferable to real-life. One-to-one meetings in Teams are still possible, but with a large group… We try to be as effective as possible with protocols in online meetings.

In March 2020 Corona broke out in the Netherlands. When did DAF think: we have to do something about this?

Of course, it was already happening at the end of 2019, early 2020. At that time, the focus was on securing the flow of parts from China. The problem then moved to Italy. After that, the virus got closer and closer and it turned out that 1.5 metres distance was wise to ensure the health of our employees. But assembling lorries with 1.5 metres between employees is not possible. So we said: stop. And that is quite something, in a manufacturing industry like ours. You only stop as a last resort. Transport and logistics is vital, it has to keep rolling. So our dealers remained open, even though they had less work. They thought along with the customers about whether maintenance could be carried out sooner in the event of a standstill. But Paccar Financial and Parts also kept going and continued to assist customers. Soon we started to redesign the production. The dynamics that then arose are very special. Everyone wants to go in the same direction, although we had never thought about production from a distance of 1.5 metres. But we succeeded. First with one vehicle, then two, try, adjust. And then, fortunately, we were able to produce again, even if it was only twenty cars a day at first. That’s very important, because then you can tell a customer again when a truck is ready when he orders it.

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DAF XF with Ultimate Package

And now everything is still running with the 1.5 metres rule?

Yes, in April we manufactured again here in Eindhoven, in May Leyland participated again. And since then, of course, we have continued to improve. It requires everyone to be adaptable, and I found it wonderful to see how everyone was participating. There was decisiveness, also here with the management. Talking together, sometimes discussing, making a decision, and then that’s the new policy. And everyone is working according to the new rules. And it’s going well. We now produce almost the same number of vehicles per day as before COVID-19.

Not only was production stopped at other truck manufacturers, but there were also layoffs. Sometimes thousands of jobs were lost. Not at DAF. Are you already working so lean?

We are very lean anyway. Every day, we look at our activities and what we may need to adjust. What should not be underestimated is the value of the NOW, the Dutch government help program. When we stopped production, it created a lot of uncertainty among employees. If you can then use NOW1 and NOW2 to ensure that everything is in order financially, that gives a lot of peace and quiet. I am very grateful to our government for that. Also because it makes the supply chain strong. If a supplier is otherwise unable or unwilling to supply, you are lost. Then the misery would have been endless. In the end, 150 temporary workers left us anyway, because in June the recovery didn’t go as we expected. And yes, we have a kind of flexible shell with temporary workers, but we are not talking about laying off 5,000 employees, as some other manufacturers do.

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Harry Wolters, CEO of DAF Trucks: “We tackled the Corona crisis well. DAF Trucks is working as before. On New Year’s Eve, with an ‘oliebol’ in one hand and champagne in the other, I look forward to 2021 with confidence.

What was the impact of Corona on turnover?

You can see that the European market has lost out. 300,000 units in the heavy-duty segment for the whole EU market was a real goal for 2020, now we have 225,000 to 230,000 units. In other words, two thirds of the volume of 2019, a considerable step backwards. The smaller segment is just under 50,000 units, and there the share of large vans up to 7.5 tonnes is growing strongly. DAF’s market share in Europe remains more or less the same in the heavy segment at 16.2%. In the tractor segment we are increasing slightly to 19.9%. The total market share in the Netherlands for this year is 31.5%, which is three tenths of a percentage point less than in 2019 – but I foresee that we will close December at last year’s level. In the United Kingdom, we are up from 29.4% to 32.1%. That may be the Brexit effect, but we also ran a strong ‘Building Britain’ campaign there. By the way, 2020 was the year of Corona, but it was also the year that the latest generation of models were introduced in all DAF markets. Literally from Colombia to New Zealand, and almost everything in between.

How do you look at the Brexit? Surely you have to be ready for that now?

We have been ready for the Brexit for a long time, since it became official on 1 April 2019. Stocks built up in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, customs facilities arranged, homologation, all of that. With our factory in Leyland, we simply want to continue to serve our customers better than competitors who have to import. Delaying that every time, however, creates a great deal of uncertainty. Every time we build up stocks, and then let them run away again. Building up, and then running down again. Everyone is trained, and the Brexit doesn’t materialise. It is very precise work, even now, to deliver a truck to customers in 2020, for example. Operationally quite a job. But even though we have an advantage with our British branch, DAF really hopes that there will be a deal. For the free movement of people and goods, but otherwise we will also have to arrange work permits for British employees who work in the Netherland from time to time. You should not want any of that.

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DAF CF with Ultimate Package

I saw several special editions this year. A Super Space Cab Edition, a Unity Edition, and even an Ultimate Package.

That’s often to celebrate. 250,000 Super Space Cabs is quite something, so there will be a special edition. The Unity Edition was created during COVID-19, in France and Spain. There was a real fraternization in transport during the lockdown. That’s why we made the Unity Edition.

That Ultimate Package looks like the ultimate XF and CF. Will there be a new model CF and XF after that? I saw some black plated test models driving around…

I heard that too, yes! Those are the sounds we like to cultivate. We send out those black camouflaged models. All for the story, hey. I would keep an eye on TTM.nl. They often have the latest news!

I would love to hear it when the time comes. Soon, on 31 December 2020 24.00, Harry Wolters will be standing with a glass of champagne and an oliebol in his hand. How does he look forward to 2021?

It is a world full of opportunities. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as this year. I am positive, it will be a year full of opportunities. There will be vaccines, there will hopefully be some happiness in the world again. We need to build on that fraternity, that determination that we have shown this year, throughout the DAF organisation. I am sure that 2021 is going to bring great things. Black plated or not…

Interview: Arjan Velthoven Photos: DAF Trucks

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