After posting another increase in total sales and leading the sales parade
in Canada in 1995, James L. Hebe, the company's president and CEO, said
the company expects to hold sales steady at the 1995 level and enjoy a 15%
increase in sales of Business Class Freightliners. The Business Class (BC)
units are U.S.-designed midrange vocational models developed to replace
the Mercedes-Benz trucks that the Portland, Ore.-headquartered Freightliner
had been receiving from its German parent, Daimler-Benz AG.
Hebe's cheery forecast of 1996 prospects comes at a time when some producers
are hunkering down for a soft market this year. "We don't see problems
ahead in 1996," he said. "In fact, we are looking forward to going
into additional market niches this year."
Moving into the market niches for specialized trucks is one thing that Freightliner
has apparently been doing very well in the recent past. The company has
arranged a market alliance with Oshkosh Truck Corp. Late word from Oshkosh
reflects satisfaction with what Freightliner dealers are doing to broaden
the sales and service support behind Oshkosh trucks.
Recently Oshkosh has emphasized front-discharge ready-mix concrete trucks.
A new model in the more popular rear-discharge configuration is being introduced
this spring. The chassis is based heavily on Freightliner technology.
In a slightly different field, Freightliner is working with the American
LaFrance fire truck line, an operation for which Hebe once worked. A new
model, something rare in the fire apparatus field, is said to be coming
out later this year. Its Freightliner-inspired design is said to excel in
features that provide for the fire crew's safety and their ergonomic use
of the vehicle.
Freightliner's total program of innovations ranges far beyond specialized
niches of the big truck market. There has been recent activity in the development
of new versions of the company's bread-and-butter, over-the-road heavy-duty
trucks and introduction of further specialized models in the BC line, including
trucks with Magnum gasoline engines from Dodge, a first for Freightliner.
Other action areas include a growing chassis-manufacturing business for
the bus and motor home fields, an outgrowth of the alliance with Oshkosh,
and what could be the automotive industry's most ambitious computer-based
assistance effort with programs covering vehicle service, used truck sales,
parts inventorying and training.
Century Class is the newest line of Freightliner trucks. They were introduced
as representing the first all-new Class 8 truck platform in decades. The
producer said they were designed to push the envelope in styling, fuel and
weight efficiency, electronics, ergonomics, diagnostics, driver and highway
safety, reliability, low maintenance and integral corporate and dealer support.
Hebe said the Century Class represents the reappraisal or redesign of some
11,000 truck components. "Virtually nothing is the same," he said.
The program, he added, embodied a concentrated 42-month development effort
involving nearly every Freightliner employee, scores of suppliers, the input
of hundreds of customers and the R&D people of Freightliner's parent
Known as the company that introduced aluminum to trucking 50 years ago,
Freightliner helped advance the strength-to-weight ratio of the Century
Class with its most extensive use of aluminum ever. For weight control,
new aluminum framing techniques were used. Whenever steel was required,
a thinner, stronger, high-tech alloy was used.
Freightliner's move into the fire apparatus field was foreshadowed by development
of fire units in the Business Class line. Recently, a BC model was beefed
up with diesel power and strong components to place it into the heavy-duty
Class 8. Next came the first gasoline engine in a Freightliner, which enabled
the BC to move into the Group 5 weight class. The manufacturer saw that
unit as the ideal replacement for an overstressed Group 4 truck.
Over the last few years, Freightliner has been very active in developing
computer programs to benefit customers and dealers. Freightliner's ServicePro
is a computerized program of service information for technicians. Operating
data picked up in the Driver Message Center of a Century Class truck can
be transmitted via Freightliner's ServiceLink from the truck to a dealership
or fleet's ServicePro, which delivers aid on diagnosis, repair, parts ordering
and warranty claims. Parts indentification and ordering also is aided by
PartsPro, a program that Freightliner considers "the industry's most comprehensive" electronic-identification program.
A new generation of SpecPro delivers computerized assistance with specification
chores. It is coming into wide use after being introduced along with the
Century Class trucks.
The company also has a program for checking used-truck inventories of its
nationwide network of dealers to see if one has the unit a customer in a
remote location desires. Freightliner credits the program with allowing
its dealers to retail more than 9,000 used units in 1995.
The company sees its "Total Customer Support" program, which features
computer plans as importantly as the new Century Class trucks, in preparing
the company and its dealers to serve customers into the 21st century. The
program, whose many features include extended dealer hours, is "as
integral to the Century Class concept as the hardware itself," Hebe
Kelley is a truck writer based in Dearborn, Mich. You may write him in care of the editor.