Solid Sales Ahead for Truck Maker

Article December 28, 2000
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From product and marketing innovations to solid sales results,
Freightliner Corp. has turned in one of the big truck industry's
best records through the last couple of years. Jim Hebe,
Freightliner president and CEO, forecasts more of the same in
1997.

While others in the big truck business have expressed
doubts about sales results this year, Hebe observed, "We see no
reason to be pessimistic. Sales may not go through the roof this
year, but we are counting on a good year with the sales total
looking good when compared to the historical record."

One of
Freightliner's innovations, announced in late 1996, is expected
to deliver solid support to the used truck sales efforts. The
plan involves setting up wholesale and retail SelecTruck
centers, often in partnership with dealers, to enhance used
truck sales and support activity .

As with most recent
moves, the used truck plan has already delivered up-to-date
information on exactly what is going on in that segment of the
market. "We have already determined that there is a segmented
market out there for used heavy trucks," Hebe elaborated. "The
premium, big truck with plenty of power and good specifications
is moving, and some specialized vocational models do well;
however, the buyers are a picky lot. They don't go for anything
that fails to measure up, particularly if the power is low."

The company's used truck plan is too new for its success to be
measured; however, according to Hebe's report, earlier
innovations have done well. One of these is Freightliner's
entrance into the fire truck business, with the company's
acquisition of the assets of the inactive American La France
line. New models have been developed and will begin shipping
from a new factory in North Carolina through this year. The move
was a natural for Hebe. He got his start in the truck business
at American La France.

Century models

Before moving on
to other new programs, here are reports on recent moves in the
company's traditional field, starting with an all-new line of
the company's bread-and-butter over-the-road, heavy-duty trucks
for the 21st century.

Largely of a new design, and replacing
nothing in the Freightliner lineup, the Century models, which
were billed as "the first all-new Class 8 truck platform in
decades," took more than a year to be fully introduced. They
caught on first with owner-operators, Hebe reported, but are now
ready to enter the fleet market.

This year should be a big
one for sales of the new models, Hebe said, adding that it looks
as if they will be selling in some quantity to steady customers
of some competitors.

The producer modestly said the Century
models 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." The new models represent the
reappraisal or redesign of some 11,000 components, according to
Hebe, who added, "Virtually nothing is the same."

Century
trucks will offer a new model diesel engine designed jointly by
Freightliner, Detroit Diesel and Mercedes-Benz of Germany. The
12-liter Series 55 powerplant is an in-line, four-cycle,
six-cylinder model. It is turbocharged and air-to-air charge
cooled.

"We think the light weight of this 300- to 365-hp
engine will do well in such vocational units as ready-mix
concrete trucks," said Hebe.

Gasoline engine

One of the
novel products recently added by Freightliner was the company's
first gasoline engine. "Commercial demand is limited largely to
the one-way rental field," Hebe said; however, "we have used our
experience with gas power to prepare for trucks using
alternative fuel."

Just before Hebe talked with this
publication, the federal government announced an order for
Freightliner delivery trucks that are powered with compressed
natural gas engines for the postal service. "Alternative-fueled
trucks just don't have the range of diesels, but the postal
service might make them work," Hebe observed, "If we are serious
about clean-air efforts, we will simply have to find a way to
make alternative fuels work conveniently."

In another
development affecting the company's future, Ford Motor Co.
announced that it is selling its heavy truck business to
Freightliner. Ford said it wanted to concentrate its truck
efforts on light- and medium-duty models that sell in volume.
Already a sales leader in heavy-duty trucks, Freightliner said
it saw strategic value in adding a second complementary line of
heavies. However, it may take the rest of 1997 to work out the
details of the complex deal.

Kelley is a truck writer based
in Dearborn, Mich. You may write him in care of the editor.

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