Sterling Truck Corp., the first line of big trucks to enter the world’s largest North American market recently, is off and running with big plans for dramatic gains by the year 2000.
Those were some of the points made by John H. Merrifield, Sterling’s senior vice president for sales and marketing and a top executive of the subsidiary which Freightliner Corp. acquired in 1997. Merrifield came to Sterling after 33 years with Ford, where he had been general manager of heavy trucks.
Industry insiders expected Sterling, which had been the heavy truck business of Ford Motor Co., to do well in the market for vocational models such as the dump trucks and other construction units used, traditionally Ford’s strength.
“Vocational models have done well so far,” said Merrifield. He indicated even more will be expected in 2000, when trucks will benefit from product improvements, some of which will be unveiled this year. He didn’t go into detail about the upcoming changes.
Something must be going right at Sterling. Merrifield said the line took 6.9%of the highly competitive market for Class 8 trucks, the strongest group, in March. Sterling sales figures include results in Canada, a major market for the line.
Another Merrifield indicator that things are going well for Sterling: The line increased production to 111 units a day on three shifts. Sterling production went from 12,000 units in 1998 to a projected 25,000 this year.
The firm has one of the more bullish projections of the industry’s annual Class 8 truck sales—300,000 this year to as many as 320,000 yearly in the near future.
Over-the-road models for long distance hauling make up another segment of the truck market in which Sterling is looking for growth in the near future. One of the lures could be the fact that about 800of the Class 8s purchased are the big ticket sleeper-cab models.
Ready to deal
As far as dealerships go, Sterling now has representation in 235 locations, according to Merrifield, but some are parts and service operations. There are some Ford-Sterling duals where dealers are being urged to have separate outlets for each line.
Dealer representation for Sterling is best in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Canada. Merrifield said a major effort is under way to add dealers. The geographic spread would indicate that more dealers are needed in the Southwest and Far West to support sales of long-distance, over-the-road trucks.
“Sterling engineers and builds trucks for construction, distribution and urban services, which include everything from towing to street sweeping,” said Freightliner in a review of total corporate operations published last year.
“From its headquarters in Willougby, Ohio, and its manufacturing center in St. Thomas, Ontario, Sterling is applying brains and brawn in equal measure to building not just the toughest, but also the most intelligent trucks of their kind.”
On the subject of product innovation, the manufacturer is excited about the development of its heavy-duty six-rod tandem-axle suspension option. It was said to boast “the unique ability to maintain uniform wheel loads even over bumps, ridges and washboard roads.”
Prior to moving output to the St. Thomas plant, “A thousand workers underwent 26,000 hours of training and brainstorming about how to optimize the custom-building process,” Sterling said.
As a member of the Freightliner family, Sterling “can take advantage of the advanced research and the technology developed by the corporation to introduce a standard of customization and customer focus unheard of in this area of the trucking industry.
“By favoring drivers with truly premium ergonomics and by standing behind every truck and its owner from specification to trade-in . . . Sterling is proving itself worthy . . . of its name.”