I was saddened earlier this year by the announced departure of Caterpillar from the post-2010 North American on-highway engine market. And likewise, I experienced a similar sadness yesterday when Daimler announced it was pulling the plug on the Sterling truck brand.
These two announcements will drastically change the North American truck and engine landscape forever. Lou did a good job analyzing Daimler’s strategic decision to quash the Sterling name plate in his blog yesterday.
But to me there’s a real human element that’s even more tragic than the demise of another North American name plate. I was fortunate to attend the unveiling of Sterling’s new sleeper – the NightShift – this summer in California. It marked a bold move back into the sleeper market, a segment Sterling abandoned years earlier. It also rounded out the most complete truck lineup that exists today, a complete line of Class 3 to 8 vehicles.
One of the greatest pleasures I derive from this job is attending new product launches. The enthusiasm that the engineers behind these developments show for their products is contagious. In many cases they’ve spent months, maybe even years, working on a single product – whether it be a new sleeper cab or a new tread design for a tire. There must be nothing more gratifying for these individuals than seeing their hard work come to fruition during a product roll-out.
I hope the NightShift finds a new home on another Daimler product. Closer to home, the plant closure at St. Thomas is another reminder that our manufacturing sector is dying. The plant closure will be a devastating blow to St. Thomas, and to the 2,000 or so people who work at the Sterling plant there. And then there are the dealers, who were also caught off-guard by yesterday’s announcement.
To me, the most disturbing statement issued by Daimler was this, attributed to president and CEO Chris Patterson: “Plans based on an expectation of brief, sharp market events driven by regulatory change, followed by periods of reasonable growth, are out-of-step with the emerging realities of the latter part of this decade. We’ve examined every part of our organization in light of the changed economic environment.”
The projections we’ve heard of a recovery in two months, four months, six months – what have you, seem to have been replaced by a gloomier expectation of further long-term challenges. Let’s hope the remaining manufacturers can weather the storm and emerge from this slowdown healthy and whole.
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