Freightliner announces product plans

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Freightliner is working on everything from a heavy-duty refuse truck, to a new entertainment/communication system and a Class 3/4 truck, president Jim Hebe has announced.

In a briefing to industry journalists, the leader of North America’s largest truck supplier offered news on a number of issues:

Acterra production begins: The Sterling Truck Plant in St. Thomas, Ont. has built its first Acterra. The medium-duty truck line is expected to play a key role in building the company’s share in the growing medium-duty truck market.

Freightliner’s share has grown to 20.2 per cent of the market. Sterling held three per cent of the market without the Acterra.

“The medium-duty truck business is more customized than any other business we’re in,” Hebe added. That’s been good news for the company. Last year, Freight-liner Custom Chassis earned 4.25 times the price Freightliner paid for it when the company bought the business from Oshkosh in 1995.

After a less-than-successful experiment that put gasoline-powered V8 engines in Business Class trucks, Freightliner continues to look for a way to offer gasoline power in its medium-duty truck line.

The end result will probably involve a V10 engine and an Allison 1000 automatic transmission, Hebe said.

Freightliner had tested 100 V8s in vans used for one-way truck rentals, but the engines overheated, particularly when they weren’t at full load but were running at maximum rpms.

Thinking smaller: It may not be looking for a share of the passenger pick-up market (leave that to its DaimlerChrysler parents), but Freightliner Corp. is looking to introduce Class 3 and 4 models into its lineup.

Expect a Freightliner nameplate to be unveiled this year, with a Sterling variety to come by the end of 2001.

“This is a market that’s going to become much more important to us,” Hebe said. “This is really the commercial vehicle business.”

E-commerce business transcends delivery vans: While everyone is looking at how E-commerce is going to change the trucking industry, expanding the sales of medium-duty trucks, Hebe says the impact will expand beyond that.

The real growth will be in “consolidators” that match smaller shipments to larger trucks, said Hebe.

“The old warehouse is going to come back.”

So too will it impact the world of truck sales, offering more choices over such things as financing options. “Finding money through technology today is very easy,” he said.

Service Pro maintenance software will also be available on the Internet by 2001, and the company already has Web-based operation and service manuals. In the end, the approach will give owner/operators the advantages of such fleet tools as Fleet Assistant software.

Ready to pounce: Components such as a coil spring suspension from the Panther 4×4, a fire rescue vehicle for airports, will appear in other products in the not-so-distant future.

Freightliner will introduce a heavy-duty, low-cab-forward refuse truck in March.

Life after cabovers: The company continues with its practice of stripping Navistar International cabovers into glider kits, and rebuilding them as conventional models known as the Legacy.

Where the Legacy had been converted into 112-inch models, it’s also available in a 120-inch design that’s of particular interest to the towing industry.

“We found a way to get rid of those goddamn Harvester cabovers,” Hebe proclaimed, referring to the trucks that were a significant portion of deals for Navistar International business. (Navistar was once known as International Harvester.)

Get wireless: Freightliner will unveil a new wireless communication and entertainment system at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

The system is expected to be linked through the company’s truck PC, drawing together navigation systems, satellite tracking and cell phone systems.

Dealers told to stock up: Freightliner Corp. will now manage a portion of dealer stockrooms, ensuring a ready supply of fast-moving parts and those for critical safety systems.

“We’ll manage your parts inventory against what we think you need, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll buy it back,” Hebe says.

“It’s rolling out right now.”

Come together: Look for more consolidation among those who make trucks, particularly manufacturers in Asia and those who make components around the world.

“That’s where the action is going to be over the next couple of years,” Hebe said, referring to the high costs of engineering for such things as engines that face tightening emission standards. “The alliances there are probably going to get very interesting.”

There were 18 truck makers in the world in 1999 compared to 34 in 1980.

Traveling north: Now that Freightliner has a stake in Travel Centres of America (TA) outlets, there is some interest in bringing the franchise north.

Freightliner already has a presence in 164 TA outlets with 320 service bays and 850 technicians in the U.S., and TA is now looking for facilities in Canada.

Who wants to be a multi-billionaire?: Apparently Freightliner does, and is finding success at it.

Freightliner collected $11.2 billion in revenue in 1999, compared to $7.56 billion in 1998, and $5.32 billion in 1997. In 1991, it collected $1.71 billion.

Where it built 26,151 trucks in 1991, that number jumped to 124,036 in 1998 and 194,597 in 1999. n

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