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Freightliner retooling extends to chassis, dealers

TORONTO, Ont. - The recent US$850-million cuts made by Freightliner LLC, which included the closure of two Canadian plants in Woodstock, Ont. and Kelowna, B.C., is just the tip of the iceberg as far a...


CUSTOM: Star will be the high-end custom offering.
CUSTOM: Star will be the high-end custom offering.

TORONTO, Ont. – The recent US$850-million cuts made by Freightliner LLC, which included the closure of two Canadian plants in Woodstock, Ont. and Kelowna, B.C., is just the tip of the iceberg as far as repositioning the company is concerned.

At an Oct. 17, meeting for all Canadian Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star dealers, the parent company explained there are more changes coming down the pike.

“In secondary and tertiary markets, we’ll look to allow, and in some cases encourage, dealers to have all three nameplates under the same roof,” one prominent Ontario dealer who asks to remain nameless tells Truck News. He adds that in primary markets – Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and possibly Winnipeg – the company will allow common ownership, but still require separate locations for each.

“When the elements of this company came together, we never took advantage of the synergies which existed,” the dealer adds. “We’ve basically been out there fighting against ourselves.”

Exactly who will still be around when the dust settles is yet to be seen, however, Freightliner LLC president Rainer Schmueckle plans to ensure what they’re selling will also minimize internal competition, as well.

“Sterling will lose its sleeper, Freightliner will lose its vocationals and Western Star will drop its aerodynamic 5900 design,” confirms John Nelligan, Jr., general manager of the Canadian Region for Sterling and Western Star. “In Classes 6 to 8, Freightliner will be the medium-duty and on-highway truck, Sterling will be the vocational line and Western Star will be the premium owner/operator offering.”

One dealer at the meeting indicates some models may even be re-badged to better fit with this corporate marketing structure. Part of the plan is to shift the 30 per cent of the vocational market currently controlled by Freightliner to the Sterling/Western Star line.

The company will move from the 25-plus chassis designs of today to only three confirms Nelligan: a medium-duty platform and two heavy-duty designs.

“Obviously units like Western Star’s Twin Steer will be modifications slightly outside the norm,” he adds. “But, we’ve got to stop this merry-go-round of engineering.”

There is even talk among the company executives that Freightliner LLC as a corporate entity may disappear.

With a name like Freightliner LLC controlling Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star, it’s hard to argue that all three are equal within the company’s hierarchy.

While no actual timeline has been set, sources within the organization indicate October 2002 – timed to coincide with upcoming environmental dead- lines for emissions reductions – would make sense for a lot of the changes.

Since before the parting of ways with former president Jim Hebe, Freightliner has been working on the strategy to take it back to the glory of the late ’90s.

While it feels much more secure financially at this time now that its blueprint for the future is moving into the implementation stage, many observers of the Canadian truck market have suggested the Freightliner family should expect a negative backlash in response to the Canadian closures.

As of the end of next year, all Western Star trucks will be manufactured in the U.S. and that might raise eyebrows in forestry and other West Coast industries with traditionally high populations of Star tractors.

“If you like Coca-Cola, do you care where it’s bottled? If you’ve got a quality product it doesn’t matter if it’s made in Taiwan,” blasts one Canadian dealer who remains confident in his company’s product offerings.

“I mean, if you’re buying a Kenworth, for example, there’s an opportunity it might have been made in Mexico.”

He feels shifting production from Kelowna to Portland, Ore. will only serve to strengthen Western Star’s market presence, while opening the door to higher future production volumes.

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A Western Star dealer


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