LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Freightliner president and chief executive officer, Rainer Schmueckle, is predicting a strong finish to 2003, with a full-fledged market comeback in 2004.
After trimming more than $500 million from the company’s budget last year, Schmueckle says the company is back on track.
"We are confident today that by the end of the year, we will be calling this turnaround phase completed," Schmueckle told the trade press at the Mid-America Trucking Show.
Despite the industry downturn, Schmueckle says Freightliner has maintained its fleet business, and it’s now poised to expand its small fleet and owner/operator sales.
"Freightliner will increase its focus on small fleets and owner/operators," Schmueckle confirms. "We feel we always had the products to appeal to those markets."
He says the company will also aggressively pursue the Class 6 and 7 markets.
As for the anticipated market recovery, Schmueckle says Freightliner is expecting Class 8 sales to reach 100,000 in the U.S. this year.
"Since July 2002, net orders have been increasing steadily," he says. "We are starting to see some big fleets make some…investments."
He says fleets and O/Os are becoming more comfortable with the new generation of low-emission engines and are ready to start replacing ageing equipment.
Schmueckle says "the shock of war" may have a negative effect on the market, but a quick end to the war in Iraq would benefit the industry. For now, however, he says Freightliner will start a structural recovery in the second half of 2003, and business will continue to strengthen into 2004.
"We think the heavy-duty truck market is in for a significant recovery in 2004," says Schmueckle. He says the company will also begin preparing for the 2007 line of engines immediately so the industry can avoid the uncertainty that surrounded implementation of the October ’02 engines.
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