Freightliner, DaimlerChrysler mark 25 years

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Twenty-five years after Daimler-Benz AG — now DaimlerChrysler — acquired Freightliner Corp. in May 1981, executives of both companies joined more than 2,500 Freightliner employees for an anniversary celebration May 31 at Freightliner’s headquarters in Portland, Ore.

“In 1981, Freightliner became the first foothold in the U.S. for Daimler-Benz AG,” Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the DaimlerChrysler board of management, said during the celebration. “Thanks to its dedicated employees and strong brands, the company has now become an indispensable part of DaimlerChrysler.”

When Daimler-Benz bought Freightliner 25 years ago, the company had 9 percent market share in Class 8 trucks. By 1992, Freightliner had reached No. 1 in North America in Class 8 trucks. Today it leads the market in all vehicles from Class 5 on up, with a 30 percent market share.

In a media roundtable after the celebration, Zetsche commented on the potential impact on Class 8 truck sales of new, low-emissions engines, set for introduction in January 2007. “Cycles as far as volume are characteristic of the truck market,” he said. “We can’t change that, but we can change the effect of it by trying to make truck purchases more attractive to customers in tough times through financing packages.”

“Sooner or later, everyone’s going to have to buy these engines,” Chris Patterson, Freightliner president and chief executive officer, told media attendees. “Overall, volumes are dependent on the economy. If the economy slows, whether there’s an emissions event or not, that slows buying down. We’re positioning ourselves conservatively.” Patterson added that Freightliner already has some production slots filled for 2007.

Looking ahead to the 2010 emissions regulations, Andreas Renschler, head of DaimlerChrysler’s truck group and buses, said the best solution is to combine selective catalytic reduction technology with BlueTec, a European technology for exhaust purification.

Despite diesel fuel prices hovering in the $3 range, Patterson said Freightliner has not seen “a significant shift” toward spec’ing trucks with lower horsepower engines or more aerodynamic features. “We have seen a high degree of interest in APUs,” Patterson said.

Carriers are reluctant to drastically change truck specs because of the driver shortage, which has led carriers to pay more than just “lip service” to treating drivers and owner-operators well, Patterson said. “They know they can go to work for someone else the next day,” he said. “Treat them poorly, and it doesn’t matter if you put them in a new Western Star Stratosphere or a used Volvo.”