Western Star Shines as Truck Market Recovers
By James Menzies
In 2008, in the face of a global economic meltdown, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) made the decision to axe the Sterling truck brand. It also decided, after much scrutiny, not only to save Western Star from the guillotine but also to inject some cash into the brand and give it a dedicated team of engineers and marketers.
By James Menzies
As the truck market recovers, Western Star is now beginning to enjoy the fruits of its new lease on life and it is expanding its offerings to capture an increase in market share.
“DTNA, about three years ago was at a crossroads as we were going into the most recent downturn,” Western Star general manager Mike Jackson said during a recent visit to the company’s Portland truck plant. “They looked at Western Star very carefully and it was quite obvious to senior management all the way to the (Daimler) board in Germany that Western Star was totally unlike anything else in the market, as opposed to Sterling which would sometimes compete with Freightliner and Western Star.”
Following the visit, Daimler announced it was ramping up production at the Portland truck plant, which builds nothing but Western Star trucks. The company is adding a second shift and hiring 350 new workers, a 50% increase over current staffing levels.
There’s good reason for Western Star’s renewed optimism. While its North American share of the Class 8 market is a modest 2%, it saw its retail sales surge 45% between 2009 and 2010 compared to industry-wide growth of 16%. Production is up 300% from the fourth quarter of 2009 and now it is adding a smaller Class 8 4700 model to its lineup. That truck will drive Western Star’s growth to 4 to 5% by 2014, Jackson predicted.
While Western Star’s brother brand Freightliner enjoys the lion’s share of Daimler’s sales, Jackson said Star enjoys its place as a “blue jeans and boots” alternative for owner/operators and small fleets. 64% of Western Star trucks are purchased by companies with fewer than three trucks.
In addition to the 4700, new options from Western Star include: a more aerodynamic Western Star 4900FE, a new cab interior and a slew of new options for off-road truckers and body-builders. The company has also pulled its 109-inch BBC vehicles from within the 4900 series, giving them their own 4800 designation.
Information on the new options is available on a redesigned website at www.westernstartrucks.com.
James Menzies is executive editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He produced this report for Canadian Forest Industries.