Freightliner Trucks is a well known American truck manufacturer of heavyweight trucks, as well as truck chassis and semi or tractor-trailer trucks and is now a division of Daimler Trucks North America, which is a subsidiary of German Daimler AG.
Freightliner the Early Years
Freightliner Trucks has been known as Freightliner Inc since 1942, but it actually has an earlier history in the 1930s as Consolidated Freightways. Consolidated Freightways began to develop its own line of trucks by reconstructing Fageols in an attempt to improve the abilities of heavy duty trucks to be able to climb the steep grades of the mountainous regions of the western part of the United States.
These trucks were called “Freightliners,” thus the beginning of the future of the Freightliner Trucks Company. The first trucks were made in Consolidated Freightways factory in Salt Lake City in 1942, the same year the company became Freightliner.
World War II stopped truck production temporarily at Freightliner, but by 1949 it was back in the truck making business in Portland, Ore. That first truck sold was purchased by a fork life maker called Hyster and that vehicle now has a place of honor in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
The company paired up with the White Motor company in 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio to help it sell trucks because to Freightliner lacked a way to distribute its vehicles. The partnership lasted for about 25 years and the trucks from that relationship were known as “White Freightliner” trucks.
Freightliner in the Hippie Years 1960s and 1970s
In the early 60s, Freightliner was looking for ways to reduce costs such as the importing duty penalty on the trucks made in Burnaby, B.C.. In order to do this, they opened assembly plants in Indianapolis, Indiana. and in Chino, California.
By 1974 Freightliner ended it’s relationship with the White Motor Company because of that company’s financial issues. Freightliner became a freestanding truck manufacturer and distributer. Around that time Freightliner came out with it’s very first traditional model of truck, which was an adaptation of what was a high cab-over engine model. At the time, these trucks made up 50 percent of the market due to length regulations that put limitations on the bumper to taillight measurements on tractor-trailer trucks.
The company continued to thrive and opened new manufacturing plants in Mount Holly, North Carolina and Gastonia, North Carolina in 1979. That year marked another milestone for the trucking industry when President Carter signed new laws that deregulated transport rules for both ground and air transportation. This deregulation changed how the economy of the trucking industry operated and got rid of the industry’s protection from competition, which let the Teamsters Union develop a stronghold position due to a Master Agreement made with every one of the nation’s important freight transport businesses.
Freightliner in the Preppie 1980s
The 1980s brought the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 which made more changes for the trucking industry by relaxing the weight and length rules and putting into place a brand new excises tax on heavyweight trucks and truck tires. It made it so that the overall length of tractor-trailers was no longer restricted, however, the trailer itself was now restricted and couldn’t be more than 53 feet long.
Freightliner had done well during the years when the transportation industry was de-regulated, but by 1981 it was having problems so the company was sold to Daimler-Benz. It also had to close plants in Chino, California. and Indianapolis, Indiana. However, by 1989, Freightliner was able to buy a plant that already existed in Cleveland, North Carolina that had previously made transit buses.
More Changes for Freightliner in the Booming 1990s
By1991, Freightliner was doing better and was able to bring out a new series of medium weight trucks it called “Business Class.” This was the first truck of the medium weight market in more than 10 years and it was extremely successful.
Freightliners also started making trucks in Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico near Mexico City in a Daimler-Benz owned plant. The 1990s ended up being a good era for the truck industry and Freightliner flourished as well. At this time, Frieghtliner was under the leadership of James L. Hebe, who had come to the company in 1989.
Several notable products produced in the 1990s included what became the Freightliner Custom Chassis, which was produced for vans used in businesses such as UPS and Cintas, as well as school buses, diesel recreational vehicles, and shuttle buses in 1995, and in 1997 a heavyweight truck called the “AeroMax” was acquired from the Ford Motor Company and Freightliner renamed the truck series “Sterling.”
Freightliner The Modern Era
In 2000 Freightliner acquired what used to be the Detroit Diesel Corp., which has been a subsidiary of General Motors. Daimler later integrated Detroit Diesel into Freightliner, thus making the company even bigger. Unfortunately, it may have taken on more than it could handle at this time and by the following year, it had many more trucks than there was demand for. The company was having financial problems and so its former CFO Rainer Schmueckle was brought back to help get the company back in shape again.
During the next couple of years several plants were closed or consolidated in the hopes of getting Freightliner back in black again. In 2007 it had other woes when workers at the Cleveland, North Carolina plant called for a strike and as a result, 700 employees were fired. Most were re-hired about a week later. That same year the company had to lay off 800 workers in Portland, Oregon as it moved that plant to Mexico, and on Jan. 7, 2008 the company became known as Daimler Trucks North America.
These days, Freightliner Trucks is as active as ever making heavyweight trucks in the class five through eight series in North America, and it leads the diesel Class A recreational vehicle chassis and walk-in van markets. Freightliner also is responsible for a class 2 van called the Sprinter that is marketed through Freightliner for Mercedes-Benz in Europe.
As of Jan 2012, Freightliner had plans to hire 1,100 more workers for its Cleveland, NC plant to add to the already 1,500 workers there. This is a temporary measure due to increased demand for Cascadia trucks. Freightliner continues to be popular within the industry for making some of the most durable and dependable heavy weight trucks that are on the road today.