Medium-duty market on hold

MOUNT HOLLY, NC – Freightliner LLC's Mark Lampert believes the medium-duty truck market in North America is stuck in a "holding pattern" as buyers wait for the economy to improve. Lampert, senior vp of sales and marketing, said industry sales of Class 6 and 7 medium-duty trucks reached 67,800 units through June of this year, down 17% from the same period in 2001, and sales may continue to drop for the rest of 2002. "Medium-duty buyers are not seeing evidence of a strong economic recovery, so they are postponing their purchasing decisions," he said earlier this week at Freightliner's medium-duty truck plant. "Consequently, we see the market staying flat for the remainder of 2002." However, despite the medium-duty downturn, Freightliner continues to push ahead with the production schedule of its new medium-duty line, the Business Class M2. The 106-in BBC M2 model has been in production since June, Lampert said, with 100-in and 112-in BBC models due to start production in the first quarter of 2003. In the fourth quarter, Freightliner plans to start producing 132-in BBC extended cab and 154-in BBC crew cab models of the M2, he added. Freightliner COO Roger Nielsen added that the company plans to phase out its original Business Class line and replace it with M2 models over the next 24 models. Right now, M2 production is pegged at 20 trucks per day, with Business Class trucks built at 40 to 50 units per day. Nielsen said that the Business Class M2 line represents a $250 million investment by Freightliner – $54 million of which went to a 18-month retooling effort at its Mount Holly plant. "We went from nothing to 20% medium-duty market share in 10 years," said Nielsen. "Last year we totaled 22.4% medium-duty market share among NAFTA countries overall and 25% in just the U.S. We are now the second largest builder of medium-duty trucks in North America, but our plan is to become the largest."

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