Trucks at Work
Slightly brighter days for truck OEMs

Slightly brighter days for truck OEMs

The 2011 truck is selling well ahead of our initial forecasts.” –Sumio Fukaya, Chairman of Hino Motors Manufacturing and President of Hino Motors Sales

Though economic forecasts are turning pessimistic and fleets remain super-cautious regarding freight volumes, thus dampening down demand for new equipment, there are a few bright spots out there in the truck manufacturing world.

Take Hino Motors USA, for example. A division of Toyota, Hino’s established a small factory in (get this) Williamstown, WV, that’s witnessing something of production boom, albeit on a very tiny scale.

And even though the reporter in the clip below wryly notes that a company opening a 150-person plant would not have been news just a few years back, anything positive on the employment front is worthy of note these days – but especially so in the hard-pressed truck making world.

Last year, Hino won bids to supply approximately 175 highway maintenance and snow plow trucks to the West Virginia Department of Highways and so far has already delivered more than 90 of those units to that agency.

“Companies like Hino will play a key role in creating jobs and providing economic security for West Virginia,” noted State Senator Carte Goodwin at an event Hino held at its plant a few weeks back. “For our state to thrive, we need companies like this that are bringing jobs and generating revenue right here in Wood County (WV).”

Some other positive news is occurring a ways south of Williamstown in Dublin, VA – home to Volvo Trucks North America’s New River Valley (NRV) assembly plant. Next week, the company is recalling about 270 people to support a production ramp-up driven by increased orders, according to Volvo Spokesman John Mies.

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“The NRV plant currently employs just over 1,200 people, so this recall represents a staffing increase of about 23%,” he noted. “We don't publicly discuss our build rates, but obviously a recall of this size is in line with a significant increase in production.”

Volvo’s racked up come nice hefty orders this year, such as 370 trucks for Knight Transportation back in February, and 600 from Penske Truck Leasing in May.

Some similar good news is to be heard from Volvo’s brother company, Mack Trucks, which is planning to add about 125 people at its Macungie Assembly Operations factory up in Pennsylvania beginning the first week of October.

“The Macungie plant currently employs about 750 people, and we employ a total of about 1,000 people in the Lehigh Valley. This increase in employment referenced above comes on the heels of our recall of 75 people in June,” noted Mack spokesman John Walsh.

“At this point, it is anticipated that in addition to recalling folks currently on layoff, we will need to hire new employees as well, but it's too soon to say exactly how many,” he added.

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While Mack said the construction market remains very weak, it’s experiencing an uptick in order activity on the highway and refuse truck sides of its business.

Mack’s Walsh noted that, through July, the company’s U.S. retail sales are up about 17% in part due to some big orders, like the 325-truck order from Chrysler Group Transport back in July; an order that effectively replaces its entire fleet operating in the U.S and Canada.

None of this due to huge increases in business, mind you. In fact, new commercial vehicle registrations only made a slight gain of 3.1% over the last six months compared to the same timeframe in 2009, noted Gary Meteer, R. L. Polk & Co.’s director of sales and client services. And, of course, all of this activity could collapse like a house of cards if the economy lurches back into recession – something all of us are fervently hoping does NOT occur.

Still, these remain positive signs that new truck sales are finally starting to creep up at least enough to warrant the addition of more production jobs. And in these hard times, that’s good news indeed.