LOUISVILLE. In June, Chris Patterson, president & CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), will give the keys to his executive office to Martin Daum, who will become the new head of the company that builds Freightliner, Western Star and FCCC trucks, as well as Thomas Built school buses and Detroit Diesel engines. Patterson is retiring after 32 years in the commercial vehicle industry, 11 of them with DTNA.
Andreas Renschler, head of the Daimler Trucks division, noted in the official announcement that "Chris Patterson has been crucial to our efforts to set the course for the competitiveness of Daimler Trucks North America with competitive products and a comprehensive efficiency program."
FleetOwner had an opportunity to speak with Patterson about the trucking industry and about DTNA during the Mid-America Trucking Show:
FO: How are your dealers faring today? Has having a captive finance group been a plus for them and for your customers?
Patterson: Our dealers are generally still profitable; very few are in trouble and dealer inventory is in good shape. Having a captive finance group is a definite plus in this economic climate and we are getting some business that was going to the banks. However, like other lenders, we also need assurances that borrowers will pay us back, and unfortunately a lot of people have slipped below that line.
FO: What are some of the other pluses you see for DTNA?
Patterson: The company is well-positioned. We have all-new products, our brand image is up, and we have what I believe is the strongest management team ever. We are also the sales leader in the owner-operator business, which has been the case for some time. The LNG trucks we are building for the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are also a bright spot.
FO: Has your build mix changed during this downturn?
Patterson: Yes. The era of the “long and tall” truck, at least for over-the-road operations, is definitely over. That is clear. Today, the day-cab business is also a larger part of the mix.
FO: What issues are of particular concern right now?
Patterson: Customers just have too many used trucks and that is a problem. Some fleets would like to give us two used trucks in trade for every one new truck they buy. Everybody is concerned about revenues, about surviving until the recovery.
One positive [for fleets] is there’s no shortage of drivers right now and little turnover. However, the keys to retention aren’t really changing.
When truck orders do pick up again, parts availability is going to be a real issue for truckmakers. So many part suppliers have scaled back operations and some have gone out of business entirely.
FO: What is the focus at DTNA now?
Patterson: The focus now is on green initiatives, hybrids and vocational trucks.