Western Star sets shift in strategy

LAS VEGAS SPEEDWAY. Since its inception in 1967, Western Star has long been characterized as a “small player” in the global truck market. But that’s an image the company is trying to change with what Mike Jackson, Western Star’s general manager, dubs a “best of both worlds” strategy.

“Western Star has always been called the ‘small guy’ and ‘niche player’ but it’s forgotten that we’re owned by [Germany’s] Daimler AG, which is the 24th largest corporation in the world and that gives us an advantage I think a lot of other competitors don’t have,” he explained to Fleet Owner.

Jackson said that allows Western Star to remain at once a small, highly customized truck builder, yet affords it the opportunity to tap into a range of engines, axles, transmissions, and especially emissions control technology without having to make large investments in research and development, field testing, and plant capacity.

(Video: Fleet Owner Senior Editor Sean Kilcarr takes a 4700 in dump truck configuration on test drive)

“We get all the technological benefits of being part of a larger company yet still retain our unique product ‘individuality’ – keeping an almost ‘rogue’ culture if you will,” he said.

It’s of added benefit that 64% of Western Star’s U.S. sales over the last couple of years were to fleets and owner-operators with between one and three trucks, while 52% of the sales at its brother company – Freightliner LLC – went to large fleets operating 100 units or more. “From that perspective, it’s easy to see why the two brands are complimentary,” Jackson noted.

While he admits that Western Star for a time took a back seat to Daimler’s other truck products after Daimler bought it in 2000 – relocating Western Star’s headquarters and manufacturing operation from Kelowna, British Columbia to Portland, OR, in 2002 – that started changing in 2006 with the introduction of the new Stratosphere sleeper line, followed by a “re-engagement” initiative kicked off in 2009 that established a dedicated Western Star management team.

That new tram began laying the groundwork for a new truck – the 4700 model – in November 2009, one that it officially rolled out in March 2011, with full production following in August. The company also renamed and re-launched its 4800 model in 2011 as well, adding a twin-steer axle option along with a daycab and 11 sleeper cab configurations.

(Video: See how the 4700 fits into Western Star’s overall strategy)

The company now has gone a step further this week by introducing its new 4700 tractor, an on-highway version of the 4700 truck, with another new truck project in the wings, according to Jackson.

Western Star is also enhancing its “super heavy duty” 6900 truck model by offering the Detroit DD16 engine as an option, with 15.6L displacement featuring up to 600 hp. and 2,050 lbs.-ft. of torque.

The Detroit Series 60 Tier 3 engine is also now available for the 6900 in twin steer configuration for off-road applications, along with Allison Transmission’s RDS 4500 and 4700 automatic gearboxes.

Those new models and enhanced product offerings are but steps in Western Star’s new strategy to build market share both in North America and abroad, Jackson pointed out.

Right now, Western Star’s U.S. market share hovers between 1% and 1.5%, with Canadian share at 7%. However, the company has achieved 10% to 11% share in Australia, where 50% of market demand is for cabovers – a model Western Star doesn’t offer – and it’s now also selling product in South America and South Africa.

“We’re drafting plans now for sales to other emerging markets, ones in particular that will be focused on building infrastructure and developing energy resources,” Jackson said. “The international market is an area where we’re definitely trying to grow.”

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