WILLOUGHBY, OHIO...Western Star Trucks today announced details about the transition of its manufacturing and other operations to Portland, Ore. The company is making a $16 million investment to prepare the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant for Western Star heavy-duty truck production. In addition, Western Star engineering, manufacturing, customer support and other technical staff are relocating to Portland. The investments in facilities and personnel are intended to ensure a successful changeover of operations and to preserve the unique character of the Western Star brand. Portland production of Western Star trucks begins in October 2002.
“Western Star is renowned for delivering distinctive, high quality trucks and providing superb customer support,” said Rainer Schmueckle, President and CEO, Freightliner LLC, parent company of Western Star. “During and after these operational changes, we are committed to maintaining the quality, unique character and prestige of the Western Star brand.”
Western Star Trucks, headquartered in Willoughby, Ohio, produces premium, custom trucks for long-haul and vocational applications. The company announced in October 2001 that it would be relocating truck production and other operations from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Portland. Over the past several months, Western Star has made significant preparations to ensure quality and continuity in manufacturing, engineering, customer support and other key functions.
Preparations at Portland
The Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant is undergoing major renovations to prepare for Western Star production. The company is building dedicated cab, chassis and sleeper lines for the Western Star product as well as a state-of-the-art E-coat system. Throughout the plant, processes and equipment are being upgraded, added or reconfigured to build the Western Star product. In addition, the renowned Western Star Quality Assurance system is being implemented.
“Our goal is to preserve and enhance the distinct manufacturing processes that create this unique heavy-duty truck,” said Roger Nielsen, Chief Operating Officer for Freightliner LLC. “While we are moving production locations, Western Star trucks will retain the same custom-built, handcrafted quality for which they are famous.”
The Portland truck plant is an ideal location for Western Star production, according to Nielsen. Opened in 1969, the plant has built a number of highly specialized vehicles over the years including U.S. military trucks and airport rescue/response vehicles.
“Employees at the Portland truck plant are accustomed to building smaller-run, customized vehicles, including trucks with planetary axles, heavy suspensions and extreme-duty components,” Nielsen said. “These workers have tremendous pride and skill and are looking forward to building Western Star trucks.”
Western Star is currently conducting a rigorous training program for Portland Truck Plant employees that includes the development of thousands of task instructions and training courses.
To further contribute to a successful changeover, key Western Star manufacturing and operations personnel will relocate to Portland:
Carsten Reinhardt, currently General Manager of Operations for Western Star in Kelowna, will become General Manager of the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant.
Wayne LaRochelle, currently plant manager at Kelowna, will become Director of Manufacturing for Western Star in Portland.
Tony McParland, Quality Assurance Manager for Western Star, will retain his position and relocate to Portland.
“Just as we will maintain continuity in our manufacturing processes, we will also have continuity in our manufacturing leadership,” Nielsen said.
The $16 million investment in manufacturing facilities and the transfer of key manufacturing personnel are just part of the commitment that Western Star is making to ensure a successful transition of operations.
The engineering group of Western Star also will remain distinct and will relocate to Portland. Cary Gatzke, a 17-year Western Star veteran in the engineering area, will lead the Portland-based Western Star engineering team.
“Western Star trucks are known for their quality, characteristic design and custom engineering – a reputation due in part to our expert and dedicated engineering team,” said John Merrifield, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Western Star Trucks. “The Western Star engineering department, out of its new base in Portland, will continue its tradition of designing, developing and customizing outstanding heavy-duty trucks.”
The Western Star engineering team’s Portland location will offer numerous advantages, including close proximity to manufacturing and access to state-of-the-art research, development and testing facilities.
Other employees who will continue supporting the Western Star product include personnel from Sales Administration, Applications, Purchasing, Service, Warranty and Finance.
“We have assembled a group of Western Star veterans who will be dedicated to Western Star trucks and delivering the high level of service that our customers expect and deserve,” Merrifield said.
Customers, Dealers Have Input
To advise the company on transition-related matters, Western Star has convened a special Transition Advisory Group composed of customers and dealers from the U.S. and Canada. The group has been reviewing the company’s relocation plans, analyzing specific initiatives and advising on a variety of topics including product and service continuity.
“Throughout this changeover, it is essential that we closely involve dealers and customers, listen to their suggestions and put their ideas into action,” Merrifield said. “With the Transition Advisory Group, we have established a forum for culling dealer and customer ideas and input.”
The Transition Advisory Group convened early this year and will continue to meet leading up to and after Western Star’s move to Portland, Merrifield said.
Production in Kelowna through September
Production of Western Star trucks in Kelowna, B.C., will continue through September of this year.
“At this point, we are still hard at work in Kelowna and we are very proud of our employees and the quality of the trucks they are producing,” said Chief Operating Officer Nielsen. “The decision to move production to Portland was a very difficult one, but necessary to make this brand and company successful in the long run.”
Growth is Planned
Western Star has major plans for growth in North America as well as in export markets. Among other developments, the company recently unveiled a low-profile LowMax version of the Western Star 4900 EX heavy-duty truck, introduced its severe-duty product line in South Africa and launched a major new advertising campaign in the U.S. and Canada.
“We believe Western Star has awesome potential and the ability to grow dramatically beyond what it is today,” Freightliner CEO Schmueckle said. “Western Star produces superb long-haul trucks and some of the toughest vocational trucks in the world. Our plan is to significantly invest in product development, marketing and manufacturing and introduce a multitude of additional customers to these great trucks and this excellent brand.”
Western Star Trucks Inc. is a subsidiary of Freightliner LLC, the leading North American producer of heavy-duty trucks. Headquartered in Willoughby, Ohio, Western Star produces heavy-duty custom trucks for long-haul and vocational applications. Freightliner LLC is a company of DaimlerChrysler, the world's leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.