Western Star Trucks Begins Production At Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant

Download Images for this Press ReleasePORTLAND, OREGON…Western Star Trucks today marked the official start of heavy-duty truck production at its new manufacturing location -- the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant. In a ceremony attended by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Portland Mayor Vera Katz, customers and dealers, Western Star employees delivered the first Portland-built Western Star to an owner-operator customer from British Columbia.

“We are very pleased to announce a successful start of Western Star truck production at the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant,” said Rainer Schmueckle, President and CEO of Freightliner LLC, parent company of Western Star Trucks. “In our new manufacturing and operations location, we are committed to maintaining Western Star’s quality and unique character while fulfilling the promise of this great heavy-duty truck brand.”

Western Star Trucks, headquartered in Willoughby, Ohio, produces premium, custom trucks for long-haul and vocational applications. In October 2001, the company announced that it was moving truck production and other operations from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Portland. Over the past year, Western Star has invested $16 million to prepare the Portland plant for Western Star production.

The Portland location offers distinct advantages for Western Star from both a production and engineering standpoint, Schmueckle explained. Portland Truck Plant employees have significant experience in building a wide range of custom trucks, including U.S. military vehicles. In addition, Western Star will be in close proximity to state-of-the-art development and testing facilities based in Portland.

“We will ensure that customers continue to receive the top-quality trucks they have come to expect from Western Star while further enhancing the product,” Schmueckle said.

Schmueckle thanked state and local elected officials, as well as dealers and customers, for contributing to a successful production start in Portland.

“Our task in preparing the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant for Western Star production was made possible through the close coordination of efforts by many committed parties,” Schmueckle said. “This was a true, team effort.”

First Customer Receives Truck

The first Portland-built Western Star was presented to Ryan Lucas, a truck owner-operator from Mackenzie, British Columbia. Lucas operates four heavy-duty trucks in logging and lowbed applications in the Mackenzie area.

“I am honored to have received the first Western Star from Portland,” Lucas said. “Western Star trucks have a great reputation in the logging industry and are very popular in Western Canada. This new truck will be a great source of pride as well as a workhorse in my daily business.”

Lucas hails from a trucking family. His grandfather, Bud Lucas, has hauled timber in the Mackenzie, B.C. and Prince George, B.C. areas since the late 1940s. His father Don, hauls chips, sawdust and fuel for local pulp mills and sawmills. Together, the family owns 16 trucks.

Lucas’ new Western Star is a 4900 SA heavy-duty truck with 123-inch BBC (bumper-to-back-of-cab) measurement and 550-hp engine. Popular in logging applications, the set-back axle 4900 SA is the available in two BBC measurements to accommodate different logging applications. The 109" BBC model is standard with an aerodynamic hood; the 123" BBC is standard with a classic hood, with a high-visibility hood option.

Lucas purchased his truck from James Western Star Sterling Ltd. in Prince George, British Columbia.

Investments at Portland TruckManufacturing Plant

According to Roger Nielsen, Chief Operating Officer for Freightliner LLC, the $16 million investment in the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant encompasses new fixtures, assembly lines and related renovations.

The Western Star chassis assembly is housed in a new 15,000 sq. ft. addition. Sections of the line have been widened and reinforced to handle even the biggest Western Star off-road chassis.

A state-of-the-art E-coat system to primer-coat cabs to protect against corrosion has been installed and the topcoat paint facility is being upgraded to a true clean-room environment. Already, Portland was using paint robots, known to produce the best and most consistent finishing quality.

A new cab-in-white assembly line also is in place. The finish cab line has been lengthened with additional workstations, including a water leak test booth and a cab-and-sleeper integrator fixture.

To assure quality and continuity of the product, “Western Star has made significant investments not only in new equipment and systems but also in employee training,” Nielsen said. “We have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the Portland Plant workforce to help continue Western Star’s quality and prestigious character.”

The Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant opened in 1969 and today employs approximately 1,100 people.

Key Personnel in Place

Further contributing to a successful changeover will be dozens of key Western Star Engineering, Manufacturing, Sales Administration, Applications, Purchasing, Service, Warranty and Finance personnel who have relocated to Portland. These include Carsten Reinhardt, former General Manager of Operations for Western Star in Kelowna and now General Manager of the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant; Cary Gatzke, Director of Western Star Engineering; Wayne LaRochelle, Director of Manufacturing; and Tony McParland, Quality Assurance Manager.

Western Star Customers, Dealers AreKey Advisers

Western Star customers and dealers have played a key role in the company’s transition of operations to Portland, Oregon, according to John Merrifield, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Western Star Trucks. Early on in the transition process, the company established a Transition Advisory Group, composed of Western Star customers and dealers. The group reviewed the company’s plans and provided guidance in a number of areas.

“It was very important to us to involve our customers and dealers in Western Star’s transition of operations,” Merrifield said. “Their input has been invaluable.”

Barry Robinson, a member of Western Star’s Canadian Dealer Council and principal of Western Star Trucks (North) Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, is a member of the Transition Advisory Group. “We’ve been consulted on the most minute things, such as the fasteners that attach the upholstery to the cab,” Robinson said.

On a recent visit to the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant with key customers, Robinson inspected a group of pre-series Western Star trucks built in Portland by Portland plant workers. “I was completely impressed with the finished product,” Robinson said. “The attention to detail is impeccable.”

He added, “The Portland team has told us that they are committed to upholding the quality and unique character of the product and so far, that’s exactly what they are delivering.”

Jerry Reiter, owner of Midwest Diesel Service Inc., the Western Star dealership in Minneapolis, cited the state-of-the-art research and development facilities in Portland among the many reasons for his positive outlook. “The Portland facilities are very well equipped with advanced engineering and manufacturing capabilities. I’m confident it will work very well.”

Cliff Ruud, owner of First Truck Centre Lloydminster Ltd. in Lloydminster, Alberta, is likewise happy with the transition. “The trucks we saw in Portland were very well built,” he said. “I’m confident that Portland is a state-of-the-art plant capable of upholding Western Star quality.”

Ruud likes the fact that many key Western Star people in engineering and sales moved to Portland. “We are still dealing with the same faces, the same people. It makes the transition much easier for the dealers.”

A Western Star dealer for 15 years, Ruud said he expects an “extremely bright” future for the nameplate in its new environment. “What really excites me is that the company is committed to growing the Western Star brand. That’s great news for customers and dealers alike.”

Merrifield said Western Star will shine even brighter in the future. “We already have a tremendously loyal customer base, and it’s our intention to significantly invest in product development, marketing and manufacturing to grow this brand while all along maintaining its unique character.”

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.

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