NAPA, Calif. — David Carson is not your ordinary truckmaker chief. Not an engineer, not a sales veteran, his background is in human resources. In fact, while he was named president of Western Star Trucks in January, he was also appointed chief diversity officer of parent company Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) at large. But make no mistake, he’s as much a truck guy as anyone else in that role, and he’s passionate about the iconic brand he now heads.
Previously president of Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, he led that DTNA subsidiary to record performance in 2016. Prior to that he served as the company’s general manager of human resources, which included negotiations with labor unions. He joined DTNA in 2001.
In a recent sit-down interview with Carson, I wanted an update on how the company is faring and where it’s going. The occasion was a DTNA press event in California where, earlier in the day, he made his first presentation to trucking scribes since taking the president’s job.
The brief answer to that first question is that it’s doing mighty well. “Canada is an awesome market for us,” he said, “especially in the west. We’re here to stay.”
Canadian marketshare figures through May of this year show Western Star with 8.7%, ahead of Mack at 5.3% and not too far behind International at 11.8%. In the month of May alone it reached 9.5%. It’s a different story in the U.S., where its share is but 2.6% through May.
And where’s it going? No change there, not surprisingly. With 80% of its production headed to vocational customers, the affable Carson said Western Star is positioned for further growth in that segment, investing in a strengthening market. He sees growth potential in dump trucks, cement mixers, and heavy haulers. Canada is an especially strong market for the latter, he said, and a resurgence in residential and non-residential construction spending in the U.S. has finally recovered to pre-recession levels, offering new opportunities. With its roots in the western logging business going back to 1967, the brand still dominates there.
As for the Canadian oil patch, Carson says he’s committed to expansion there, and it’s finally showing signs of life. He says he has the advantage of an especially strong dealer in Edmonton, Western Star North, a family business run by Scott Robinson.
In fact, he says his Canadian dealers in general have unique and strong bonds with their customers, offering a depth of expertise not required in on-highway sales. Vocational trucks are complicated beasts, after all, and spec’ing a tri-drive vacuum truck for use in Fort McMurray is a far cry from plugging customer needs into a computer and emerging with a tractor that will pull vans between Winnipeg and Regina.
Not surprisingly, Carson notes that the vocational and highway markets present a different business model for dealers. “You might be doing one- or two-truck deals in a vocational transaction rather than hundreds or thousands of trucks in on-highway.”
All told there are some 370 dealers in Canada and the U.S., 85 of them selling Western Stars exclusively.