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‘It’s the dream job,’ says Mack’s top dog

Posted: August 21, 2018 by John G. Smith

Martin Weissburg, president, Mack Trucks.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Martin Weissburg has not been the top dog at Mack Trucks for very long. He was named president June 1, succeeding Dennis Slagle who had been in the role since 2008. But Volvo Group’s senior-most executive in North America is no stranger to boardroom tables in the trucking industry.

Weissburg served as president of Volvo Construction Equipment from 2014 to 2017, based in Europe. Prior to that he was president and CEO of Volvo Financial Services from 2010 to 2013, and he joined Volvo Group in 2005 as president of Volvo Financial Services Americas. There was time spent at Caterpillar and Great Dane Financial, too.

“My whole career has been with trucks, trailers, construction equipment,” he said during a broad-ranging discussion with media at the company’s customer center.

The current role, though, is special. He grew up in Maryland, just hours from Mack’s Pennsylvania headquarters. “To me,” he said, “it’s the dream job.”

At the very least, it’s a good time to lead a truck manufacturer. Industry sales and the economy at large are booming. Mack’s vehicle lineup is now spearheaded by the Anthem – an offering for the on-highway segment that has not traditionally been a company strength. Before that truck was introduced, the manufacturer accounted for about 2% of such trucks in North America. “We have gained share in the highway segment, and we’ll continue to gain share,” he said. Year-to-date, orders for models with 70-inch sleepers have more than doubled last year’s numbers.

While Mack has traditionally enjoyed its strongest presence in small and mid-sized fleets, senior vice-president of sales and marketing Jonathan Randall added that even larger fleets are looking at the Anthem, sometimes as reward trucks to support recruiting and retention efforts.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Weissburg said. “The highway segment is just smoking.” And there’s little indication of a slowdown.

“It won’t last forever, but it’s not over yet.”

Production at the company’s Lehigh Valley Operations facility is now at an all-time high, with 2,400 employees including 400 personnel added since last year last year. Even though unemployment in the surrounding area is extremely low, employee turnover is not a number-one concern, Weissburg stressed. “I’ve been impressed how well we have attracted and retained employees at all of our factories in North America.”

The booming economy presents its own challenges, though, as it has with other manufacturers.

“Generally speaking we’re in an environment where costs are up,” he agreed, referring to the prices of raw materials like steel and aluminum as an example. Some of those increases are also independent of tariffs imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. But the tariffs have created an environment that has seemingly given every supplier permission to raise prices.

Labor demands are adding price pressures of their own, with industrial jobs at a 17-year high and more open jobs than there are applicants. “Logistics costs are up for everyone,” he added. Even those who make the trucks are paying more for those services.

“We have our share of challenges in the supply chain as well,” Weissburg said, referring to constraints that keep build rates from growing at a faster rate. “There’s no single, major point of pain. Just right when you fix one, there’s another one.”

Ongoing investments

It isn’t the only thing that Mack focuses on fixing. The company and dealers alike continue to make new investments to help keep the bulldog-adorned trucks rolling.

“We view any truck down as a crisis,” Weissburg said of the importance of assets including Certified Uptime Centers — the dealerships that meet specific standards. “Uptime is only a word unless you have a strong dealer network.” The certifications are not guaranteed, either. Some dealers who initially earned it have had it revoked.

It makes a difference to truck owners. While an average repair can be measured by hours, the typical dwell time where the truck is parked at the dealership is closer to four days. Those waits have been cut in half through measures like the certified locations, Randall said.

Over-the-air engine updates – currently rolled out with several fleets and several hundred trucks — also hold the promise of addressing some maintenance needs before a truck ever darkens the door of a service bay. “Any ghost in the machine kind of stuff,” Randall said. A learning-based system is also tracking the related work, making ongoing improvements to repair sequences that are followed whenever a truck throws the same code.

Randall referred to the way that Wayne Gretzky learned to play where the puck was going to be. “Mack is making the investments of where the truck is going to be,” he said, referring to the maintenance-related support such as GuardDog Connect, Mack Over the Air, OneCall, ASIST, and Certified Uptime Centers.

Mack also continues to invest in the future, including the promise of electrified vehicles. It has already announced plans to deploy an electrified Mack LR refuse truck for a demonstration with the New York City Department of Sanitation in 2019. “This is coming,” Weissburg said of electrification, referring to how some of the earliest adopters will be those in start-stop applications like refuse collection. The energy source may even have a role on vocational job sites. Enclosed environments offer the controlled ecosystems for charging stations and related technologies to support such things as dumps, loaders, crushers, and conveyors, he said. “We can envision a fully electric site in the future.”

In the shorter term, the question is how long the good times will roll. Business cycles are a reality that can’t be escaped. Weissburg has lived through them before.

“We haven’t given our forecast for 2019 yet, but every indication is 2019 will be another strong year – and we’re planning accordingly,” he said, suggesting that there are a few strong fiscal quarters to come. “My crystal ball is not perfect, but I remain impressed … these are very good times.”

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