April 27, 2017 1:40 PM, EDT

Mack Trucks Turning the Corner? Company to Hire 50 for Pennsylvania Plant

Mack Trucks Inc.

Less than three months ago, Mack Trucks reported its weakest year of truck deliveries in six years. Now, it appears, the heavy-duty truck manufacturer with a massive assembly plant in Lower Macungie Township, Pa., is turning the corner.

In fact, Mack spokesman Christopher Heffner told The Morning Call on April 26, the manufacturer recently called about 100 employees back to its 1-million-square-foot facility to begin a second shift on the assembly line that produces the company's cab-over models — trucks typically used in the refuse and construction industries. Right now, the plant runs two shifts and employs about 1,500 people.

That number could grow soon: Mack is also hiring for about 50 additional production positions, with pay starting at $18.75 per hour.

The news of Mack hiring comes after its parent company, Sweden-based Volvo Group, on April 25 released its numbers for the first quarter — a three-month period defined by low delivery totals but a surge in orders. For example, Mack delivered just 3,925 trucks worldwide during the first quarter, a 24% decrease from the year-earlier period as the industry continued to grapple with weak freight demand and plentiful used-truck inventories. But, Mack received 5,703 orders in North America during the first quarter, a surge of 39% from a year earlier.

"Mack's order intake improved in the first quarter for several reasons, including strong customer response to our recent product announcements, as well as continued positive demand in the construction segment," Heffner said in an e-mail. "We're also beginning to see improving freight conditions as the economy works through excess inventories."

But it wasn't too long ago when production at Mack Trucks was trending downward.

While Mack enjoyed a peak year in 2015 — the company delivered 27,411 vehicles that year, its strongest showing since 2006 — the Greensboro, N.C.-based manufacturer in December 2015 announced it would lay off about 400 employees in January 2016 to meet the reduced demand expected in the market.

Fluctuations in Mack's workforce are not uncommon because the company monitors the market and adjusts employment needs accordingly. And, in the cyclical heavy-duty truck market, what goes up must eventually come down.

And Mack was down in 2016, scheduling several weeklong production shutdowns throughout the year at its Lower Macungie plant, idling a significant portion of its employment base.

When it was all said and done, Mack delivered 18,846 trucks in 2016, its weakest year since completing 13,465 vehicles in 2010 as it just started to climb out of the 2009 production bottom.

In 2017, however, Mack's Lower Macungie plant, where all Mack trucks built for the North American market and export are assembled, appears poised to have a busier year as the recent surge in orders develop into deliveries.

In addition, Mack now has 8.9% of the North American market, up from 7.7% in the comparable period.

"After the downwards correction in the long-haulage segment in 2016, the North American market seems to be bottoming out," Volvo Group President and CEO Martin Lundstedt wrote in the first-quarter report. "We see positive signs of increased order activity."