ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Martin Weissburg, the newly appointed president of Mack Trucks, is studying further changes to the Lehigh Valley Operations plant as he begins to put his mark on what he called a dream job.
“We are talking about, not if, but where do we spend more next. There’s always needs in a factory, but I won’t go into the details of that now,” Weissburg said during a media roundtable here. “You have to have great facilities to have great products.”
Production at the plant, which recently received an $84 million upgrade and has about 2,400 employees, is at an all-time high, he said. Weissburg noted that it already has made impressive improvements in productivity, efficiency and culture over the years.
He said that it would be very good for Mack if shares in parent company Volvo Group — the world’s second-largest truck maker — climb 20% in the Swedish stock market as some investment analysts have suggested is likely over the next 12 months.
Martin Weissburg (left) addresses a media roundtable. (Roger Gilroy/Transport Topics)
“The very clear fact that Mack Trucks is part of a strong, very successful global organization helps to make Mack’s execution that much more attainable,” he said.
Formally appointed president in June, Weissburg said he has been transitioning to his role since the first quarter — and the post is a “dream come true” for a man who spent summers after high school in Maryland, and while in college, working construction jobs, being around the trucks he now makes.
Formerly president of Volvo Construction Equipment, where he oversaw about a dozen manufacturing facilities, Weissburg succeeds Dennis Slagle, who led the company since 2008.
Weissburg quickly turned to “bragging a little bit” about the Anthem, Mack’s latest longhaul truck — production of the premium product ramped up in the second quarter.
The Anthem, which comes with Mack’s proprietary engine, transmission and axles, “couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.
“It’s already a star of our lineup. Demand for this product has greatly exceeded our expectations,” Weissburg added.
The Anthem was developed carefully, not rushed down the production line, and some of its features went into other models as the launch of the new truck coincided with a boom in Class 8 orders. Orders for the sleeper truck through July have climbed to twice what they were for all of 2017 for its on-highway trucks, according to Mack, but the company declined to further quantify them.
Traditionally, Mack has tended to do well with smaller and midsize fleets, said Jonathan Randall, senior vice president of North American sales for Mack Trucks.
“But now we are getting looks and comments from fleets that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have looked at us, [ones] with 400 or 500 trucks,” he said. “The interesting thing is, we get a lot of inquiries now from the megafleets that want to use the Anthem as a driver-reward truck.”
At the same time, Weissburg characterized the 118-year-old truck maker as a relationship company, not just a vendor of trucks, and one that is developing new software updates to address remotely fault codes that come up, and new methods of propulsion, such as electrification.
Asked in a later conversation if Mack dealers had been told, as one dealer said, to compile a list of customers who were the most likely to want electrified trucks, Weissburg told Transport Topics he “could not confirm that at all.”
With new technology, Mack first determines that it is reasonable, he said. “Then we will typically target a couple of large accounts that we can prototype within a reasonably controlled environment, where they and we have a strong infrastructure to kind of keep it going, fix it and tweak it as we go.”
Weissburg added: “So you start with someone who is big, developed, serious.”
Mack plans to have a fully electric Mack LR refuse model equipped with an integrated Mack electric drivetrain operating in 2019 or early 2020. The New York City Department of Sanitation, one of Mack’s largest customers, will test the demonstration vehicle.
Mack also is looking at fully electric off-road dump trucks, wheel loaders and, increasingly, at short on-road dumpers, he said.
Meanwhile, Weissburg — starting his job amid historically high demand for heavy-duty trucks — is aware the industry runs in cycles and eventually the next trend will be a drop in demand.
“I think I’ll see a downturn, an upturn, downturn and maybe another upturn in my tenure as the president of Mack,” he said. “We haven’t given our forecast yet for 2019, but every indication is that 2019 will be another strong year and we are planning accordingly.”