is an American truck division of
Daimler Trucks North America LLC, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of the
German Daimler AG. The division is known mainly for the heavy duty class 8
diesel trucks it offers, as well as classes 5-7 trucks.
In the 1930s, Consolidated Freightways (CF) decided to produce their own
truck line from reconstructed Fageols, after finding most heavy trucks
lacked sufficient power to climb the steep mountain grades in the western
United States. The trucks were branded "Freightliners", with the first units
produced in Consolidated Freightways' maintenance facility in Salt Lake City
around 1942. After production was interrupted during WW II, manufacturing
began again, in CF's home of Portland, Oregon. In 1949, the first truck sold
outside of Consolidated Freightways went to forklift manufacturer Hyster,
also based in Portland. Today, that truck is in the Smithsonian collection
in Washington, D.C.
Lacking distribution capability, and seeking higher volume to reduce
production costs, CF entered into an agreement in 1951 to sell their trucks
through the White Motor Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, and their dealer
network in the US and Canada. This relationship endured for the next quarter
century, and the co-branded "White Freightliner" cab-over-engine models
(COE) became a familiar sight on highways across the continent.
Manufacturing began in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1961, to reduce
the duty penalty on the complete vehicles sold in Canada. Assembly plants in
Indianapolis and Chino, California complemented the main plant on Swan
Island in Portland, serving the US market. In 1969, a new assembly plant was
opened on North Basin St., which was then converted to parts production.
White Motor Company became troubled in the 1970s. Expansion into
whitegoods and agricultural equipment consumed capital without producing a
return, and the relationship with Consolidated Freightways became frayed. In
1974, the distribution agreement was terminated, and Freightliner Corp.
began life as a freestanding manufacturer and distributor. Many of the first
dealers were from the White Motor Co. network, but some entrepreneurs also
signed up to represent the trucks without the White Motor Co. franchise as a
At the same time, the company introduced its first conventional model, an
adaptation of the high COE mainstay product. High COEs accounted for well
over 50% of the US market in those days, owing to overall length regulations
that limited the bumper-to-taillight dimension of a semitrailer unit to
55 ft on interstate highways. Conventionals were popular on western roads
due to more convenient ingress/egress, better ride, and easier access to the
engine for servicing.
In 1979, a new plant in Mount Holly, North Carolina and a parts
manufacturing plant in Gastonia, North Carolina, were constructed, both in
the Charlotte metropolitan area. Volumes continued to increase.
The year 1979 marked a consequential event in the evolution of
Freightliner, and of the whole trucking and truck manufacturing industries.
President Carter signed bills into law deregulating transport both on the
ground and in the skies. Deregulation changed the economics of trucking, and
removed the protective shield of regulated carriage that protected carriers
allowing much needed competition.
1980s: Daimler-Benz takes over
Three years later, the Surface
Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 relaxed weight and length standards
and imposed a new excise tax on heavy trucks and the tires they use. No
longer was the overall length of semitrailer combinations restricted;
rather, only the trailer was specified, to be not greater than 53 ft in
length. Individual states retained more restrictive overall length laws, but
fundamentally, the rules had changed forever.
Consolidated Freightways, a traditional, unionized carrier that
flourished in the era before deregulation, realized it was in a fight for
its life. In May 1981, it sold its truck manufacturing business and the
Freightliner brand to Daimler-Benz, allowing it to concentrate its
management attention and financial resources on its traditional trucking
business. Around this time, the Chino and Indianapolis plants were closed
permanently. Consolidated Freightways continued carrier business until 2002,
when it ceased operation on Labor Day weekend.
In 1989, Freightliner acquired a standing plant in Cleveland, North
Carolina, near Statesville, that had been producing transit buses for German
1990s In 1991, the company displaced a poor-selling line of Mercedes-Benz
medium-duty vehicles with an all-new range of medium duty trucks designed
for North America that the company called the Business Class. Sharing some
cab components with the Mercedes-Benz LKN mid-range European cabover, the
truck was a conventional design, which was the first all-new entry in the
medium-duty market in over a decade. It proved quite successful.
pronounced downturn in the industry's fortunes necessitated drastic measures
to restore the company to financial health, and Dr Dieter Zetsche, now the
chairman of Daimler's Board of Management, was dispatched to lead the
project as CEO. The Burnaby assembly plant was closed, a new facility in St.
Thomas, Ontario, replaced it, and cost reduction programs across the company
restored profitability when the market rebounded.
Significantly, production of Freightliners also commenced in Santiago
Tianguistenco, Mexico, about 30 miles (48 km) outside Mexico City, in a
plant owned by Daimler-Benz. It also was producing, at that time, buses,
Brazilian-sourced medium-duty trucks, and compact Mercedes-Benz passenger
The 1990s were a busy era for truck manufacturers in general, and for
Freightliner in particular, under the leadership of flamboyant James L.
Hebe, a former Kenworth sales executive who joined the company in 1989.
Freightliner made numerous acquisitions:
1995 – Oshkosh Custom Chassis in Gaffney, South Carolina became
Freightliner Custom Chassis, producing the underpinnings for walk-in vans
used by companies such as UPS to deliver parcels and Cintas for uniform
laundry services; diesel recreational vehicles; conventional school buses;
and shuttle buses. The Oshkosh and Freightliner partnership has dissolved,
and Oshkosh is no longer affiliated with Freightliner.
1996 – American LaFrance, a 130 year-old manufacturer of fire apparatus,
was purchased; it was Mr. Hebe's first employer. LaFrance had fallen on hard
times and was moribund at the time of the acquisition.
1997 – The heavy duty truck ("AeroMax") products of the Ford Motor Co.
were acquired, and renamed Sterling (from an early White Motors brand). Ford
dedicated its Louisville, KY, facility to more profitable light truck
1998 – Thomas Built Buses, of High Point, NC, was bought; it was producer
of all classes of school bus bodies, and forward control chassis.
2000 – Western Star Trucks, Inc., the successor to the White Motor Co. of
Canada, and its assembly plants in Kelowna, British Columbia, and Ladson,
South Carolina were acquired.
2000 – Detroit Diesel Corp., Redford, Michigan, the former General Motors
subsidiary had been revived by Roger Penske and was attractive to
DaimlerChrysler as a point of entry into the North American heavy-duty
diesel industry. This company was actually acquired by another unit of
DaimlerChrysler, but operations were gradually integrated into Freightliner.
Throughout this era, a number of small fire and rescue apparatus
manufacturers were acquired and rolled into the American LaFrance entity.
By 2001, the company was awash in used trucks it could not sell, and
saddled with a number of poor-performing operations at a time when the core
business, still the Freightliner over-the-road truck offerings, was in
recession. Former Freightliner CFO Rainer Schmueckle was dispatched by
DaimlerChrysler to once again turn the company around. The Kelowna Western
Star plant was closed, as was a Thomasbuilt facility in Woodstock, Ontario
and parts manufacturing at the old Portland plant was discontinued. American
LaFrance production was consolidated in the former Western Star plant in
Ladson, South Carolina, but the attempt to integrate specialized emergency
vehicles into a company noted for high volume production capabilities proved
unworkable, and American LaFrance was sold in 2005 to a private equity fund.
On April 2, 2007, the Strike Committee of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local
3520 called for a strike at the Freightliner Trucks' assembly plant in
Cleveland, North Carolina. This strike lasted only one day, but because the
UAW declared the strike unofficial, it was considered a wildcat strike
action, resulting in the firing of 700 employees. Nearly all these were at
length allowed back to work, six remained terminated for about a week, but
five remain terminated.
Also in 2007, Freightliner laid off 800 US workers from its Portland,
Oregon plant, relocating manufacturing work to a new multimillion-dollar
plant in Mexico. However, plans to close the plant completely were dropped
in September 2009, and it remained open to produce military vehicles and
Western Star trucks. 230 more Portland workers were laid off in 2013.
After DaimlerChrysler sold the Chrysler division and changed its name to
Daimler AG in 2007, it was announced Freightliner LLC would be renamed to
Daimler Trucks North America, LLC on January 7, 2008.
Today, Freightliner remains active in heavy-duty trucks, and in
commercial vehicles in classes 5 through 8 in North America. It leads the
diesel Class A recreational vehicle chassis and walk-in van markets. Its
Detroit Diesel and Mercedes-Benz engine offerings are also industry leaders.
The Freightliner badge also adorns the Sprinter, a Class 2 van produced by
Mercedes-Benz in Europe and marketed through Freightliner dealers, as well
as through Chrysler dealers as a Dodge-branded offering.
Tesla Motors is supplying battery packs for Freightliner's Custom Chassis
Electric Van. On January 12, 2012, Daimler Trucks North America announced
plans to hire 1200 second-shift workers by the end of the year at its
Cleveland plant, the company's largest US truck plant, with nearly 500
employees. Most of those would be people who were laid off when the second
shift was dropped in 2009. The reason was increased demand for Cascadia
trucks, of which twice as many would be made by October 2012. One-fifth of
the plant's output, which also included Columbia and Argosy went to South
Africa, Australia and New Zealand. By September only 550 of the workers had
returned to the plant, and 173 others not recalled had lost their seniority.
In 2009, Daimler Trucks North America's Mount Holly, North Carolina plant
began making natural gas trucks. The company made 700 trucks of that type in
2012, with the number growing in 2013 as the company announced the Cleveland
plant would begin making the Cascadia with Cummins Westport natural gas
Argosy Business Class M2
- Business Class M2e Hybrid
- Business Class M2 106
- Business Class M2 112
- Business Class M2 106V
- Business Class M2 112V
- C2 (bus chassis)
C-Series Cabover Engine semi-trailer cab Cargo Cascadia (code named P3)
- Century C120
- Century Class S/T (code named P2)
CL 120 64 ST Classic Series
COE Columbia Coronado
- FL 112
- FL 50
- FL 60
- FL 70
- FL 80
- 108SD AB
- 114SD AB
- 114SD AF
- FLA 104
- FLA 104 64
- FLA 75
- FLA 7542T
- FLA 8662
- FLA 8664T
- FLA 9664
- FLA 9664T
- FLB 100 42T
- FLB 104 64
- FLB 9664
- FLC 112
- FLC 112 62 ST
- FLC 120
- FLC 120 64
- FLC 120 64 T
- FLD 112
- FLD 120 42 S
- FLD 120 64 ST
- FLD 120 64 T
- FLD 120 HD
- FLD 120 SD
- FLD 120 SFFA
- FLD 132 64T Classic XL
- FLD 120
- FLT 6442
- FLT 9664
- FLT 7564
Freightliner Sprinter Step Van
- Step Van MT-45
- Step Van MT-55
See also Related Companies
Western Star Trucks