A $5.5-million parts distribution center has been opened in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, by Freightliner Corp. and Mercedes-Benz Mexico. According to the truck OEM, the 20,000-sq.-ft. center is a state-of-the-art facility that will allow both companies to distribute parts within 24 hours to most of their dealers and customers in the country. "The new center is part of our effort to integrate Freightliner's high standard for customer service into the Mexican market," said Freightliner president & CEO Jim Hebe. According to Mercedes-Benz Mexico president Federico Korte, working with Freightliner has helped the company triple its daily vehicle output as the Mexican economy has begun to stabilize. In Mexico, Freightliner distributes its medium- and heavy-duty trucks through a network of exclusive Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz dealers.

GATX Logistics in Chile venture. Chicago-based GATX Logistics has formed a joint venture with Wackenhut de Chile S.A. to provide logistics services in Chile under the name GATX Logistics Chile S.A. The joint venture firm will be among the first full-service third-party logistics providers in the Andean nation and will represent the first GATX Logistics service offering outside North America. The venture will offer a variety of services to Chilean businesses, including distribution, warehousing, packaging, freight management, and import/export assistance. "We are very excited and optimistic about extending our reach to South America," said GATX Logistics president & CEO Joseph Nicosia. "This is a significant step in our effort to be an international logistics provider." According to Nicosia, the venture will fill a void in the Chilean marketplace while offering North American customers another level of support as their supply chains grow across larger geographic areas.

Celadon cites NAFTA job growth. No giant sucking sounds were heard when Michael Hodson, executive vp of Indianapolis-based Celadon Trucking, said NAFTA has helped Celadon create 600 jobs since 1994. Speaking before a public hearing on NAFTA's economic impact held by the U.S. International Trade Commission, Hodson said that Celadon Trucking has grown 50% since '94. That growth led the carrier to offer 500 additional truck-driving positions, as well as 100 new administrative posts. He explained that Celadon benefited from the free-trade agreement because it is a truckload carrier that specializes in transporting freight between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Hodson estimated that NAFTA has created about 50,000 trucking- and rail-related jobs in the U.S. He also told the commission that in just the past three years, Celadon has purchased $60 million worth of made-in-the-U.S.A. equipment, including 350 tractors, 1,400 trailers, and 350 satellite-communications units.

Chrysler's orient. Chrysler Corp. appears poised to make a bigger splash in the Pacific. An early indicator is the relocation of its Asian operations headquarters from outside Detroit to Singapore this summer. According to the manufacturer, this office will direct all sales and manufacturing in Southeast Asia, as well as in Indonesia and Australia. Another office will be set up in Tokyo to oversee operations in China, Japan, and Korea. Chrysler has reported that its Asia-Pacific sales for '97 reached 78,121 units, for a 9% increase over the year before.

Scania targets Russian trucks. Sweden's Scania AB is finding the heavy-truck market in Russia is too lucrative to leave to chance. The OEM has announced it will now handle the importation of its trucks into Russia. In addition, the truck maker said it is investing in a new facility to service trucks. In 1997, over 830 heavy trucks were imported into Russia. Of those, 141 were Scanias. And so far this year, Scania has sold at least 160 vehicles in the former Soviet state.

Don't cry for Hong Kong. The handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China on the first of this month finally set the sun on the British Empire. But the transfer of sovereignty has also raised concern over the future of the free-trade bastion. Some observers contend that plans by the People's Republic of China to rein in freedom of expression and assembly will eventually hobble the economic tiger. But there's a flip side, too. According to a report in Ward's Automotive International, top-level execs at three major Asian-Pacific automakers have accused "the media" of reading too much into the tea leaves blowing in the Kowloon wind. Twenty honchos at Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., and Volkswagen AG have testified in print that after the takeover by the People's Republic of China, it will still be "business as usual" in the former crown colony. The car guys' comments appear in 25,000 copies of a 24-page publication, entitled "Keeping Faith In Hong Kong," issued by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. The chamber contends that Hong Kong's social and economic systems will "remain separate and apart," despite its government passing from the hands of a faded power to the world's most-populous nation.

Audi and Porsche scope U.S. production. German automakers Audi AG and Porsche AG are considering launching production in the U.S. Audi is expected to make a decision next year on siting a $780-million assembly plant in the Southeast. Meanwhile, Porsche is reportedly weighing production costs, finished quality, and client attitudes as it decides whether to build a new U.S. plant to help it meet increased demand for its vehicles.