“It was a tough decision to make and we had many options, but a brand is not just a product, but also the people behind it,” Freightliner COO Roger Nielsen told Fleet Owner. “Truck manufacturing, even more than some other businesses, is a very persona, very people-oriented business."
Nielsen added that Freightliner has a “great workforce” in Portland – and that people who live in the Northwest U.S. tend to want to stay there. Therefore, the chance of Freightliner’s employees transferring with a company move would not have been likely.
DaimlerChrysler’s decision to close Freightliner’s parts plant will cause the company to reduce its Portland-based employees. However, some of those employees could be retained since DaimlerChrysler has also decided to move production of Western Star trucks to Oregon, closing that brand’s Kelowna, BC plant.
“We'll be bringing some people from Kelowna to Portland. We hope to entice up to 20% of the workers at that facility to come to Oregon,” Nielsen said. “Like Portland, however, Kelowna is considered to be a highly desirable place to live.”
Nielsen, who is from Kelowna, said the closure of that plant will have an impact on that Canadian community. He added that the decision to move Western Star’s production is not a sign that the brand will be phased out.
Company officials told The Oregonian
the decision to close the Freightliner plant, and to lay off its 381 workers, resulted from severe underuse of its production capacity, and its remoteness from most of Freightliner's vehicle production, which is more easily served by a 650-employee parts plant in Gastonia, NC.
The Portland parts operation occupies Freightliner's original truck plant. Workers at the 191,000-sq-ft factory make parts, including cab doors, suspensions, steering components and battery boxes, for all Freightliner truck models.
Freightliner is the only truck manufacturer in the country that still owns parts plants, said Jim Hubler, a senior vp of industrial relations at Freightliner, and it is considering getting out of the business if it can find the right buyer for its parts plants.
Plant employees agreed to take $2 an hour pay cuts and benefits concessions earlier this month in hopes their jobs will be saved, according to published reports.