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Mack looks to the future

October 09, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - There are moments when people want to fast-forward through life because they see something great in front of them, Hugo van Belleghem told approximately 1,000 people Friday outside Mack Trucks Inc.'s local powertrain plant.

The $150 million Volvo Group investment to transform the Mack facility north of Hagerstown into the North American Center of Excellence for powertrain operations of the Volvo Group is one of those moments, said van Belleghem, director of the transformation project.

While the transformation won't be complete until 2007, work began in early summer to renovate the Mack Powertrain Division plant off Pennsylvania Avenue and prepare ground for an Engine Development Laboratory, Mack corporate spokesman Bob Martin said.

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The event, under a large white tent on a parking lot above the plant, featured a dozen speakers. They included Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Volvo Trucks North America President Peter Karlsten and Mack Trucks President Paul Vikner.

Vikner told the crowd that if Mack Trucks has been standing alone with a regional focus, the company could not succeed or afford the costs for research and development needed to compete in the global market.

The solution for Mack was becoming part of the Volvo Group, which led to Friday's celebration of the transformation that should have local Mack workers producing Volvo truck engines in early 2005, company officials said.

The first of two new assembly lines for Volvo truck engines partially is constructed and a test run is expected to be done by the end of October, said Tom Kriner, manager of industrial development for the Mack Powertrain Division.

The local plant could roll out its first Volvo truck engine by the end of the year, although commercial production isn't expected to start until early 2005, company officials said.

Once the new assembly lines are ready, the local plant will make Mack and Volvo truck engines, Martin said.

That includes the current Volvo truck engine and the new family of engines in development, Martin said.

Volvo truck engines are for heavy-duty, long-haul trucks such as tractor-trailers that go coast to coast and have big sleeper boxes, Martin said.

Mack truck engines are for heavy-duty trucks such as dump trucks, garbage trucks and tractor-trailers that do regional hauling, Martin said.

Mack also will be installing equipment to make crankshafts and camshafts and building an automated storage and retrieval system for materials, Kriner said.

The $150 million investment includes $35 million for a 102,000-square-foot Engine Development Laboratory at the local Mack campus, Engineering Manager John Felder said.

Company officials are aiming to be in the lab by the end of 2005, he said. The lab will be designed for performance and emission testing of engines, he said.

Work began in early summer to renovate the existing plant and prepare the site for construction of the new lab, Martin said.

"The transformation by itself is not going to add jobs," Martin said.

Job growth is tied to product demand, Martin said.

In 2004, the economy and demand picked up, Martin said. The company finished hiring the more than 100 people who company officials announced in the spring they would need to meet increased demand, Martin said.

The local Mack plant employs 1,439 people, local Mack Trucks spokeswoman Patti Friend said.

Mack and United Auto Workers officials agreed last Saturday to a tentative three-year contract, but union members need to ratify the contract.

Mack officials are expecting the truck market to be strong at least during the next two to three years, but there are no plans to add or subtract jobs at the local plant, Martin said.

The master recall list of former Mack workers from the shutdown of the Winnsboro, S.C., plant in November 2002 has been exhausted, Martin said. Anyone on that list who wanted a job was hired at the Hagerstown or Macungie, Pa., plants, he said.

Friend said Mack is doing testing to keep a pool of 100 applicants on standby for when the next wave of hirings is needed.

Plans also call for the state to negotiate to buy a nearly 100-acre tract from Mack for development of a "vendor village" to bring Mack suppliers to the site.

Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development spokeswoman Andrea Harrison said company and state officials wanted to get this phase of the plan up and running before looking at the vendor village.

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