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Business is rolling at Mack

April 14, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Mack Truck's Powertrain Division recently has been increasing production and jobs at its plant north of Hagerstown to meet demand following a less-than-stellar introduction of its 2002 line of environmentally friendly truck engines.

"We continue to interview with the intention of hiring additional workers and the increase is entirely due to the very, very strong heavy-duty truck market that we're seeing right now," said Bill Martin, a Mack spokesman. "It's been a tremendous year and a half or so in terms of growth in the marketplace - well, really since the beginning of 2004 - and the increase in the sales led to the need to add workers."

With the economy in the midst of a downturn, Martin said Mack was forced to meet new environmental regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency starting in October 2002.

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Customers were fearful the change would mean either lower gas mileage or less power, Martin said, and many companies that did not need to increase their fleets in the depressed economy waited for others to try out the engines first.

Martin said there was a "slight penalty on fuel economy" with the new engines, but the company held several retraining sessions to let drivers know how best to optimize gas usage. Martin said that with the company's suggestions drivers were able to offset the lower gas mileage.

"The customers basically looked at this and said they wanted to see more time pass," he said. "We went through some pretty lean times starting in the summer of 2002, and the market has started to pick up."

Martin said Mack heavy-duty truck sales increased from 15,146 units in 2003 to 20,670 last year. Several factors influenced the smaller 2003 figure, including the closure of a South Carolina plant.

Mack's market share dropped from 10.7 percent to 10.2 percent during that same period. Martin said that was because the strengthening economy helped some of his company's competitors increase their sales at a faster pace than Mack.

As of Jan. 1, 2004, Mack employed 1,247 workers at the Hagerstown plant, Martin said. The company had hired another 240 workers by Jan. 1 of this year and another 35 by the end of March. Employment at plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia also increased over the same time frame, he said.

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