With its first new truck in a decade, Mack Trucks Inc. is reaching out from its familiar market of short-haul vehicles to highway cruisers.
Mack, based in Allentown, Pa., introduced a new Class 8 vehicle this month called the Vision. The result of intensive customer research, the truck is designed specifically for the over-the-road market, with all its requirements for payload capacity, driver comfort and fuel economy.
The Vision has an all-new cab but shares some parts with its Class 8 cousin, the CH. The CH is focused on vocational markets where Mack is traditionally strong, such as refuse hauling and the construction industry.
The Vision also marks the start of an aggressive new product program, one that will see Mack remaking its lineup in the years ahead. Mack is owned by Paris-based Renault SA. The company's Renault Vehicules Industriels unit sells Mack trucks in the United States and Canada and trucks under the Premium marque in Europe.
Earlier this month, Renault Vehicules Industriels said 1998 sales rose nearly 19 percent worldwide to 40.6 billion French francs ($7 billion at current exchange rates). The truckmaker predicted that, after two years of losses, it will show a profit for 1998 when income results are released in March.
Renault announced in January that it is investing $530 million in Renault Vehicules Industriels to shore up its balance sheet and spur growth plans.
Although Renault Vehicules Industriels has been mentioned as a potential takeover target, company officials in Paris have dismissed the possibility.
Mack has been profitable for the last five years, said Paul Vikner, executive vice president for sales and marketing. Like other heavy-truck makers in the United States, the company had a strong 1998 in Class 8, a segment that represents 95 percent of its business. Class 8 sales totaled 26,801 units last year, up 20 percent from 1997 levels.
The introduction of the Vision is evidence of Renault's long-term commitment to the commercial truck business and Mack in particular, Vikner said. In developing the Vision, Mack hosted customer meetings with drivers, dealers and more than 20 fleets to find out what they wanted in a long-haul truck. Results of the research found their way into numerous features.
The Vision is loaded with the latest fleet management electronics and driver information displays. But Mack learned through its customer research that some fleet managers and drivers were simply getting swamped in raw data. Thus, the Vision systems can be tailored to deliver only the information that is considered critical.
The key, said Vikner, was to make the Vision 'as individually customer oriented as possible so they can actually use it.'
Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report