Chassis manufacturing operations continue to grow at Freightliner as it gained some of its competitors’ market share post-recession. (Photo/firnFOTO)
By Liz Segrist
Published Aug. 29, 2012
A Gaffney chassis manufacturer that struggled through the recession might have the economic climate to thank for its recent growth.
Since April, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. has hired 100 temporary workers, bringing its production employees to 550 and its total employees to 700, Freightliner Human Resources Manager Beverly Widener said.
National employment in the motor vehicles and parts manufacturing sector is also up, increasing by 67.8%, rising from 721,700 employees in July 2011 to 789,500 in July 2012.
Freightliner is rebounding after enduring its largest layoff in September 2008. The company had to lay off around 300 of its 400 employees at that time. The recession was taking its toll.
“The bottom line is that when the market crashed in 2008, it affected everybody. It was horrific,” said Bryan Henke, Freightliner’s product marketing manager. “There were a lot of competitors that just couldn’t survive. Some of them just didn’t have the resources or the nimbleness to adjust to such a crashing market.”
The company’s diverse product offerings enabled it to survive, gaining market share and increasing product output as some of its competitors lost their footing.
Freightliner Custom Chassis has hired 100 temporary workers since April as it increases production at its facility in Gaffney. (Photo/firnFOTO)
For example, Union City, Ind.-based Workhorse Custom Chassis closed recently, giving Freightliner the chance to capture market share for its walk-in van market.
Freightliner is unsure if the 100 new positions will become permanent. Most of the new hires are for assembly, with some for material handling.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. manufactures chassis for the motorhome, delivery walk-in van, and school bus and shuttle bus markets. It primarily develops chassis for large manufacturing and delivery companies.
The diversity of products helped the manufacturer during the economic downturn because it had the ability to lean on one market when another was performing poorly.
“We were not just focused on one market,” Henke said. “Due to our product efforts, we were able to continue getting into different niche market and remain competitive.”
Freightliner began its Gaffney operations in 1995. The company’s current 289,000-square-foot manufacturing and assembly facility sits on roughly 58 acres in Gaffney. Gov. Nikki Haley toured the facility earlier this month.
Freightliner sells the chassis, or the incomplete body of the vehicle, to builders and OEMs who complete the body installation and sell it to a dealer, who then sells it to a retail customer.
Freightliner increased production of its commercial bus chassis line last year. Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., chose Freightliner to expand its student transportation fleet of commercial buses.
The manufacturer also secured an order last year to supply its commercial bus chassis to the U.S. General Services Administration. The buses are used for routine patient transportation at Veterans Administration hospitals nationwide.
Freightliner also gained market share in the walk-in van market, used by FedEx and UPS, as both demand for these chassis products increased and some competitors left that market segment.
The majority of Freightliner’s other markets have been flat in growth, but the company has gained market share because of its competitors, Henke said.
Freightliner saw a return to growth beginning in 2009 and more sustainable growth came in mid-2009 and 2010.
“It’s been a slow, uphill battle. It wasn’t a spike,” Henke said. “It has been somewhat stable growth that we have seen over the past year, but we are always looking for new markets.”
Freightliner is continuing its development of alternative fuel chassis technology. In July, the company delivered two of its all-electric, walk-in vans to Georgia-based UPS, which will deploy the vehicles to its Laguna Hills, Calif. fleet.
The company supplies to the Southeast, such as to Alabama and North Carolina, although the majority of its RV and walk-in van products goes to the Midwest, including Indiana and Michigan.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, a Daimler company.