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Freightliner Trucks is an American truck manufacturer and a division of Daimler Trucks North America. The division is known mainly for the heavy duty class 8 diesel trucks it offers, as well as class 5-7 trucks.
In the 1930s, Consolidated Freightways (CF) decided to produce their own truck line from reconstructed Fageols, after finding most heavy trucks lacked sufficient power to climb the steep mountain grades in the western United States. The trucks were branded “Freightliners”, with the first units produced in Consolidated Freightways’ maintenance facility in Salt Lake City around 1942. After production was interrupted during WW II, manufacturing began again, in CF’s home of Portland, Oregon. In 1949, the first truck sold outside of Consolidated Freightways went to forklift manufacturer Hyster, also based in Portland. Today, that truck is in the Smithsonian collection in Washington, D.C.
Lacking distribution capability, and seeking higher volume to reduce production costs, CF entered into an agreement in 1951 to sell their trucks through the White Motor Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, and their dealer network in the US and Canada. This relationship endured for the next quarter century, and the co-branded “White Freightliner” cab-over-engine models (COE) became a familiar sight on highways across the continent.
Manufacturing began in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1961, to reduce the duty penalty on the complete vehicles sold in Canada. Assembly plants in Indianapolis and Chino, California complemented the main plant on Swan Island in Portland, serving the US market. In 1969, a new assembly plant was opened on North Basin St., which was then converted to parts production.
White Motor Company became troubled in the 1970s. Expansion into whitegoods and agricultural equipment consumed capital without producing a return, and the relationship with Consolidated Freightways became frayed. In 1974, the distribution agreement was terminated, and Freightliner Corp. began life as a freestanding manufacturer and distributor. Many of the first dealers were from the White Motor Co. network, but some entrepreneurs also signed up to represent the trucks without the White Motor Co. franchise as a complement.
At the same time, the company introduced its first conventional model, an adaptation of the high COE mainstay product. High COEs accounted for well over 50% of the US market in those days, owing to overall length regulations that limited the bumper-to-taillight dimension of a semitrailer unit to 55 ft on interstate highways. Conventionals were popular on western roads due to more convenient ingress/egress, better ride, and easier access to the engine for servicing.
In 1979, a new plant in Mount Holly, North Carolina and a parts manufacturing plant in Gastonia, North Carolina, were constructed, both in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Volumes continued to increase.
The year 1979 marked a consequential event in the evolution of Freightliner, and of the whole trucking and truck manufacturing industries. President Carter signed bills into law deregulating transport both on the ground and in the skies. Deregulation changed the economics of trucking, and removed the protective shield of regulated carriage that protected carriers allowing much needed competition.
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