James L Hebe has resigned as president of Freightliner LLC, a division of DaimlerChrysler’s Commercial Vehicles Division. The resignation, which was announced May 24 by DaimlerChrysler’s Board of Management, came after months of speculation that Hebe’s job was in jeopardy due to slumping sales of new trucks at Freightliner.
Rainer Schmuckle was named to replace Hebe. Most recently, Schmuckle was senior vice-president controlling of DaimlerChrysler AG and chief financial officer and chief executive officer of Adtranz, the former DaimlerChrysler rail systems business unit. Considered a turnaround specialist, he also served as CFO of Freightliner 1994 to 1997.
DaimlerChrysler also announced that Roger Nielsen was appointed to be chief operating officer of Freightliner. Previously, he was vice-president of the specialized vehicles business segment at Freightliner.
Under Hebe, who was put in charge in 1992, Freightliner went from a relatively small marketshare to North American market leader in Class 8 heavy-duty trucks. The company—a combination of Freightliner, Sterling, and Western Star—has a marketshare of nearly 40% today.
Hebe aggressively built marketshare both through acquisitions (companies such as Western Star and Sterling) and by offering trucking companies deals under which they could buy trucks and then sell them back to Freightliner. The strategy worked until the economy stalled, and Freightliner was stuck with thousands of trucks that were worth much less than the company calculated with it negotiated the buyback deals.
Martin Labbe, an economic consultant, estimates that there is a glut of more than 210,000 used Class 8 trucks in the United States, and it will take until 2004 to correct the imbalance. Hebe told Freightliner dealers earlier this that Freightliner alone had 45,000 used trucks in inventory.
Hebe wasn’t the first chief of a truck builder to be sacked in the United States this year. In February, Marc Gustafson resigned from Volvo Trucks North America.