Out of all the heavy duty truck builders out there, Freightliner isn’t the oldest one around. However, it’s pretty much the best-known. Created to improve an industry that didn’t see the need for change, innovation is in the company’s very DNA. It’s that element that has kept Freightliner in business for almost 100 years. Freightliner history had a tentative beginning, but today it has become the U.S.’s leading heavy duty truck manufacturer.

Building a Better Truck

Freightliner history started out at the end of the 1930s. Much like many other success stories, it began with a quest for a better product. And who could come up with a better way to build an ideal truck than a trucker? In fact, Freightliner was the result of Leland James wanting to lighten his fleet. James, the president of Consolidated Freightways, thought aluminum would make a better truck than steel. Unfortunately, none of the truck builders he talked to were willing to give his plan a try. If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. That’s how a fleet owner ended up building heavy duty trucks.

Making History With a Proven Design

Leland James liked the benefits cab-over-engine trucks offered. They handle easier and are simpler to maintain. Opting to stick with that popular design, his engineering team focused on making a lightweight yet durable truck that was easy to operate. Within a few short years, Freightways Manufacturing Company opened up. It began production in 1940 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The name of the company changed to Freightliner Corporation just 2 years later.

During World War II, Freightliner shifted gears, so to speak, switching to produce aircraft and ship parts. When the company went back to building trucks in 1947, the business took off. That’s when Freightliner moved to Portland, Oregon and started building trucks to order, based on customer specs. That alone helped Freightliner to go from putting out 116 trucks in 1950 to over 6,200 by 1970. (If you do the math, that’s a volume increase of 5,250 percent.) For a time, between 1951 and 1974, the White Motor Company sold Freightliner trucks through their dealerships.

Freightliner Catches Daimler’s Eye

Freightliner history was already being made in 1981 when Daimler-Benz AG bought the company. White Motors had fallen into financial trouble and were no longer selling Freightliners. After holding its own in the market for nearly 7 years, Freightliner benefited from Daimler’s resources. Sales would double over the next 10 years.

Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st Century, Freightliner bought several companies. Some of those included the heavy duty truck branch of Ford Motors, American LaFrance (an emergency vehicle builder), and Western Star Trucks. They also continued to lead the industry in innovation. For example, Freightliner’s full-scale wind tunnel for testing heavy duty commercial trucks was the first in the nation. Additionally, Freightliner Custom Chassis created a hybrid electric chassis with a walk-in design for package delivery services.

Freightliner History is Still Being Made

The Freightliner company name changed to Daimler Trucks North America LLC in 2008. Yet, the Freightliner trucks and the brand are still going strong today. What’s more, they’re still chipping away at the original challenge to build a better truck. Attend one of the many heavy duty truck shows that take place in the U.S. each year and you’ll see what Freightliner is up to. For example, its cutting-edge diesel-powered refuse truck was shown off at a 2018 spring expo. Plus, Freightliner has already unveiled its answer to Tesla’s electric truck, saying that they’ll start building an all-electric semi by 2021. With so much forward momentum, it’s safe to say Freightliner history isn’t all in the past.

 

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