Western Star completes U.S. plant relocation

At ceremonies held last week Western Star Trucks announced it has completed the move of its truck manufacturing facilities from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Portland, Ore. The move will consolidate Western Star and Freightliner production at the Portland truck plant, offering Western Star engineering and production benefits. Western Star engineers will also have full access to Freightliner’s state-of-the-art development and testing facilities in Portland. Freightliner is Western Star’s parent company.

Western Star has been working on moving production to Portland since October 2001. The company has invested more than $16 million to prepare the Portland plant for Western Star production demands. According to Roger Nielsen, chief operating officer of Freightliner, the Portland plant received new fixtures, assembly lines and other related innovations in order in ensure the high quality Western Star trucks are known for. Western Star chassis assembly is housed in a new, 15,000-square-foot addition to the plant. Sections of the line have been widened and reinforced to handle the biggest Western Star off-road chassis, including 500-inch frame trucks for oil field applications.

Other upgrades include an E-coat paint system to prime Western Star cabs and help protect them from corrosion and a new, longer cab finish line. In addition, the plant’s topcoat paint facility is being upgraded to a true clean-room paint system.

Nielsen says the Portland plant’s biggest challenge is proving to naysayers it can meet Western Star’s daunting reputation for quality. “In the past, if a Western Star truck showed up at a dealership with a mirror bracket, the dealer would just have his people tighten it up and move on,” observes Nielsen. “Not any more. We’ve got dealers crawling all over these trucks looking for defects since we moved production to Portland. Expectations are high and we’re obviously being held to extremely rigorous quality standards.”

To meet these demands, key Western Star personnel from Kelowna are in Portland to advise and assist Portland workers. In addition, DaimlerChrysler has created a transition advisory group comprised of Western Star dealers and customers to ensure quality standards are met and maintained throughout the manufacturing process. “We’ve been consulted on the most minute details, down to the fasteners that attach the upholstery to the cab,” notes Barry Robinson, an Edmonton, Canada, Western Star dealer and member of the group. “I’ve been completely impressed with the finished product. The attention to detail is impeccable.”

Western Star commemorated the transfer of its truck production to Portland with ceremonies in the city on October 22. Portland Mayor Vera Katz rode through downtown in a parade of Western Star trucks before meeting with Rainer Schmueckle, Freightliner president and CEO, John Merrifield, Western Star senior vice president, and Portland Secretary of State Bill Bradbury at the Freightliner/Western Star manufacturing plant.

Later, Merrifield presented the keys to the first Western Star truck built in Portland – a 4900SA model — to Ryan Lucas, an owner-operator from Mackenzie, British Columbia. Lucas operates four heavy-duty trucks in logging and lowbed applications in the Mackenzie area.