Daimler North America shifts management structure, will focus more on sectors rather than brands

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is realigning its structure to move away from a brand-centered approach and instead will focus on its two major areas of usage. 

The Freightliner and Western Star brands will still exist. But the management structure above them will be an On-Highway segment and a Vocational segment, according to a statement released by the company on March 2. Richard Howard will head the On-Highway organization and David Carson will be at the top of the Vocational segment. 

In a conference call with media before the announcement, Roger Neilsen, the president and CEO of DTNA, said brand loyalty is becoming less significant in the market for trucks and that the life-cycle of a truck is far more important to a buyer. 

“As we progress in this century, definitely the loyalty to a certain design or certain logo is no longer the deciding factor,” Nielsen said. Purchases now, he said, are “data-driven” and the buyers “pay attention to the total cost of ownership. It’s not so much driven by the initial purchase price but a look at the lifecycle cost of the truck.”

Most DTNA dealers sell both Freightliner and Western Star brands. Freightliner is primarily aimed toward the on-road market and Western Star tends to focus on the vocational side of the business. But not exclusively; the Western Star 5700 is targeted toward the on-road market and the Freightliner EconicSD is aimed at vocational customers.

“We are organizing our business to bring equally strong focus to both our on-highway and vocational truck customers,” Neilsen said in Daimler’s prepared statement. “This new strategy will ensure that we are delivering the best experience for customers, no matter the application or the industry.”

The changes come with significant new roles for several individuals. Howard will have responsibility for what DTNA said is the “complete portfolio” of on-highway trucks and will have the title of senior vice president. He had been senior vice president of sales and marketing for all of DTNA.

Carson, the president of Western Star, will become senior vice president of vocational sales and marketing. The company said he would “assume responsibility for the full portfolio of vocational trucks at DTNA.”

Drew Backeberg will become vice president of On-Highway Sales. He is an 18-year veteran at DTNA and will be responsible for some of the company’s largest on-highway products, like the Freightliner Cascadia. 

Peter Arrigoni, who has been with the company since 2016, will fill the new role of vice president, Vocational Sales. That means he’ll be responsible for such models as the Western Star 4700, 4800, 4900 and 6900 series.

Sales previously would have been handled under the individual Freightliner and Western Star brands. There also will be a new structure for vocational sales that will carve the U.S. up into three regions with a “matrixed” reporting organization for Canada. 

Marketing and product strategy for both on-highway and vocational trucks will be headed by Kary Schaefer. She has been with the company for 21 years. 

“The reach of the organization is much deeper and broader with a dedicated vocational organization,” Howard said on the media call. “We’ve never had that breadth and depth in the past.”

One shift that vocational customers will see is that DTNA’s “24-hour maximum turnaround” it adopted in 2018 to complete needed service work will be more aggressively adopted in the vocational sector. It had not been implemented just for the on-highway sector but its adoption in vocational had lagged. Putting that program fully into effect in the vocational sector will be a goal of the new organization.

Nielsen talked about the needs of the company’s vocational customers in terms of his earlier statements that customers look at the entire life cycle of a truck. “How can we give them a vehicle that is on the road and how can we get it turned around in our service bays?” he said on the media call. “And can I give them durability for the whole life of the vehicle?”

The vocational sector “is a whole different business,” he added. “When a vocational truck goes down, the guy doesn’t work.”