Mack Trucks boss cheers electrification infrastructure proposal

Mack Anthem and Martin Weissburg

Even with a 13-day labor strike and volatile Class 8 orders, Martin Weissburg says running Mack Trucks is his favorite job in a 15-year career with Sweden’s Volvo Group (OTC: VLVLY).  

The veteran executive led financial services for Volvo in the Americas from 2005 and globally from 2010 until taking over the Swedish truck maker’s construction-equipment unit in 2014. He became president of Mack Trucks in 2018.

Weissburg spoke with FreightWaves on a variety of issues on the sidelines of a recent ribbon-cutting for a new medium-duty truck plant near Roanoke, Virginia.

Following is an edited version of that conversation:

FW: What are your takeaways after your first 20 months in the Mack job?

MW:  This is my third senior leadership position and my favorite one. To be part of this Mack family, this iconic brand, to be coming in as we’re launching the Anthem (Class 8 truck). To be the president of Mack on a day like today when we’re inaugurating a new facility, it’s not often in a person’s career you get to be part of something like that. 

FW: You recently delivered the first electric-powered Mack LR refuse truck to the city of New York. Now you’re launching medium-duty trucks. It begs the question of when you would join the competition in offering battery-operated versions.

MW: Mack Trucks as part of the Volvo Group will continue to be a leader in battery-electric vehicles. We don’t discuss our product or technology portfolio before we have public announcements, but the world’s moving quickly with battery-electric vehicles.

FW: Congressional Democrats are proposing a $760 billion green-focused infrastructure plan. What is your take?

MW: What I was very pleased to see was that a small piece, $1.5 billion or something like that, was for the electrical grid, infrastructure for e-mobility. As a country, we’re way behind on that. OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] will have the trucks, but if we can’t charge them… 

FW: What about infrastructure spending overall? It seems the states are taking the lead because the federal government hasn’t passed a plan.

MW: The states have been doing some good work out of necessity. That plays extremely well to the portfolio of Mack Trucks. I think the federal structure needs to catch up. We’re seeing good activity at the state and municipal levels for our vocational trucks. It was good last year. I think it will continue to be reasonably strong this year as well.

FW: President Trump has signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement (USMCA). What impact does this have on Mack Trucks?

MW:  We’re one of the largest exporters from our U.S. assembly plant, so this is good news.

FW: The Mack Anthem arrived on the market in 2018 just as fleets were ordering tractors in record numbers. How have you capitalized on that?

MW: It’s really opened some doors for us on some new fleets. While the driver shortage is less of an issue right now, it’s still an issue for some. A lot of these new customers are using the Anthem to attract and retain drivers.

FW: When you took over at Mack, the industry was entering a record year for orders followed by a record year for production. You are laying off 305 workers in Pennsylvania at the end of February. How do you assess orders in the near term?

MW: We knew they had to come back to more normal levels. We think 2020 is going to be quite a reasonable market. We’re calling 240,000 [Class 8 truck production] right now, which is not a bad market after these last two years. We look forward, as demand increases, to being able to call back those colleagues that will go on layoff soon.

FW: How are labor relations with the United Auto Workers following the 13-day strike last October?

MW: Where the new labor agreement is in place, I’d say very, very good, and maybe even a little better. 

FW: As you look back, do you think the Mack strike was called to add pressure to General Motors settling its ongoing UAW strike?

MW: What the UAW had in mind, you have to ask them. We’re happy. Our focus was to get our colleagues back to work with full pay and full benefits. That was our sole focus.