Based at the Mack global headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, Govi Kannan has the somewhat daunting job of refining the products from the iconic Mack Trucks breed to suit the varying demands in terms of vehicle specifications from the different countries that he oversees.
There’s obviously a major difference between a truck spec that works well in South America from the more sophisticated markets such as Australia. That said, 92 percent of all trucks manufactured by Mack in 2015 were delivered in North America, leaving just 8.0 percent of production for export.
Commenting on the changing volumes of the heavy truck (Class 8) segment over recent years, Mr. Kannan said:
“In the US market the industry sold 302,000 trucks in 2015, probably the second strongest market (we had ever experienced). In 2016 that volume dropped to 240,000 units”.
Mack itself sold 27,411 vehicles in 2015, the strongest performance of the company since it delivered 36,838 vehicles in 2006, according to a report from Volvo Sweden.
The reduction in sales for 2016 affected all North American truck makers, and, in part, resulted from a pull forward or pre-buy due to transport companies wishing to avoid the introduction of stiffer exhaust emissions regulations slated for introduction in the US.
The sudden drop in production volumes for 2016 necessary to match the lower demand resulted in the company announcing plant shutdowns or temporary layoffs affecting 1500 employees at the Mack Lehigh Valley operations.
On the plus side, the lower production rate enabled the company to proceed more swiftly with work related to a $70 million (USD) factory investment programme. The company has now embarked on a three-year plan to modernise and expand its 40-year-old Lower Macungie plant, signalling the company’s commitment to maintaining production in the heartland of Mack history.
The proposed investment includes enhancements to its 93,000 sq. metre Lehigh Valley plant that include a 7000 sq. metre expansion, new manufacturing information technology systems, equipment and tooling, and a new building to conduct quality audits on finished vehicles.
Chassis pre-assembly work now being done at Westport Axle in Breinigsville is to be relocated to the Mack plant. Westport will continue to provide other “critical support operations” for Mack.
Part of the new plant upgrades includes the creation of a more tactile and aural customer experience. In addition to the highly respected Mack Museum and Customer Centre already in existence at Allentown, members of the public visiting the plant will be able to hear the highly authentic true sounds of the early Mack engines, relayed through the sound systems installed in what was originally an anechoic chamber, where all other sound has been either eliminated or dampened.
“This is really for the true enthusiast,” said Mr. Kannan.
The market this year looks more promising, with Mr. Kannan saying: “The proportion of the construction section was able to grow with Mack being one of the two brands able to grow.
“What we have done with the organisation is to streamline operations. In reality, we have a new-brand base with Jonathan Randall appointed as senior vice-president for North American sales, and with Dean Bestwick as vice-president of marketing in Australia. Supporting them and empowering the front line is my role in the product development,” said Mr. Kannan.
Given the stated intention by President Donald Trump to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement, PowerTorque asked Mr. Kannan what changes he thought might result to future trade.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992 by US President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
“That is a difficult question. The dismantling of NAFTA is being considered because President Trump wants more jobs in the US. The supply chain these days is so integrated. The concept of NAFTA may change a bit. It may be one free block.
“Mack is the only OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) that solely manufactures trucks in the US (with the exception of Australia). All other North American brands have additional manufacturing bases in other countries, with many based across the border in Mexico.
“That impacts on our cost competitiveness in South America with a typical example being that to compete in the Colombian market we have to pay a 20 percent import tax penalty. Now it looks as though they might agree to a treaty to lower this additional cost, but it is difficult to compete with other manufacturers that are 20 percent ahead on base costs,” Mr. Kannan said.
The release of the Mack mDRIVE transmission with the availability of two additional crawler gears in the North American market was reported by PowerTorque last year in Issue 71 (June/July), and followed up in Issue 73 (October/November) with the first drive of the unit by PowerTorque’s road test editor, Dave Whyte, who visited Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a guest of Mack Trucks North America.
Although the option of featuring an additional two crawler gears has not yet been made available in Mack products for the Australian market, its release is now being fast tracked, with a hoped availability by the end of this year.
In 2016, mDRIVE transmissions were spec’d in a record percentage of Mack models, making mDRIVE the most dominant transmission across Mack’s complete line-up of heavy-duty trucks for the first time ever.
Mack mDRIVE and mDRIVE HD penetration reached record levels in Mack Pinnacle Axle Back and Mack Granite models sold in the US and Canada, with 80 percent and 20 percent penetration respectively. With the new low-ratio crawler gears and these new features added, Mack is on track to double mDRIVE HD penetration in Granite models in 2017. Mack made mDRIVE standard in Pinnacle models in 2014 and launched the mDRIVE HD in 2015, making it standard in Granite models.
In 2016, the introduction of the two new versions featuring low-ratio crawler gears resulted in the Mack mDRIVE HD 13-speed offering a low reduction gear ratio designed for easier starting on steep grades or when the truck is under heavy load.
The Mack mDRIVE HD 14-speed, available only in an overdrive configuration, adds a second ultra-low-speed reduction gear designed for kerb pouring applications or low-speed, heavy-haul manoeuvring. Both transmissions offer up to four reverse gear ratios.
Since announcing the revised transmission with two crawler gears for the North American market, Mack Trucks has also released a further upgrade called rolling start and auto neutral, two new features designed to improve the jobsite performance and safety of trucks equipped with Mack’s mDRIVE and mDRIVE HD automated manual transmissions.
Announcing the upgrade at the World of Concrete 2017 Expo in Las Vegas, both features are standard on all Mack mDRIVE and mDRIVE HD transmissions.
“Mack’s mDRIVE transmissions serve a wide range of customers, including those with demanding paving and concrete applications,” said Tim Wrinkle, Mack construction product manager. “Now updated with rolling start and auto neutral, mDRIVE transmissions are even better suited to those tasks”.
Mack mDRIVE rolling start allows drivers to shift the transmission into drive without pressing the truck’s service brakes. This eliminates the possibility of creating a bump in the paving surface, which is a critical benefit for paving applications.
Several construction applications, including concrete mixers, rely on remote throttle controls. By automatically shifting the mDRIVE into neutral when the parking brake is set, Mack mDRIVE auto neutral helps improve jobsite safety by reducing the possibility of the truck moving due to throttle application.
Caption: During a recent visit to Australia, Govi Kannan (Senior Vice President Mack Global Brand) joined with Dean Bestwick (Vice President of Marketing in Australia), Sloanebuilt Trailers’ Scott Winter (Sales Manager) and Ben Weckwerth (Business Development Manger), plus members of the Mack Trucks Dealership at Blacktown, Sydney, for the official handover of two new Mack Trucks to Mick Colley (Managing Director of Bedrock Quarry Products). At the handover ceremony, Govi Kannan congratulated Mick Colley on his decision to add a further 685 hp Super-Liner Tridem coupled to a five-axled dog trailer, plus a 600 hp Super-Liner that will be hauling a new Super A-double combination. The Bedrock Quarry Products fleet comprises 13 vehicles, all of which are Macks.