1900-2000: The Making of An American Legend
Peterbilt has reigned as America's premium quality heavy-duty truck manufacturer since the company's founding in 1939. Peterbilt has maintained its enviable position as the Class of the Industry by concentrating on delivering high-performance, low-maintenance and extremely durable vehicles that pay off in low operating costs, driver productivity and high resale value. It is the dream of every trucker to own a Peterbilt.
Before There Were Trucks
For the men who developed, drove and financed the first unwieldy "motor wagons," there was very little glamour. Motor-driven commercial vehicles had to prove themselves in strict economic terms, and the competition was fierce. By the early 1900's, steam power was fully developed. Railroads could transport goods cross-country in 10 days and a far greater number of towns were served by railheads than are today. Rivers and canals were being utilized, and for short hauls, horse power was extremely reliable, required little maintenance, and fuel was cheap. In short, there was no apparent need for motor trucks. Add to this the total lack of decent roads and you get some idea of the tremendous obstacles that early truck manufacturers faced. Companies such as Fageol, Sternberg and Sampson not only had to gain acceptance for their products, they also had to design systems and components that could operate and survive on nearly non-existent roads. With the help of World War I and John MacAdam, who invented the Macadam road surface, the manufacturers were equal to the task. MacAdam provided the technology to build good roads, and World War I created the need.
With War Came a Need
In 1914, the war effort placed tremendous demands on railroads. The huge volume of supplies, troops and food overloaded the rail system. Trucks were called upon to ease the burden. Truck manufacturers and operators responded immediately, but it was apparent that, to get the job done, a good highway system was needed. The federal and state governments began by establishing highway commissions with responsibility for seeing that the roads were built and maintained. By the end of the war, the motor truck was firmly established as a viable and important means of transportation.
After World War I, the years brought a steady increase in good roads plus an expanding economy, resulting in rapid growth for the trucking industry. Truck registrations exceeded one million. The 1920's were years of innovation. Balloon tires were introduced for trucks, the railroads established "piggy-back" service, the first mechanically refrigerated van was introduced, and in 1921, the first sleeper cabs appeared. By 1925, there were 500,000 miles of hard surface roads in the United States, and in 1926, a fully loaded two-ton truck was driven from New York to San Francisco in five days.
After World War I, engine manufacturers began experimenting with diesel engines. High production cost, weight and complicated structure delayed progress. In 1919, C.L. Cummins founded the engine company that bears his name and set about improving and popularizing the diesel engine. In 1931, he made several highly publicized cross-country trips in trucks and buses powered by his engines and succeeded in selling the diesel engine to American truckers. Although business dropped off substantially during the Depression, innovations in truck design continued. The cabover increased in popularity. Except for some delivery services in large cities, horses had been replaced by trucks. The freight hauling revolution was complete in a quarter of a century.
The Birth of Peterbilt
The 1930's saw the continued growth of long-haul trucking. Though sales were down, trucking was not as devastated by the Depression as many other businesses. New models and designs were continually introduced. Still, many companies fell into bankruptcy. One of these was the Fageol Motors Co. of Oakland, Calif., which for 17 years had produced rugged, heavy-duty trucks and luxury buses.
The Waukesha Motor Co. and the Central Bank of Oakland operated Fageol from 1932 until 1938. That year, they sold it to T.A. Peterman, a logger and plywood manufacturer from Tacoma, Wash. Peterman had been rebuilding surplus army trucks and modifying old logging trucks for use in his business. By 1938, his lumber operations had expanded beyond the capabilities of his fleet. So he purchased the Fageol assets in order to build custom chain drive logging trucks.
While Henry Ford was cranking out hundreds of trucks a day, Peterman set his sights on building 100 trucks a year, concentrating on quality, not quantity. Factory records state that 14 trucks were shipped that partial first year, and 1940 production was 82 units. The incredible speed with which the Peterbilt truck gained acceptance in the trucking industry was a tribute to product quality.
One major reason for this was that Peterman sent engineers out into the field to find out firsthand what truckers needed and wanted. Peterbilt engineers did not go to the drawing board until they'd gotten their boots dirty researching their potential customers. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Peterbilt began producing heavy-duty trucks to fulfill government contracts. The engineering and production expertise gained from the design and production of these trucks enabled Peterbilt to return to the commercial marketplace after the war with the best trucks in the industry.
The Evolution of Class
Since that time, Peterbilt has weathered many storms, including Peterman's death in 1945, and has come through them all with its products and reputation for quality intact. After Peterman's death, company ownership passed to his widow, Ida. She sold the assets, but not the underlying land, to seven Peterbilt management employees with the purpose of preserving and expanding the company. But in 1958, Mrs. Peterman announced her plans to develop the plant site into a shopping center, and Peterbilt's owners were faced with the dilemma of raising $2 million for a new plant.
Since the owners, headed by president Lloyd Lundstrom, were approaching retirement age, and did not want to incur a large, long-term debt, they put the company up for sale. Paul Pigott of Pacific Car and Foundry, which owned Kenworth, showed an immediate interest and, on June 24, 1958, acquired Peterbilt Motors as a wholly owned subsidiary. One year later, Pacific Car started construction of a modern 176,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Newark, Calif. In August, 1960 Peterbilt moved to the new facility and became a division of the parent firm, carrying on its own tradition, retaining its product line, and continuing as one of Kenworth's stiffest competitors, even though both were now under the same ownership.
During the first year at the new plant, Peterbilt delivered more than 800 trucks. Due in part to Peterbilt's innovations, new models, and reputation for quality, sales steadily increased. Soon, the demand for Peterbilt trucks outstripped the plant's capacity. So, in 1969, Peterbilt built a second plant in Madison, Tenn. Demand continued to grow, and in 1973 the Madison plant was expanded to double its production capacity. That year more than 8,000 Peterbilts were delivered. Peterbilt of Canada was established in 1975.
In 1980, Peterbilt opened its Denton, Texas, manufacturing facility. Peterbilt moved its corporate headquarters and engineering department from California to Denton in 1993, where they remain today.
Commitment to the Customer
The cornerstone of the company is custom manufacturing to customer specifications. And whether the order calls for a fully appointed owner-operator truck or a unit spec'd to fleet requirements, each is manufactured to the same critical quality standard.
Peterbilt's conventional models, for example, feature a precision-tooled, lightweight aluminum cab, a variety of suspension systems for a smoother, quieter ride, and a three-piece, 20-bolt crossmember/gusset unit for extra frame durability. The combination of premium quality and custom manufacturing results in highly efficient, long-lasting trucks that adapt to a wide range of applications and markets. Peterbilts are the preferred truck of drivers, and fleet owners often purchase Peterbilts as a way to attract and retain quality drivers.
Commitment to Quality and Service
Peterbilt's engineering department is responsible for the design and development of new products. Engineers work closely with production, sales and field service to ensure continued quality and innovative design. Peterbilt and PACCAR both have research and development facilities to assist in designing a quality truck. The PACCAR facility has a sophisticated test track and state-of-the-art machinery for conducting shake and racking tests. The Peterbilt engineering lab at the Denton facility has the space and equipment to handle hands-on product research and design efforts. The Denton facility also has a test track, on which testing is conducted to ensure that Peterbilt trucks meet minimum noise standards established by federal law. Highly specialized testing - such as a wind tunnel test - is contracted out to an independent lab. Other tests, such as the "drench" test, are performed at the factory to help ensure that customers get the quality they are paying for. The Quality Control group performs random sampling, as well as some component testing, to further ensure quality.
To serve the aftermarket needs of its customers, Peterbilt's dealer network works in conjunction with PACCAR Parts, whose five warehouses permit fast, efficient responses to customer requests. These warehouses stock everything from small vendor parts to major components, including completed service cabs. The Renton, Wash., warehouse serves the Northwest, while the Las Vegas, Nev., location serves the Southwest. The Midwest is serviced by a warehouse in Chicago, and the Atlanta facility handles the Southeast. A location in Lancaster, Penn., is responsible for the northeast section of the country.
The Peterbilt dealer network is currently comprised of more than 200 retail outlets throughout North America.
Commitment to Innovation
Peterbilt is committed to continuous research and development, and over the last five decades has pioneered many engineering and technological advancements that result in improved fuel efficiency, low downtime, long life and driver comfort and safety.
In 1945, Peterbilt pioneered the use of aluminum to reduce cab and chassis weight and increase payload capacity. In 1949, Peterbilt unveiled a practical cabover engine model in anticipation of highway length limits. In 1959, the company introduced the 90-degree-tilt hood for easier service. Peterbilt also built the first all-aluminum tilt hood for conventional models in 1965.
In the early 1970's, Peterbilt began manufacturing trucks for use in transporting refuse. The first CB300 model refuse trucks, specifically designed for the refuse industry, were produced jointly for Peterbilt and Kenworth in Montreal, Canada. The Model 310 refuse truck, introduced in 1978, built upon the success of the CB300.
The 1980's continued to see new designs and features in Peterbilt's conventional truck lines. In 1984, the development of the Model 349 introduced such innovations as the rear engine power take-off and the self-steering lift axle for the construction industry. Almost 1,000 Model 349s were sold in 1984.
In January 1987 the Model 320 was introduced, replacing the Model 310. Peterbilt has always been a leader in design innovation in the refuse industry and was one of the first OEM's to introduce right-hand stand-up drive capabilities.
In 1993 the company introduced the Unibilt Cab Sleeper System, which featured a cab and sleeper joined to form a strong single structure. The Unibilt System increased the sleeper opening by 62 percent, permitting better driver seat positioning and an overall greater interior environment. The detachable sleeper offers a potentially higher resale value, since this makes it possible for the cab to be converted for a non-sleeper application.
Since '93, Peterbilt has introduced more new products and services than at any time in its 60-year history. The company continues to expand its line of products and services in answer to customer needs and market trends, building trucks and sleepers that appeal to a broader range of industries, with more options, safety components and comfort features than any other trucks in their class.
In 1999, Peterbilt introduced a new, technologically advanced aerodynamic conventional truck, the Model 387, expanded its popular TruckCare Total Customer Support Program, and unveiled a medium-duty cabover. Also in '99 and '01, J.D. Power and Associates rated Peterbilt No. 1 in customer satisfaction in the conventional medium-duty truck segment.
As Peterbilt moves into the new millennium, it will continue its tradition of quality by providing the industry with best-in-class features and state-of-the-art innovations. Most importantly, it will carry on its tradition of building trucks in concert with customer needs and expectations in order to continue to prove that Class Pays!