Fruehauf restarts trailer production in the United States
BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky—For the first time in 25 years, Fruehauf is building trailers in the United States, a former “founding” brand and “one of the most important companies in the entire history of commerce and trade.”
On hand to witness the launch of the next chapter of the historic company were representatives of state and local governments, Fruehauf dealers, industry customers and suppliers – as well as numerous news media – who gathered under a tent outside the new 125,000 square feet. .manufacturing plant in the Kentucky Transpark industrial area. An initial investment of $12 million will create nearly 300 jobs, according to the company.
The new company traces its heritage back to August Charles Fruehauf, who is credited with inventing and marketing the tractor-trailer. Founded in 1918, the original Fruehauf Trailer Company has grown into a massive, global, vertically integrated conglomerate of construction products, including defense and marine equipment. Subsequent financial difficulties led to the sale of various divisions and bankruptcy following the downturn in the trailer industry in 1996. Wabash National purchased the rest of the trailer business in 1997.
Now doing business here as Fruehauf Inc., the company is owned by Grupo Fultra, a Mexico-based company whose hauling brands include Fruehauf de Mexico, which has been producing trailers since 1965.
“After the past two years, we deserve good days – exciting days, days of hope, days that move us forward,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said. “And that’s exactly what we’re celebrating today.”
In addition to explaining the historical significance of the factory’s opening, Beshear suggested that Fruehauf’s invention enabled Kentucky to become “a logistics capital” in the United States, geographically located “within reach 60% of the country’s population in a day’s drive”. “
Indeed, Bowling Green’s location on the I-65 corridor and proximity to key customers were key to placing the new facility here, explained Tom Wiseman, president of Fruehauf Inc..
“When we first announced that we were reintroducing the Fruehauf product to the US market, it was amazing how many ‘Fruehaufers’ reached out to us and were so grateful to have the product built and offered here again,” Wiseman said. “It makes it much easier from a marketing point of view and meets customer expectations.”
But even though building the facility and commissioning it has taken less than a year since the site was selected, the effort has not been “easy”. In addition to COVID, supplier and labor challenges, Bowling Green was hit by a devastating tornado earlier this year.
“But you know what, it all fell into place,” Wiseman said, and he pointed to a trailer, unit number 17, parked nearby. “Fortunately, we were able to start production, maybe only a month or two later than we originally planned. And here we are today, celebrating the product that has been launched.”
Wiseman and Don Brown, Vice President of Engineering, both began their careers with Fruehauf in the 1970s. Since then, they have worked in the trailer industry in various capacities, with various companies, before joining to restart U.S. production of Fruehauf — and that combined experience and expertise was crucial to the start-up effort, Wiseman noted.
“It’s a full circle for us, it’s like ticking that box,” Wiseman said. “We are building a team here with experienced and junior employees learning the skills of trailer building. We are very excited about this.”
The facility is a good example of why the North American “common market” and NAFTA (now USMCA) are “a great deal,” noted Fultra President Eugenio Clariond.
“Today is a major milestone in a long-term commitment to Fruehauf in North America – we’re here for the long haul,” Clariond said. “We plan to continue to invest in the development of the people, our products and the communities around us where we operate, and also to build a rewarding and lasting relationship with our customers, dealers, aftermarket partners and suppliers. “
With a planned capacity of 5,000 trailers per year from the Bowling Green facility, coupled with an increased capacity of 8,000 trailers in Mexico, the combined trailer production is “on target” to make Fruehauf one of of the “top five” manufacturers in North America, added Fultra. CEO Jorge Martinez.
“We are committed to continuing to invest and grow our brand in the region with a long-term perspective,” Martinez said. “Basically, Fruehauf stands out for two reasons: first and foremost, for high-tech products designed to last; and, just as important, to always deliver on our commitments.
“We are honored to be stewards of these great traditions and are committed to upholding these core values as North Star.”
For additional coverage, including plant and product details, see the print edition of Trailer builders/body builders magazine.