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Bill Kozek jumps into Navistar catbird seat hoping to restore stability, sales

Bill Kozek, president of North America Truck and Parts for Navistar, praises the iconic truck brand during MATS.

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

3/28/2014

 LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He stood behind the podium, a striking figure in a dark pinstripe business suit, starched straight collar white shirt and red tie looking directly at some 50 reporters whose pens were poised and recorders were set to immortalize his every word.

Two years ago almost to the day, he’d stood behind another podium at another location in this northern Kentucky site and proclaimed “you can come home again” as after a hiatus of several years he returned to Denton, Texas, when he was named general manager of Peterbilt Motors Co., from a stint as vice president of Paccar China and before that as general manager of Peterbilt’s sister OEM Kenworth Truck Co.

Less than two years later, in a move that stunned most, if not all, of the trucking industry, Bill Kozek packed his bags (and probably a heavy coat) and moved north to the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Ill., to become president of North America Truck and Parts for Navistar, a company that rode the crest of the wave created by the introduction of its International ProStar to the top of the sales charts in 2009, only to almost drown in the ensuing years in a riptide caused by a decision to go against conventional wisdom when it introduced its 2010 EPA-compliant models with an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system instead of the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system.

There was talk of bankruptcy.

There were well-publicized management changes.

There was the introduction of the International LoneStar, which did not spark the sales surge like the one caused by the ProStar.

Market share slipped to the pre-surge levels, virtually the same as Kenworth and Peterbilt, the companies he once led.

In fact, Navistar Class 8 market share in 2013 dropped to the lowest level in some 15 years.

“As you know, last year I left another company to come to Navistar,” Kozek said, his voice almost drowned out by two country fiddle players in a nearby booth at the Mid-America Trucking Show Thursday. “I was asked ‘why did you do that?’”

“The answers are first and foremost that International is an iconic brand with over 183 years in America business,” he said as the fiddle players reduced their volume, most likely at the urging of a Navistar employee who was as interested in Kozek’s answer as were the reporters. “There have been a lot of discussions about things of the past, but today we’re moving forward. We have very good products, we have excellent people and wonderful relationships with our customers, our suppliers and you, the industry.”

No doubt the task of returning Navistar to the sales levels of the ProStar had fallen squarely on Kozek’s shoulders.

“When I was with the other guy selling against the ProStar, the DuraStar and the TransStar, it was very difficult,” he said.

The numbers bear him out.

Navistar posted significantly better Class 8 market share numbers until last year when the three OEMs were separated by 1 percentage point.

“Our customers appreciate what we have to offer,” he said, speaking of Navistar. “A year and a half ago we launched the first of our Class 8 SCR products and today we’re producing the best vehicles we’ve produced in our history and we’re gaining recognition from the industry as well.”

In fact, he noted, in January the International’s ProStar with Cummins ISX15 — its first SCR product to hit the market — was recognized by the American Truck Dealers as the 2014 heavy-duty truck of the year.

“Last year we were on this stage telling you that Navistar was starting its SCR transition.” Kozek said. “Today, it’s great to say that our first SCR product was named truck of the year.

Kozek said in all product classes, Navistar was working hard to give its customers more flexibility, more options and ultimately more control over the process of selecting the right commercial truck with the right commercial truck components for their particular business. “We’re doing this through fully-integrated partnerships, a diverse and proven network of suppliers and business partners all focused on providing our customers not only the greatest choice and quality available but also fully integrated chassis and components designed to enhance productivity.

“What we know is that our greatest success is when we put our customers’ needs and interests first,” he said.

And, Kozek hopes, that philosophy will lead to renewed stability for the iconic brand.