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Dave Crompton, head of the Heavy Duty, Midrange and Light Duty Worldwide Product Businesses for Cummins, speaks during an interview about the current market and business trends Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, at his COB office.
A lot has happened since Dave Crompton was chosen in February to lead Cummins’ heavy-duty, midrange and light-duty engine business worldwide.
He has seen Cummins forge deals to put new engines in the Nissan Titan pickup truck and in Navistar International-made trucks and school buses. In his spare time, Crompton also led the push to stage the first Mill Race Marathon in September, a race that attracted 4,800 runners and thousands of other spectators to Columbus in what will become an annual fall event.
Crompton, 48, got his start with Cummins 25 years ago not long after graduating from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He left school with a liberal arts degree — later earning an executive MBA from Duke University — and never envisioned himself becoming associated with the automotive or truck business.
He grew up in a New England family with strong ties to commercial fishing, and he learned about diesel engines that powered trawlers over choppy waters rather than 18-wheel trucks traveling paved highways.
“Boats brought me into the company,” Crompton said. “I joined Cummins right out of undergraduate school. It was kind of a strange connection. I had terrific practical knowledge about the workings of diesel engines in boats.
“I also had a good understanding of the markets and customers in the marine business. At the time, that was a pretty significant growth market for Cummins. They were looking for people with my kind of practical experience. And at the time, (Cummins) had some senior managers who did recruiting at Williams College. That’s how I got the job.”
Fast forward to the present, and Crompton has now helped Cummins forge its fresh relationship with Nissan to put a 5-liter V8 Turbo Diesel in the next generation Nissan Titan pickup. That could mean 500 new jobs over the next few years for the Columbus Engine Plant where the smaller, powerful engine will be built beginning late next year.
Cummins also struck a deal that will lead to more engine production for Navistar International, a truck manufacturer based in Illinois that will offer the Cummins’ ISB 6.7-liter diesel in its International DuraStar medium-duty trucks and a series of school buses. Those products will be built at a plant in Rocky Mount, N.C.
“We’ll start full production in January,” Crompton said.
The Cummins veteran has worked in the engine business — first with boats, then with trucks and heavy mining or construction equipment — for nearly his entire career. At one point, he also had roles in sales and marketing, planning and supply chain management. But Crompton said his current job suits him best.
“I have the best job at Cummins. It’s the most diverse segment we have ... whether it be energy, or improving technology and emissions or infrastructure investment around the world. All the basics are there for us to do really well,” he said.
In a question-and-answer, Crompton discusses his rise through the ranks, the importance of the Nissan deal to Cummins in gaining new customers, and how he hopes to make the 2014 Mill Race Marathon an even bigger hit for Columbus tourism.
Chrysler ended up imploding financially, but I presume Cummins learned a lot about the pickup truck niche through Chrysler, and that helped prime the pump for Cummins’ most recent deal with the Nissan Titan pickup, didn’t it?
“Sure. Cummins getting into the pickup truck business ... it’s probably not something people would have originally expected. But with the Dodge Ram at the time ... we learned a lot about performance refinement, fuel economy, packaging and really how to serve that automotive segment.
“It built a competence within the company that has served us well, not only to build the Ram franchise, but to expand our automotive business outside of that as well. We are heavily involved in small utility vehicles, and pickup trucks and vans throughout the world — in China and India and in Latin America. A lot of it came from the skills we developed here in southern Indiana with the Chrysler business.”
Exactly how loyal and how picky are pickup drivers about what sort of engines are under their vehicles’ hoods?
“You clearly have to get it right. As you’ve watched pickup trucks over the years, they’ve become much more car-like. So, the level of noise abatement and shifting and acceleration ... it’s not just about towing. It’s about being able to accelerate onto the highway; it’s about smooth shifting around town. It’s a very refined kind of customer base, and it has pushed us to get a lot better.
“Nissan is more of a half-ton pickup customer than a three-quarter ton customer. It’s why we designed the engine the way we did. You’ll have a very smooth 5-liter V8, very quiet, very gas-like performance. But also it is very, very capable from a reliability and towing perspective.
“This is a very funny market. Everybody wants more power and more torque, and only a small percentage of (pickup) buyers actually use the full capabilities of that truck.
“Our (Nissan engine) is really trying to bring the industry into a bit of a sweet spot. It’s plenty of performance for towing and what not, but at a different price point and with better fuel economy. I think Nissan’s really got something here. And we obviously feel like it will be a growing part of the market. This probably won’t be our last customer.”
What’s the timing of bringing the Nissan product to market? Are we still looking at the fourth quarter of next year?
“The plan has been stable for some time. We’ll start (in late 2014) with limited production. We have a lot of the infrastructure in place right now, though. We’re working on developing, designing, validating the manufacturing line. The (estimated 500) jobs that will come in later are assembly and support staff over a period of years.”
How successful do you see this latest diesel engine product becoming?
“We have a much more positive view of it. What’s curious about this is that people haven’t experienced this product yet. We’ve never had a refined diesel in this size pickup truck before at that price point and with this capability. My view is you get a model year under your belt; consumers see it and feel it. Dealers see it. We think it’s going to be strong.”
What about future Columbus marathons? Cummins was the leader in getting the first one up and literally running this fall. What about 2014?
“We’re all in. I’m the sponsor for it again next year. All of the three main sponsors are back in: MainSource Bank, Columbus Regional Health and Cummins. To my knowledge, we have a line of sponsors who want to be involved again out the door. The planning committee is already working. When we set this up, we said we wanted this to be part of the community for a long time to come. And we’re committed to doing it and making it better.
“In Year 1, it was a big success. A few things didn’t go completely smoothly, but it was bigger than we thought ... and it generated a lot of excitement and interest in healthy lifestyles around the community. That was probably the most rewarding thing for me.
“I had never done anything like it before in terms of event planning. It was fun to learn. We ended up with twice the number of runners we thought we were going to have. Our challenge right now is to size the thing properly. We could let it grow too big. We have to think about what’s the perfect size for this race.”
Any changes in the Mill Race Marathon’s course coming up?
“A lot of people liked the fact that it was intertwined through the town, and you ran through neighborhoods. Some of the elite, purely technical runners don’t want to have as many turns. We’ll listen to all the voices and figure out the best thing to do.”
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