Business Operations

Business Operations

Innovation First: How Oshkosh Corp.’s 107 Years of Experience Deliver Innovative Solutions

Oshkosh Corp. manufactures a wide array of purpose-built vehicles and equipment, but at its heart, it’s an industrial technology company focused on engineering, President and CEO John Pfeifer told the NAM recently.

“If you look at us up close, we’re really an engineering company,” Pfeifer said. “If you look at a fire truck up close, you’d be amazed at the amount of design engineering [that goes into] to this machine.”

A fire truck boom: Fire trucks are indeed a big part of business at the 107-year-old company, headquartered in its namesake Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In fact, there’s such a demand for the vehicles—which Oshkosh offers in more than 300 different shades of red—from municipalities throughout the U.S., the firm has a two-and-a-half-year backlog.

  • The major reason: rising home values. Counties and towns get their revenue from property tax receipts. When those are strong, as they have been in recent years, the governments can afford to upgrade their fleets—which they’re now doing in earnest, Pfeifer said.

Innovation = safety + productivity: They’re going to Oshkosh for the very reason Pfeifer considers the company first and foremost an engineering outfit. In addition to fire and other municipal and vocational trucks, the company manufactures defense, construction and aviation ground support equipment.

  • “We’re able to accelerate innovation because of our technical capabilities as a company,” he explained. “We’re able to electrify things that are not supposed to be electrical—like a 40,000-pound municipal fire truck.”
  • Worldwide, Oshkosh employs a team of between 1,600 and 1,700 engineers just for design work, according to Pfeifer.
  • In any product it makes, Oshkosh’s primary concern is improving the safety and productivity of “the everyday heroes who do the hardest work. Military, firefighters, mail carriers—those are the people who use our products, and that’s why innovation matters. Our products allow them to be more productive and a lot safer.”

Legislation-supported growth: But it’s not just those vehicles that are seeing exploding demand from customers.

  • Historic federal investments, such as those in the CHIPS and Science Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, “have spawned huge infrastructure projects,” Pfeifer added. “So it doesn’t matter what you’re producing; you can’t produce it without our equipment.”
  • Last year, contractors in North America kicked off approximately $350 billion worth of projects, with electric vehicle and semiconductor facilities and data centers all acting as drivers of that growth.

Speaking of EVs: Oshkosh has a lot to boast about in the EV space.

  • It was recently chosen by the U.S. Postal Service to design the agency’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, a mail van “customized specifically for the needs of mail carriers,” according to the Oshkosh website. The vehicle’s propulsion platform can accommodate both traditional internal-combustion and battery-electric engines.
  • And in addition to having developed a lithium-ion battery-powered refuse and recycling vehicle, Oshkosh also manufactured the first electric fire truck in service in North America. It’s the Pierce® Volterra™ Pumper, and the Madison Fire Department’s fleet in Madison, Wisconsin, has a purchase order agreement for it following a highly successful 18-month placement of one of the Pumpers. 

Coming up: What’s next for Oshkosh? With its healthy balance sheet, the company is investing for the long haul, Pfeifer told the NAM.

  • “We’re hiring a lot and opening new facilities,” Pfeifer continued, adding that Oshkosh subsidiary JLG Industries Inc.—which makes the popular SkyTrak® telehandler hydraulic lift machine—is expanding its 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Jefferson City, Tennessee, and Oshkosh recently opened new plants in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The last word: The firm is also focusing on strategic acquisition work, Pfeifer said.

  • Last year, it purchased AeroTech, a company that makes cargo loaders and other airport ground support equipment.
  • “We’re very patient, but when we see the opportunity to acquire a business and enter a new product category or adjacent market where we can make a difference, we do it.”
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