A local manufacturer is banking on a new one-of-a-kind military vehicle and a budget-friendly fire truck to help offset the market mauling it has suffered due to the recent recession and the high-flying Canadian dollar.

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The 'crash trucks' will sell for $500,000 to $1 million. The first will be flown to a military base in Alert, N.W.T., next month.

DEPT. OF NATIONAL DEFENCE

The 'crash trucks' will sell for $500,000 to $1 million. The first will be flown to a military base in Alert, N.W.T., next month.

A local manufacturer is banking on a new one-of-a-kind military vehicle and a budget-friendly fire truck to help offset the market mauling it has suffered due to the recent recession and the high-flying Canadian dollar.

Up until three years ago, when the global economy hit the skids and the Canadian dollar began its flight to parity, exports accounted for about 40 per cent of Fort Garry Fire Truck's yearly sales.

Since then, that number has dwindled to a mere three per cent, and the company has embarked on a series of initiatives aimed at putting some wind back in its sails.

One was joining forces with two of its international suppliers to develop the world's first fire truck designed to fit inside a Hercules military transport plane.

The "crash trucks", selling for $500,000 to $1 million, can be flown to military bases anywhere in the world and pressed into service if a military plane crashes and catches fire.

Fort Garry president Rick Suche said the Canadian defence department has purchased the first truck to be produced by the consortium, and it will be flown next month to the military base in Alert, N.W.T.

The consortium, which includes a company from Holland and another from the United States, hopes the truck will be the first of many it produces, Suche said.

The second initiative, which Fort Garry launched shortly after the global recession started choking off demand for municipal fire trucks, saw the firm develop a smaller, cheaper fire truck for cash-strapped North American municipalities.

The big difference between the new model and a regular fire truck is that it has a smaller, lighter body that contains less aluminum, making it less expensive to build.

Suche said the Crusader, with a starting price of $174,00 versus an average price of $300,000 for a regular model, has been a hot seller in the United States. It now accounts for one-quarter of the firm's yearly sales.

The third initiative involves construction of a 48,000-square-foot manufacturing plant on an 8.1-acre parcel of land the company recently purchased in a new industrial park under development on the 20,000-acres CentrePort Canada inland port site in northwest Winnipeg.

Suche said the new plant, which should be ready for occupancy by the end of next year, will not only be about 6,000 square feet bigger than the one it now leases on Inkster Boulevard, but it will be designed so the firm can build vehicles more efficiently.

"We need to need to become more efficient in order to stay competitive in the international arena," he said.

He noted all that of the firm's export sales -- it sells fire trucks in 10 to 15 countries -- are in U.S. dollars. And with the Canadian dollar now worth more than the greenback, it makes it hard to compete against U.S. bus manufacturers who have been slashing prices to sell more product to recession-battered municipalities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

"The last year and a half has been horrible," Suche said, "and as long as the dollar stays above parity its going to be a struggle."

But hopefully these new initiatives will help get sales back on the right track, he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca