Trailer in tow: bodies and trailers in the GCC

PMV Middle East looks at the marke for truck bodies and trailers, its trends and developments, some of the companies currently shaping the segment and their activities in the last 12 months

A brand-new Gorica dry bulk semi-trailer arriving at the cement plant for a construction consignment.
A brand-new Gorica dry bulk semi-trailer arriving at the cement plant for a construction consignment.

Truck superstructures and trailers are often the under-appreciated party in a two-way relationship. In reality, the way in which truck bodies and trailers are tailored to their market and application, or not, plays an important role on the payload fuel consumption and ultimate productivity of a logistics operation. As such, it is only to be expected that the Middle East region, with its extreme conditions and demanding projects, has generated a thriving sector for local truck bodybuilding and trailer manufacturing.

Rich in celebrity is Gorica, which recently celebrated its 25th year since its incorporation in Dubai. Drawing its name from Vozilo Gorica, a Slovenian company, Ivan Fornazaric, founding MD of the Gorica Group, started his company in response to what was, at the time, the complete absence of local production in this segment.

The trigger for Fornazaric was the transport costs and customs duties associated with importing trailers from his native Slovenia. The market for trailers stood at 100 or 200 trucks; today the segment involves 10,000 trucks.

Whereas in 1990, Fornazaric held a study on the possibility of forming a local joint venture in Sharjah for the production of 20 trailers a year, today his group produces 12 each day.

But as the UAE and the wider Gulf have developed, so has the market for truck bodies and trailers. Today every slice of business is hard fought and won. Gorica a prominent voice, but still one among many in a bustling segment.

Gorica’s most popular product remains one of its earliest, the tipper trailer, which accounts for just under half of the group’s daily production.

However, tippers only account for a portion of Gorica’s range and business and today it is in the process of diversifying into both refrigerated trailer units and aluminium-bodied products.

With so much to compete over, it is little surprise that this segment is fiercely contested.

One Gorica rival in the region is the Mammut Group, which notably struck a deal in January for a joint venture with Daimler Trucks in Iran, shortly after Daimler also agreed to form a joint venture with Iran Khodro Diesel — which commands a 50% truck market share in Iran.

Iran’s Ministry for industry, mining and trade has estimated that about 200,000 commercial vehicles will be replaced in the coming years — some 56,000 of them in the next three to five years alone — and Mammut, which already has a presence in Iran, is well positioned to benefit.

The last 12 months have also seen the emergence of Bion Industrial, headed by Noas Al Rawi, CEO of the Bion Group, as a serious contender for market share in tipper trailers, and more recently dry bulkers. Al Rawi is also the CEO of the Tarwada Cargo Transport.

After three years spent studying the market, and resolving to produce a premium product, Al Rawi launched his first three models of tipper semi-trailer in July, fashioned with Swedish SSAB Hardox — a wear-resistant industrial steel many times tougher than a conventional steel.

Since then, Bion has doubled its number of tipper trailer models and added a cement bulker. “We came up with a system that cuts 20%–30% off the offloading time,” says Al Rawi, “Typically, the offloading could take 40 minutes, but with our design it takes a maximum of 25 minutes.”

In June, Bion also revealed plans to use SSAB’s Strenx range of high-stength structural steel — the properties of which can be used to reduce the weight of steel structures by up to 40%.

Al Rawi added: “Quality at Bion Industrial sits at the heart of our organisation. We manufacture our truck bodies and equipment to stringent quality standards. With this new quality mark, we have set a new benchmark in the tipper trailer industry in the region.”

All three of these companies pale in terms of longevity compared with Schmitz Cargobull, whose history stretches back to the year 1892.

The company has also been active in the Middle East region since the 1970s, and globally produces over 50,000 trailers and truck bodies annually for construction, general cargo and the refrigerated transport business.

Fabian Bahlmann, general manager of Schmitz Cargobull Middle East, notes: “We are Europe’s number one semi-trailer brand, and customers in the region benefit from the most professional semi-trailer and truck body manufacturing, combined with local support.”

He notes that Schmitz Cargobull has supplied numerous projects in the Middle East with its German-engineered products and services, and maintains a local presence with its brand that is well respected within the transport industry.

Moreover, he comments: “It’s been a good year. We feel a demand towards innovation, reliability and safety, and that’s what we offer: curtainsider trailers that are easier to operate and are safer on the road thanks to new load securing features; reefer trailers with a durable short chassis design and ‘Ferroplast’ thermo technology; and our ‘S.HD flatbed’ heavy-duty trailers with chassis designs that combines cold-forming, galvanizing and bolting of core parts.”

Schmitz Cargobull has been developing its reefer trailers for more than 60 years, driven by its customers. Bahlmann notes that while many regional players are currently building up their production of reefers, Schmitz Cargobull guarantees its customers 2016 technology from the European market leader — exclusively designed for its customers in the Middle East.

“One thing that unites all Schmitz Cargobull trailers is their advanced safety features: each one comes equipped with an EBS/ABS system, making them the safest trailers in the region.”

Also from overseas is SDC Trailers, the UK and Ireland’s largest trailer manufacturer with an output of 9,500 units annually. Founded in 1978, it has seen record trailer sales ever since 2009, with a steady increase in export sales to the Middle East that has prompted the company to increase its production capacity by 30%.

One recent order in the Middle East featured 75 units, including skeletal, box-van and curtainsider trailers for a logistics operator in Saudi Arabia — specialist trailers that were specifically engineered to the operators’ needs to maximise their durability and profitability.

Stephen McIvor, export manager at SDC, says: “Following the launch of SDC Middle East in January 2015, we have secured a number of new trailer orders in Saudi Arabia and a further $527,500 worth of spare parts business in the region. The robust and durable nature of our equipment — providing reduced maintenance costs over the trailer life — has been well received. We also understand the importance of providing a quality service to our customers and we strive to make the design and delivery process as straightforward as possible.

The company also recently launched the world’s first application of a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) on a 13.6m curtainsider, which, by employing regenerative braking to capture energy loss, can deliver a fuel saving of up to 25%, in a great boost for both cost of operation and the environment.

A subsidiary named SDC Truck and Trailer Parts is also active in the region, providing a competitive commercial vehicle parts service with a line-up of over 15,000 products, from axles, suspension, ABS and air brakes, to electrical components, landing legs.

Indeed, beyond head-to-head competition, there are numerous part manufacturers supporting the segment with components, including BPW Bergische Achsen, which in Europe is the leading axle and suspension manufacturer for trailers and semi-trailers.

Thomas Krems, area sales manager for BPW, notes: “BPW is specialised in running gear systems for trailers, mainly for the heavy duty sector, from nine tonnes up to 20 tonnes. We are a very old company, established in 1898, and a family run from Weil, close to Cologne.”

Aside from axles and suspension, BPW also produces landing legs, lighting and mud guards for trailers and well as ‘idem telematics’, a dedicated track-and-trace system for trailers.

Krems says: “We have a strong share here in the UAE, especially in mechanical suspension systems. In the UAE, Gorica is using our heavy-duty 3x15 mechanical suspension, whereas in Saudi, the standard is 3x9 air suspension — so similar to Europe.”

He notes that as far as axles are concerned, both Saudi and Oman are following very close to the European regulations, accompanied by Iran. These markets are also largely applying ‘ADR’, as well as air suspension, which allows the height to be adjusted by a levelling bed according to the distribution of the load.

This isn’t to say that BPW does not find the Middle East market without its problems, as Krems notes: “The fleets take care of the trucks with service and maintenance, but normally they don’t take care of the trailer.”

BPW’s response is robustness, and it recently launched a redesigned and upgraded bearing generation with an improved hub design for a better sealing system and cooling system.

For the region BPW also deploys dust covers to guard the drum brakes against the dust and sand, and even the disc brake is able to operate without problems in Saudi’s desert conditions.

Also touching upon regulation, Bahlmann from Schmitz Cargobull, notes: “We expect further legislative development towards of road friendliness, such as axle-load limits, as well as health and safety measures for trucks and trailers on the road. We are looking forward to these changes, as they come as standard in Schmitz Cargobull products.

Looking ahead, he notes: “Although 2016 is supposed to become a challenging year for the transport industry, we plan to work together with our customers to provide solutions that ultimately pay off for their businesses — to support them through this challenge.

“Through our new customer touchpoint in the Middle East, we have had a strong dialogue with our customers and market partners in the region, enabling us to significantly grow our business in 2015/2016.”

Looking forward, he concludes: “We are intending to grow our regional business gradually — at a natural speed. Customers come first and should be satisfied first. But we are currently looking out for partnerships in certain markets that could provide an even better service for our customers, and we’re intending to increase our local footprint.”

Strangely, the trailer segment OEMs seem more bullish than the OEMs in trucks.

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