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After partners: trends in trucks from Dubai Automechanika

PMV Middle East returns from Automechanika Dubai 2017 to report on what commercial vehicles exhibitors made of the show, what products they introduced and what opportunities they see

ANALYSIS, PMV

With the conclusion of Automechanika Dubai 2017, the Middle East and Africa’s largest exhibition for the automotive aftermarket, exhibitors and visitors from all over the world have returned to their respective countries after three days of networking.

This year’s event spanned 69,000m2 of exhibition space, and played host to more than 30,000 trade visitors as they attended the stands of 1,954 exhibitors from 57 countries — a presence that was this year further underlined by 25 country pavilions and 36 international trade associations.

The show was set against a backdrop of caution in the auto parts and services market in the region, as growth forecasts have sharply declined in response to what has been a significant drop-off in the commercial vehicles segment in Saudi Arabia, and the understanding that this could in turn impact aftersales.

Nevertheless, market analysts Frost & Sullivan have the demand for automotive after-market products and services in the Middle East is on an upward curve, with revenue from engine and vehicle components, systems, tyres and auto accessories expected to grow by 5.9% annually to reach $17.3bn by 2020.

Zeroing in on the commercial vehicles segment, Ahmed Pauwels, CEO at Messe Frankfurt Middle East, the organiser, noted: “It’s estimated that a further 1.8 million commercial vehicles will ply Middle East roads in the GCC and pave the way for some impressive opportunities for the automotive services industry.”

And on the whole, exhibitors intimated to PMV Middle East that the market has passed its nadir, and predicted that 2017 will see the stabilisation if not modest recovery of business.

Meritor, the world’s largest manufacturer of heavy-duty axles, returned for the third year to Automechanika Dubai 2017, and Stefan Kaltenbach, MD for Meritor in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “We want to grow in the region, as we see great potential of cooperation with parts distributors and potential fleets. Spare parts demand for buses and coaches continues to grow across the region, for which we have exciting new solutions that customers in Europe and also in the Middle East trust in.”

As an original equipment (OE) supplier, Meritor’s current mission in the region is to improve its brand awareness in the region with the aim of encouraging end users to continue to buy its OE parts even after they pass beyond their warranty and service agreements.

A spokesperson on the stand noted: “I think people are starting to realise that it makes sense to invest in something that is better quality, rather than always buying cheap — because they have discovered that when you buy cheap parts you must also replace them much earlier. It might be cheap in the short-term, but over the vehicle life, it becomes expensive.”

However, they also expressed fear that the depression in the primary market for commercial vehicles could have a significant knock-on effect on the aftermarket, especially in Saudi Arabia, where fleet operators might be tempted to cannibalise their standing fleet for parts instead of purchasing.

They continued: “After the 2008 crisis, we saw fleet operators in France, Spain and Italy taking parts out of the standing trucks. The big fleets put orders on hold, and any spare parts they needed, they cannibalised.

“It’s a matter of fact that you get more money for a truck for its parts than if you sell it as a running piece — so you take the axles, brakes out, engine and transmission out, then you can get more money than for the working truck. This is something we are afraid could happen here as well. Why should you buy spare parts if you have them sitting in the yard?”

More optimistic was Philippe Colpron, VP for aftermarket at Belgian brakes, stability, suspension and transmission giant WABCO, noted: “The GCC has become a very attractive market for transport and logistics in the last years. In the next years there will be the Expo Dubai 2020 and the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.

“These events are connected to giant infrastructural projects, and our role is to support the transport and logistics companies in the region to reduce the downtimes of fleets and to maximise their efficiency.”

Representatives of the UAE-based exhibitor and member of Juma Al Majid Group, General Navigation & Commerce Company (GENAVCO) also expressed positive sentiments about the opportunities in the market. Neeraj Mahajan, the new director of GENAVCO attended the show alongside the principals from its automotive principles, including Isuzu, MTU, Detroit Diesel, Alison Transmission and BP Lubricants.

Mahajan noted that Dubai will continue to be a supply chain hub for the region, and that Dubai Expo 2020 preparation is already providing business opportunities for various companies, including GENAVCO and its customers, as a result of the build-up of infrastructure.

Tyre touting

PMV also caught up with Balkrishna Tires (BKT), whose communication manager Vikash Naithani, commented: “From our point of view the exhibition has been better than last year. This is the right platform to display our new product and our customers have been visiting us to come and see our range. We’re also doing particularly well in the off-highway segment.”

BKT currently holds a 6% share in the global off-highway tyre segment — a position that the company attributes to the high quality-price ratio of its products. The company also took the opportunity to launch its Portmax PT 93, a brand new tyre for terminal tractors, at its booth. Engineered as a tyre for intermodal port applications, the 280/75 R 22.5 size has antistatic tread that proves durable in even the most demanding conditions — minimising replacement frequency and machine downtime.

In the GCC, Naithani noted that BKT has “a bunch of new distributors who have been approaching their customers”, and that the show had been a good opportunity for all those customers to come and meet BKT directly.

He added: “It’s good for making them understand that they are dealing with a good brand. We are employing the same strategy all over the world, and it’s good for our brand.”

Axle grinding

Another firm trying to make inroads into the market is SAF Holland, and PMV Middle East sat down Jean Khoury, the recently appointed MD of SAF Holland Middle East to discuss the products that the company is advocating.

He noted: “For us at SAF Holland, the trend is quite good. We are adapting new products that have been requested here in the area, and we are also trying to bring some innovations which are very successful in Europe to convince the people to stay with us and to use our product, such as Tire Pilot, which is the technology that we are using to control and refill the tyres.

“Tire Pilot is an electronic system that is controlling the air pressure in the tyres, and then from the air reservoir which is used anyhow for the brake system and air suspension system, it will refill the tyres whenever the pressure is below nine bar.”

This automated refilling is a technology that is only provider provided by only a handful of manufacturers in this market. The advantage of the system is that as it precisely maintains the right pressure, the tyres last longer than when the pressure is too low or high.

SAF notes in its literature that with a 40-tonne articulated vehicle, the rolling resistance of the tyres accounts for around 30% of the diesel consumption, and 50% of this is caused by the tyres on the trailer.

As to how it works, the Tire Pilot setup is a system that uses the pneumatic air supply for the brake or suspension systems to pressurise the axles, which then connect via a tube to a valve in the wheel hub that interacts with the tyre. Because of the systematic design changes required to accommodate the pressurising of the axles, it must be integrated into the axle units as a whole during their manufacture.

Khoury continued: “This is for the trailers, and intended to be ordered by the trailer OEM. When you order the axles, you just say it is for the tyre reinflation system, though anybody can buy it from us and fix it later on. Usually in Saudi Arabia they use 3x9 axles, and they can put this on each axle.

“Gorica, Al Shirawi and Bion are all interested, but more for Saudi Arabia. SASO is making a lot of moves in the direction of more safety and more control on the trailer and the truck, and we know that other countries will follow. But, as you know, if the customer is not forced by law to do that, they will not request that.

“However, we believe in starting now with the idea that people will realise that SAF Holland has this product. The day will come when I have the chance to talk to Aramco — which sets the guidelines for dangerous goods transportation — and once we explain the advantages to them, we should be able to convince them that they should accept it.”

SAF Holland is also promoting its disc brakes in the region, especially in Saudi Arabia, which has stricter weight regulations — since disc brakes only work with axle loads of up to 12 tonnes, while nine-tonne axles are preferable.

Where applicable, however, the disc brake has significant advantages over the drum brake, including greater safety and reliability, and is easier to maintain, with fewer parts and an adjustment mechanism that requires the operator to turn just one screw. Disc brakes also maintain brake efficiency up to 700°C, whereas drum brake have a maximum capacity of 250°C.

Khoury noted: “We have two big fleets in Saudi Arabia who are insisting on using disc brakes: Maraya and SABCO — because they understand the advantages of them. And step by step, even the trailer manufacturers are being convinced that this is a safety feature that we need for this market.”

For the moment, across the Middle East, the load capacity on the axles is typically very high, with 90% of the market employing 16-tonne capacity axles, according to Khoury, where disc brakes do not work. However, the lowering weight regulations in the Gulf represent a widening window for SAF.

Bits and bots

Mineral Circles Bearings (MCB), distributor for South Korean bearings supplier ILJIN, was present at the show to introduce the producer’s tapered roller bearings and large angular contact ball bearing ranges in the Middle East. These bearings are used in heavy equipment brands such as Doosan, Volvo, Nabtesco and Hyundai.

The bearing supplier also unveiled a heavy duty EP3 high load grease developed with its French partner NTN-SNR partners to be suitable in the high humidity and hot temperatures of Middle East, at a range from -25°C to 140°C. This NLGI grade 3 lubrication solution has increased anti-corrosion and anti-friction capabilities fit for applications such as truck wheel hubs or high-powered electric motors.

Italian company Symach meanwhile unveiled its Fixline, a robotised body shop repair process that reduces workshop time to two days on average, and in turn reducing the cost of the repair process by 25% to 30% on average.

Osvaldo Bergaglio, CEO of Symach, said the key to Fixline’s performance is that all phases of repair are customised for every shop, ensuring a more organised workflow, while its patented paint drying technology and specialised drying robots ensures optimal repair times.

He noted: “The FixLine conveyor allows a continuous workflow throughout the day, allowing a body shop to use approximately 30% fewer technicians than a conventional shop to repair the same number of cars per day.”

Symach’s Drytronic painting technology also dries body filler, primer, waterborne and clear in 1 minute 30 seconds per panel — so that the painting phase provides minimal disruption.

Bergaglio noted: “Automation and robotics is the future of body shops and the FixLine process goes exactly in this direction, giving technicians all the freedom to perform at their best, thanks to automated processes and the advanced technologies offered by robotics.”

As a whole, the show revealed a degree of pessimism about Saudi Arabia’s automotive segment, but also optimism about the range of opportunities for companies introducing new technologies into the market and looking to create new market niches for themselves.

SAF’s Jean Khoury summarised: “At this exhibition we have seen some signs that the market is starting to move a bit, especially for the spare parts. We do believe that by the end of 2017 the market will be more stabilised and more people will go for investment.”

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