BPW Axles recently held its 10th annual ‘German evening’ where a herd – that means a heck-of-a-lot of end-users, customers, suppliers, service providers and industry friends put aside the pressures of the market and enjoyed a night of fun and revelry while relishing traditional German food, tankards of German beer and entertainment from a genuine Oompah band.
The first German evening event was held by BPW in 2010 and was intended as a thank you to stakeholders for their support of BPW in the South Africa market. “We wanted to be a little different so decided on a German theme evening,” says Andre Cilliers, the genial managing director of the company.
While this year marked the 10th anniversary of this event, it also marked the 20th anniversary of Cilliers being with BPW Axles and it was an extra special evening for him as he was able to announce that in August this year, the company produced and sold a record number of axles selling in one month the same number of axles as sold during the full year in 1999.
“In fact, we have been blessed over the past two years with record axle sales which, for the first time, have exceeded the quantities we recorded prior to the financial crisis of 2008/9,” said Cilliers who puts this growth down to strong local demand – in spite of the weak economy – as well export programs from some of the company’s OE customers.
Editor’s Note: Excuse me if I jump in here but I have to make a point – lest certain people forget. Describing that period as a “financial crisis’ is being too kind as it is too broad in ignoring the real cause. That crisis was, in effect, a money grabbing frenzy conducted by overseas bankers who, driven by pure, selfish greed, had turned their backs on their traditional roles and become charlatans whose only motivation was to line their pockets with six figure dollars received from ill-gained profits using other people’s money on high risk ventures.
It was widely termed the subprime mortgage crisis and while the banks got bailouts from their respective governments, millions of people around the world were retrenched as businesses were destroyed. I wrote at the time that it would take years for those who did manage to survive to fully recover and Cilliers’ statement proves this correct. Note: “We have been blessed over the past two years with record axle sales which, for the first time, have exceeded the quantities we recorded prior to the financial crisis of 2008/9.” For BPW, it’s been 10 years of recovery. Thanks for nothing Lehmann Brothers and your other banker mates. Readers can take this note as a ‘lest we forget’ community service from FleetWatch. – Patrick O’Leary.
That said, enlarging on BPW’s achievement, Cilliers said that in the 1990’s BPW had a market share of less than 5%. “This grew over the years at a steady pace, first to around 25% and then on to well over 30% in recent years. This places us in a strong number two position in the market behind a large trailer builder which mainly fits its own axles so, in a way, their share of the market is unreachable for us. The number three in the market is far behind us.”
Another change over the years has been that although axles and suspensions remain as the backbone of the company, BPW nowadays thinks the “big picture”.
“We look at ourselves as partners – not just suppliers – to our customers. We are mobility partners to the transporters bringing in product support in the form of training, spare parts availability etc, and system partners to the vehicle builders where we conduct application engineering and now act as a one-stop shop with many products available other than just the running gear,” says Cilliers, adding that BPW’s new ‘MobSys’ theme – which stands for mobility and system partnership – communicates the company’s motto “We Think Transport” to the market.
At every one of the past 10 events, BPW has opened its facilities to all guests and once again, I took the opportunity to wander round the factory and breathe in that wonderful smell that only productive factories can emit. One can’t describe the smell. It’s a sort of mixture of grease and, uuum, I don’t know what else. It’s a unique smell and tells of productivity and growth. It tells of honest hard work and progress. It’s the smell of purity – not of corruption which stinks. It’s actually better than the smell of roses. I love it, perhaps more so because it always reminds me of my late dad.
Kevin was his name and he was a larger than life type of guy. Starting out as an apprentice at Spoornet, he ended up running his own company which included an armature winding division, a hard and decorative chrome plant, an industrial electrical and refrigeration division, plus more. I spent many school holidays working there and mixing with the tradesmen. I also spent about a year after school running his chrome plant before moving on. I loved the trade environment but I wasn’t a tradesman. In all though, it was a hugely successful business but the bugger eventually drank my inheritance down the drain thereby condemning me to a life-time of hard work. But heck, did he have fun doing it. What a guy he was.
Anyway, at past BPW German evening events, I would wander round the production area. This time, I found another floor which I never knew was there. It was huge with shelves and shelves full of spare parts. Many millions of Rand of ‘stock for Africa’ in the true sense of the term.
I later asked Cilliers about this. “The reason for our large stock holding is because of the short delivery time to customers and the long delivery time from Europe,” he said, adding that the company has an average of eight to nine containers arriving from Europe every week. Every day of every week BPW Axles has containers on the sea heading towards our shore.
Most people probably don’t know this but BPW Axles in South Africa – apart from our local market – also services markets right up to and including Tanzania with axles and spare parts. In general, operators from Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique buy trailers from South Africa and then source spare parts from BPW in South Africa. Cilliers also tells of a trailer manufacturer in Tanzania which works on CKD kits from China but with axles from BPW South Africa.
“There’s huge demand in Africa with one of our top clients, GRW, having exported some 400 trailers into Tanzania in the past 18 months,” says Cilliers.
Given all this, it was a night of discovery, merriment and great companionship. It was a night of celebration not only of BPW’s success but also of the great men and women who reside in this wonderful trucking industry. The pictures featured with this article show various aspects of the evening and the facilities. It’s all good stuff.