Extended family23 February 2021
The last five years have been a period of extremely dynamic growth for the trailer manufacturing group Wielton. As one business strategy ends and another begins, the company celebrates regional differences across its diverse holdings of some of Europe’s biggest trailer brands, while strengthening production synergies between them.
Wielton’s name is a pun based on the Polish town where it was founded in 1996, Wieluń, and wielbłąd, the Polish word for that desert beast of burden, the camel. But the company started looking beyond Poland’s borders toward western Europe around the time that it was originally profiled in Haldex Magazine in 2013. Two years later, Wielton acquired the leading Italian trailer brands Viberti and Cardi, and the leading trailer manufacturer in France, Fruehauf. That was followed by acquisitions in Germany - Langendorf, May 2017 - and the UK - Lawrence David, September 2018. “Their potential and product offerings enrich the entire Wielton Group. This is what brings us closer to our customers and understand their needs,” it says. Those benefits are commercial, cultural and financial. Over the last five years, this multi-brand strategy saw group sales volume triple from 7,036 to 20,824 units.
Vice president of the Wielton Group management board Mariusz Golec stated in April: ”Geographic diversification is an effective strategy for building the stability of the Wielton Group business. Thanks to this, lower sales in a given country were compensated by growing sales in other markets.” Not only do individual companies provide an entry in Europe’s biggest trailer markets, they also provide many different products, and production capacity, for other parts of the company. For example, the Wieluń site produces chassis for the UK market. Companies such as Lawrence David are seen internally as partners, according to a spokeswoman, and investments are implemented together. Integration is proceeding along four avenues: process, purchase, production and sales. “The synergies obtained in these areas not only significantly increase the negotiating position of the entire Group, but also have a positive impact on cost optimisation and efficiency of each of the entities forming it,” the company says.
For example, the development of good sales and financial results at French brand Fruehauf is largely attributed to recent investments in production capacity at its Auxerre plant that included an automated welding line with robotic workstations. That development mirrors the progressive investment in automation at the Wieluń site over the past 15 years. Today, it benefits from 50 robots on welding and cataphoretic painting lines, automated storage and loading systems and modern sheet metal bending and cutting systems. Further Industry 4.0 technical developments offer greater time savings to streamline processes, efficiently manage orders and improve product quality. Wieluń is also unique in Poland and only the second in Europe to have a full semi-trailer testing station on which a units’ condition is evaluated after a simulated 500,000km of use - the distance normally covered over five years. Users receive a proven semi-trailer that will last for many years. In July, a separate group head office management structure was established to handle an increasing quantity of central functions, such as purchasing, finance and sales.
One recent result of the central purchasing policy is a three-year contract with Haldex to supply braking systems, which includes supplying EB+ 4.0 EBS braking systems and air suspensions for semi-trailers throughout the group – but tailored to the individual needs of local markets. In fact the contract reflects, and expands, a preexisting and deep R&D collaboration between Wielton Group companies and Haldex. As part of that relationship, respective R&D departments and structures work together to configure and specify systems to meet customer needs. This often involves a visit to the customer and a detailed study of their needs.
“The collaboration with Haldex, which goes hand in hand with many other processes carried out to improve Wielton products, is an important element in increasing the technological advancement of trailers and semi-trailers,” says Bartosz Strugacz, group purchasing director. “The current contract means an extension of the existing, fruitful cooperation. At Wielton, we not only appreciate the high quality of Haldex products, but also the partnership and understanding of the manufacturer. Thanks to this, we can improve our products and meet the expectations and needs of even the most demanding customers.” The company’s structure puts it in a good position to keep up with market pressures on cost, and trends of increasing product personalisation. Wielton Group offers 800 configurations that are available in 12 product groups. In 2019, with customers, the company developed an innovative docking system for forklifts within high-volume combinations and curtain siders. As the latter body type is its most popular type of semi-trailer, Wielton introduced a new Curtain Master range for the Polish market last year. Other innovations include semi-trailer models with a lighter design and improved aerodynamics, the Super Light range of mass-optimised, reinforced-frame tipper bodies, two-axle Dry Master box bodies for palletised cargo and 20-foot, 23-foot and 25-foot liquid containers.
Summing up, Mr. Golec says: “The Wielton Group is growing dynamically, extending its reach to new markets and new products. Business growth based on geographical and product diversification and, above all, exploiting the potential of the acquired companies ensures that we maintain a strong position on many European markets and access to unique know-how and modern technologies. The strength of the group is valued local brands with an established position on their market.
Haldex in Poland
Haldex began its Polish operations in the same place, and almost at the same time, as Wielton: in the small town of Wieluń, and in 1995, about a year before the trailer maker, during the country’s economic transformation following the fall of the Soviet Union. Founded by a manager of an old Soviet Union factory who lived in nearby Praszka, the Haldex business started as a local agency for Midland-Grau brakes working out of rented accommodation in Wieluń. In 1998, Haldex bought that brand, and in 2000 the growing distributor moved to bespoke premises outside of town.
More than two decades on, the small location remains of strategic importance to Haldex. First, it is close enough to offer constant support to Wielton. Haldex staff can help install new systems, assist, explain and train people, support homologation work, or discuss quality issues. "There are a number of departments. To make this cooperation work, we must be in touch with every department on a day-to-day level. It’s possible when we are remote, but it’s much better to be local, and staying in touch to deal with little problems,” explains regional sales manager Miroslaw Peciak, himself a 15-year Haldex veteran.
“One employee who looks after the OEM market lives in Wieluń, so today he started his day in the plant, assisting with homologation tests of a new type of trailer,” he pointed out in mid-September. Although only the size of a minnow compared to a whale, the Haldex depot’s eight staff are enough to provide vital services to Wielton and other customers, such as spare parts stockholding and distribution, as well as local-language support and warranty handling.
And the branch, the company’s only in Poland, is ideally placed to support central Europe, from Estonia in the north to the Balkans to the south. Adds Mr. Peciak: “We are constantly developing our distribution network. We can actually say that the flow of spare parts for any kind of emergency claim or and warranty cases is part of the cooperation with the distribution network.” To this end, Haldex is currently mapping Wielton’s service network in central Europe, particularly where the trailer market is particularly significant: Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania.