Sunday, 11 January 2015

Has Volvo plans to be a world leader?

Is Volvo planning to become Number One in world truck manufacture?

Following the recent news from Daimler AG that it hopes to have sold close to 500,000 trucks in 2014, the question can be raised: is Volvo hoping to eclipse this through its 45 per cent stake in China's Dongfeng Commercial Vehicles (DFVC)?

But why would Volvo want to take only a 45 per cent stake in Chinese truck maker Dongfeng Commercial Vehicles Co. Ltd.? Could it be that DFCV is one of China's leading truck brands and China's largest heavy duty truck maker? But to have control of the Chinese subsidiary it would surely need 51 per cent or even 55 per cent? Maybe this is Volvo's long-term plan, even though DFCV is but one of many the Dongfeng group’s businesses.

In the medium term Volvo could be looking to reap the benefits of economies of scale in areas such as engines, transmissions, chassis and cabs. Is £600 million effectively the ‘price’ for Volvo making and selling its trucks in China?

Looking at the picture from a Chinese point of view, what benefits are possible?

It is said, cynically, in some quarters, that the Chinese want three things only from any joint venture (JV): first, access to European technology; second, access to the partner's finances (in the case of DFVC this could be Volvo's £600 million in exchange for a non-controlling 45 per cent). And, finally, once conditions one and two have been fulfilled, how soon can we get rid of the partner?

This may indeed be a very cynical viewpoint, but one nevertheless that is circulating in some quarters of Europe. However, the arrangements which Daimler AG and MAN in Germany, and Iveco in Italy, part of Fiat, have concluded suggest the cynic’s view is far from the truth and experience suggests that relationships with Chinese companies can be enduring. But the Chinese companies could be taking the ‘long view’.

But why would Volvo, a very shrewd Swedish company, be prepared to pay £600 million for a stake in a company it does not control, or at least have equal voting rights? The deal was inked in initially two years ago in January 2013; now it is time for Volvo to pay up. In the US, Volvo also makes Mack trucks.

Since then, Volvo has created three new diesels (11-, 13- and 16-litre truck diesels) and started to put Japanese-made four-cylinder, 5-litre and six-cylinder 8-litre UD (formerly Nissan Diesel which is wholly owned by Volvo) engines in its buses. These replace engines outsourced from Deutz. It has also been possible to witness the continued demand for Volvo trucks in the Russian market. Notwithstanding that, Volvo new FH trucks have experienced a number of in-field problems, not the least being the reliability of the sensors used in the latest engine management systems, and the new electronic parking brake.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen last year finally acquired control of both MAN and Scania – effectively two competing heavy duty truck makers. The rationale of this integration of two truck makers into one group (which also makes trucks in South America) could be seen in product rationalisation and the financial benefits that can accrue from sharing major, and expensive, components, such as engines, gearboxes and axles, thus avoiding laying down new and expensive manufacturing facilities.

Indeed, one of the first visible signs of the outcome of the two companies coming under the VW umbrella is the move for MAN to use Scania axles – one clear opportunity to generate financial benefits from economies of scale.

And of course, the situation could be taken a stage further where there are exchanges of ‘out of sight’ technology between MAN and Scania. In the main, the two companies may choose to rationalise first those components that are hidden from view, or operator scrutiny. However, a certain rivalry between the engineers and managers of the two truck makers is sure to exist, and prevail for some time.

                                         Volvo Trucks

In China, it has to be assumed that Dongfeng Commercial Vehicles is anxious to lay its hands on Volvo's not inconsiderable Euro 6 engine technology. How might this unfold? Will Volvo see its Euro 6 engines manufactured in China, or will they be exported from Europe? Will Volvo engines become Dongfeng engines in all but name?

And what happens to Volvo's intellectual property rights once these engines are being made in one of Dongfeng's facilities?

These engines could be, in effect, Volvo engineered and branded engines made under license; one way of Volvo earning a return on its investment. Or even not under license at all.

Or could they be Dongfeng's engines which incorporate elements of Volvo's Euro 6 technology. Either way, Dongfeng would have access to Volvo know-how, and in the process have scope to use that technology in other engines it might produce elsewhere in China.

In effect, DFVC appears to have received £600 million for the pleasure of gaining access to high-value Volvo technology. In other words, Dongfeng, might appear to have a win-win situation on its hands.

And once this Volvo technology is out in the DFVC engineering offices, on its database or out on the manufacturing shops, there is no way the genie can be put back in the bottle. And in so doing, Volvo would them seem to have lost not only the intellectual property rights to the technology but any bargaining high ground to gain access to a further six per cent of shares to give it a 51 per cent controlling interest.

Put another way: what does Volvo receive in exchange for handing over £600 million?

Much the same goes too for any other technology that DFVC might gain access to through the deal.

In this context, last week’s news cannot be ignored; namely that DFCV has entered into a technology supply agreement with Swedish process control specialist SinterCast for compacted graphite iron (CGI) product development. Could Volvo’s foundry experience of designing and machining components to accommodate the best of CGI be of benefit to DFCV?

Volvo’s Skövde foundry has had mounting experience of SinterCast’s CGI process control technology since at least 2007. This experience cannot be ignored in this context.

China is a huge potential market and it is hard for European truck makers not to want a share of the action; hence the arrangements which Daimler AG has already made.

MAN, another German truck maker, likewise is involved with a Chinese partner, and again it does not have a controlling interest. Why buy a stake in a company if there is no opportunity to control its destiny?

And so it was that in 2009, MAN acquired for €560 million a 25 per cent of Sinotruk, the remaining 75 per cent being held by China National Heavy Duty Truck Group (CNHDTG) the third largest truck builder in China.

Under the agreement, Sinotruk introduced MAN's TGA serialized vehicle technology platform, the technologies of D08, D20 and D26 engines up to Euro III- V standards, with a displacement of 5-, 7-, 11- and 13-litres and a power of range from 140 to 560bhp, as well as “a full set” of axle technologies covering wheel reduction and single reduction and corresponding front axle technologies. MAN single reduction axles areto an original design by Eaton Corporation in the US,.

Thus, Sinotruk was able to introduce MAN's various advanced technologies, and establish a “brand goal” aimed at "winning over customers, building China's first top joint-venture brand and focusing on displaying German quality characteristic of MAN".

In addition, Sinotruck integrated MAN's quality global resources including license, staff training, quality supervision and production management into SITRAK's brand cultivation.

In recent three years, Sinotruk has established a joint working group with MAN to push forward the cooperative project. In this period, Sinotruk sent 12 groups of 220 employees to MAN for studies. Meanwhile, MAN established a resident expert team at the manufacturing plant in Jinan and sent 20 technical and QC teams to China to ensure the SITRAK products manufactured at the Jinan Plant are up to German standards.

Based on MAN's design, production and processes, Sinotruk has been able to bring its Chinese heavy-duty trucks to an advanced level in the world.

Following the introduction of MAN's TGA cab, Sinotruk also brought “the world's most advanced MC11 (localized MAN D20) electronic control high-pressure common-rail engine” up to Phase III-V emission standards, and exclusively introduced by Sinotruk.

This has a high strength/high stiffness/long life cylinder block in vermicular graphite iron (compacted graphite iron – CGI) body which Sinotruk says “is similar to cast steel in strength and grey iron in heat dissipation”; an ultra-strong capability of resisting thermal distortion and is only used on a “few high-end engines in the world”.

It adds that high detonation pressure and optimal injection/combustion systems give low specific fuel consumption in the range of 186g/kwh, while engine noise is 2db lower than the noise of similar engines in the world.

Sinotruk also notes proudly that the engines offer a long B10 life at least up to the most advanced world standard of heavy-duty engines, i.e. 1,500,000 km;

MAN's MCY13 single-reduction drive axle likewise has a B10 life of 1,500,000 km.

As to manufacturing, Sinotruk engines are manufactured with high-tech equipment similar to those used by MAN in Nurnburg in terms of automation level. For example, the cylinder block, cylinder head, crankshaft and connection rod machining lines of MC11/MC13 engines (Navistar’s MaxxForce 11 and 13 engines are similar, but not identical) are said to be “state-of-the-art” automatic processing and testing lines introduced from Germany, the final assembly line uses the same rotary equipment as that used in MAN's European plants and caters to MAN's manufacturing concept of "ergonomic orientation" with the most comfortable operation design.

Significantly, Sinotruk claims it “realizes the optimal German production and assembly quality of MC11/MC13 and turns out 100,000 engines per year”.

Besides the joint quality control by Chinese and German engineers, all the team and group leaders holding key posts at SITRAK production shop have received professional training at MAN's headquarters. And it proudly proclaims that SITRAK not only “perfectly matches MAN's leading configuration, but is geared to complete sets of technologies and management standards for MAN vehicles in terms of R & D, manufacturing and quality control”.

Daimler Trucks is pursuing at least two strategic goals for the Chinese market. Firstly, it is promoting the sale of high-quality Mercedes-Benz trucks in the premium segment through Zoomlion Heavy Industry, founded in 1992 and based in Changsha, Hunan province.

In 2011, Daimler AG signed a letter of intent for the delivery of 2,500 Mercedes-Benz trucks – heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz Actros 3341 and 4141 models made at Daimler’s truck plant in Wörth, Germany.

In the same year, Daimler announced the launch of BFDA (Beijing Foton Daimler Automotive Co., Ltd.). This is Daimler’s JV with Chinese truck manufacturer Foton, and gives Daimler a 50 per cent stake in Foton’s business with the medium and heavy-duty Auman brand trucks. Once ramp-up is fully complete, BFDA will have a production capacity of 160,000 units.

At the time, Daimler noted that China’s market volume for medium and heavy-duty trucks had doubled to over one million units over the past five years. The Chinese market accounted then for around 40 per cent of the total worldwide sales of medium and heavy-duty trucks.

In passing, on a world basis, in 2013 China produced 22 million vehicles of all kinds – cars, light CVs, buses and trucks – a ten-fold rise since 2000. The European Union produced 16 million, one million less than in 2000; while the US produced 11 million – again one million less than in 2000. So it is clear from where the growth has come.

Iveco claims to be the first serious international commercial vehicle manufacturer to enter the China market.

Iveco (China) Commercial Vehicle Sales Co., Ltd. was set up in 2012 as “one of the four pillars of Iveco global strategy”; but Iveco’s links go back further.

That particular company is responsible for the strategy and operations of Iveco in China. Iveco’s mission of Iveco in China is the import of advanced products manufactured in Europe and to export the products of Iveco’s JVs in China, “through the Iveco distribution channels to the global market”.

In addition, is Iveco carrying out its China “localization strategy”. It manufactures a full range of commercial vehicles through its various JVs; namely with its partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC); a second JV Nanjing Iveco Motor Co., Ltd. (Naveco), has two plants in Nanjing for the production of light commercial vehicles and minibuses, and finally there is SAIC-Iveco Hongyan, based in Chongqing for heavy duty trucks.

It was in 1985 that Iveco, part of Fiat, first entered into a technology transfer agreement with NAC (Nanjing Automobile Corporation) for the production of light commercial vehicles. In 1991, the first TurboDaily production line was inaugurated, beginning the company’s ambitious programme of investments in the Chinese commercial vehicle industry.

In 1996, Iveco followed up its deal NAC to form the 50-50 JV, Naveco, making Iveco light commercials and diesel engines as well as Yuejin light and medium commercials. Ten years later, in September 2006, SAIC and Iveco set up a 50-50 JV, the SAIC IVECO Commercial Vehicle Investment Co., Ltd. In the same month, SAIC, Iveco and Chongqing Heavy Vehicle Group Co., Ltd. signed their contract.

In June 2007, SAIC-Iveco Hongyan Commercial Vehicle Co., Ltd. and SAIC Fiat Powertrain Hongyan Co. Ltd. were created. In December of the same year, with the signing of the all-round cooperation agreement between SAIC and NAC, Naveco became yet another relevant point of the somewhat complicated and multifarious cooperations between SAIC and Iveco, in the field of light commercial vehicles in China.

Five years later, in September 2012, Iveco (China) Commercial Vehicles Sales Co., Ltd. was established, representing a new milestone of Iveco’s business development in China.

SAIC-Iveco Hongyan in Chongqing city, designs, manufacture a wide range of heavy duty trucks and special trucks based on heavy duty trucks such as tractor unit, dump truck, cargo truck, tanker trucks, and some construction engineering vehicles like concrete mixer truck, dump truck, heavy duty cargo trucks.

So far, US-based Navistar International and Paccar Inc. appear to have been left behind their European rivals as both Daimler AG and Volvo Corporation have positioned themselves to benefit from any potential upturn in China’s domestic truck market.

According to market consultant AlixPartners, the firm expects sales growth in China will average 9 per cent a year for heavy-duty trucks and 4 per cent for medium-duty trucks.

For this, western truck makers need manufacturing capacity in China and the know-how to develop and sell vehicles to Chinese truckers, whose performance requirements for their trucks are evolving. The easiest route for foreign truck makers is through joint JVs with domestic truck companies.

“Unfortunately, for North American companies, European players have already snapped up most of the available partners,” claims Steve Aschkenase, a director at AlixPartners. “There are few unmarried partners left.”

As noted above, Iveco has various joint ventures, Daimler and MAN have their joint ventures, while Volvo in the last two years has joined forces with Dongfeng, with 22 per cent of the sales in China. Together, the two companies – Volvo and Dongfeng will account for an annual worldwide production capacity of 372,000 of medium duty and heavy-duty trucks.

Washington-based Paccar, the maker of Peterbilt and Kenworth-brand trucks in North America, has so far avoided joint ventures in China amid concerns about protecting its intellectual property from copycat manufacturers.

Lisle, Illinois-based Navistar has a recent 50-50 JV with Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co., or JAC, but this is only to supply Navistar engines for JAC’s light-duty trucks. And, as Navistar International’s chief executive officer Troy Clarke wrestles with the future of his company, it is likely this will be company’s only venture in China for a little while.

While the venture is a first step for Navistar, AlixPartners maintained that western truck makers should be trying to “hit home” runs in China because the truck market is moving toward higher quality vehicles that European and US truck makers know best.

AlixPartners reckons Chinese truckers are increasingly moving up the price scale away from the low-cost, no-frills trucks that have traditionally dominated the market. Rising fuel costs, shippers’ need for bigger loads and better roads that permit trucks to travel at higher speeds are driving demand for bigger and better trucks.

AlixPartners forecasts that 30 per cent of the trucks sold China in 2015 will be in the mid-price range of $39,000 to $65,000 per truck, up from 25 per cent in 2012 and more than double the size of the middle market in 2006. The low-price market, meanwhile, will shrink to 67 per cent of trucks sold from 73 per cent in 2012.

AlixPartners expects sales to reach 1.2 million trucks in 2016. The firm predicts truck sales North America will slip to 477,000 vehicles in 2016.

                                               Paccar Inc.

Paccar Inc., the world’s third largest medium and heavy duty truck maker in 2011, so far has minimal exposure to China. Some sales are handled through Daf NV in Holland. Paccar has focused its attention elsewhere, namely South America.

In October 2013 unveiled the first truck – a Daf XF 105 – built at its new plant in Ponta Grossa, Brazil. This $320 million investment in a local facility is capable of building 10,000 trucks a year. The plant then had 100 employees but is scheduled to have up to 500.

Mark Pigott, Paccar’s chairman and chief executive officer, has said: “The 300,000-square-foot assembly facility on 569 acres is a high-technology, environmentally friendly plant that will assemble the premium-quality DAF XF, CF and LF vehicles.  The factory will build Daf trucks for Brazil and the South American market.  Our DAF dealers have invested in the newest and most modern distribution network in the country to support our growing customers.”

The Daf facility is intended to stimulate economic growth and contribute to an improved quality of life in the region.

“The above 6-tonnes truck market in Brazil is projected to be over 140,000 units in 2013, with further growth expected in future years,” noted Bob Christensen, Paccar executive vice president and chief financial officer at the time.  “The largest and fastest growing segment of the Brazilian truck market is the premium segment where DAF has launched its flagship model XF-105 vehicle.”

Will Paccar use its operations in Brazil as a model for China? The company is not familiar with working with JV partners on a long-term basis.

In April 2011, at Auto Shanghai 2011, it was reported that Paccar was evaluating the possibility of building and selling over-the road trucks in China. It was the first time the truck maker had participated; it displayed Europe-style trucks made by its Daf subsidiary.

“While Paccar declared it had no immediate plans to sell Daf trucks in China, although the Bellevue-based company expressed a hope to eventually find a joint venture partner among China’s 40 truck builders to build a truck for China,” noted Pigott.

Speaking then to the Press, Pigott said: “It’s the first time we’ve exhibited there, and we’re having more business at a couple of levels in China,” he said. “Growth areas include sourcing parts and assemblies from China, which has now reached $100 million a year and is ramping up quickly.”

Paccar sells bus engines in China, and had just won China’s “coach engine of the year” award for the fifth time.

While Paccar has long exported off-the-road mining trucks to China, trying to export into China’s competitive over-the-road market would be a different matter, as there are already has 40 truck companies, all government owned and all making trucks for the Chinese market.

“We’ve been in China for years, but now we’re getting enough of our own company infrastructure, and enough people working in China, and enough experience working in China, that it makes sense to bring in vehicles at this time,” added Pigott. “It takes several years to understand exactly what products are required, how our products would do, do our testing, do evaluation. Now it makes sense.”

Pigott declined to name a timeline about when a joint venture might be launched. A joint venture is required because truck building is one of five “protected” industries in China, according to Paccar’s chairman.

“We’re continuing to examine the possibility of a joint venture with a Chinese partner. We continue to have conversations, discussions and analysis with many of the Chinese truck manufacturers,” he admitted, adding that any trucks will have to be localized for cost and quality requirements.

Paccar said then it was considering trucks built in Brazil as being suitable for China because the cab-over design fits European standards widely used around the world; it is about 5ft shorter than the extended-hood Paccar and Kenworth trucks popular in North America.

So we shall see what happens next.                                      John Mortimer

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