Jack Roberts

Updated Mar 9, 2010

JackA global reach – a local touch

SAF-Holland thrives through vertical integration

The world has been shrinking for years. It seems strange that something happening in Shanghai, Mumbai or Munich can affect trucking operations in Nebraska, but that’s the way things are today. And I’m not talking about global upheaval; we all know how Iranian nuclear reactors or OPEC price-fixing can make everyone’s lives miserable in a hurry.

Rather, I’m talking about the trend toward vertical integration in the trucking industry. Pollution or safety standards in Europe or the United States eventually will influence the design and operation of trucks in, say, Australia, South Africa or China. It’s too expensive and difficult for global component and vehicle manufacturers to design a specific truck for buyers in each of those countries.

But don’t fret: Vertical integration is a slow process, and manufacturers have to be careful to offer new universal solutions – whether we’re talking trucks, engines, brakes, bodies or components – that perform as well or better than the solutions previously offered in each country. It’s a tough task, integrating different approaches to engineering and finding a solution that will make a fleet owner in Omaha as happy as his counterpart in Moscow.

One company that’s doing a fine job integrating international engineering approaches is SAF-Holland, a brake, axle and suspension manufacturer. American-founded Holland and German-based SAF share similar lifespans and corporate cultures, and both have expanded steadily in the heavy-duty industry since their separate foundings more than a century ago. When the two merged in 2006, corporate officers quickly discovered both companies brought highly complementary product lines to the table.

SAF was a leading European manufacturer of braking systems and axles. Holland had an impressive array of liftgates, landing gears and trailer suspension systems.

There was much work to do in integrating the two companies’ products into a unified system, but according to chief operating officer Sam Martin, those efforts have been successful, resulting in a market-focused company with core technologies managed from a global perspective – hence SAF-Holland’s motto, “A global reach and a local touch.”

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SAF-Holland now is working hard to capitalize on its successful merger and the innovative products it can bring to market. Chief among these are the company’s heavy-duty air disc brake systems. As president of group operations Steffen Schewerda notes, up to 75 percent of all trucks sold in Europe are equipped with air disc brakes. “SAF first entered the air disc brake market in 1998, and since then has sold more than 1 million suspension systems equipped with air disc brakes,” he says. “Thanks to our experience in Europe, SAF-Holland is now poised to play a key role in managing the North American transition from drum to disc brake technology.”

Other SAF technology also has migrated to North America. In February 2009, SAF-Holland began pilot runs at its axle plant in Warrenton, Mo. – the first new North American axle plant in 15 years, according to the company. Today, following an investment of $4 million, the plant has an annual capacity of 80,000 axles and currently is producing drum-braked axles and assembling disc-brake axles.

Another technology highpoint showcasing the best North America and Germany have to offer is the company’s new CBX40 fully dressed trailer axle. Available in drum or disc brake configurations, the CBX40 is almost completely outfitted with proprietary SAF-Holland components, including bearings and seals, hubs, drums or discs, slack adjusters and brake actuators.

“This axle requires only tires, rims and a brake control valve for installation,” Schewerda says. “It is a product we could not offer before the merger of SAF and Holland. But today it is a prime example of the complementary technologies and components we have brought together and will continue to produce, drawing on our experts from around the world.” n

JACK ROBERTS is Executive Editor, Trucking of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail [email protected] or call (205) 248-1358.