Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Bernd Rhein – BPW
In China, a thriving hotspot for semi-trailer production has grown up in the city of Liangshan. One in six of the country’s trailer manufacturers is based there. BPW has established itself as a key supplier.
The industrial buildings are tightly packed into the area where around 200 out of the 1,200 trailer manufacturers in China have converged on just a few hectares of land in the east of the country. Liangshan’s ‘trailer city’ began taking shape in the province of Shandong from 1990 onwards. The location offers an ideal infrastructure with its links to high-speed rail lines, motorways and China’s most important water transport route on the Huang He River. Manufacturers have set themselves up in this hub to supply vehicles to the country’s transport industry. The concentration of companies brings with it numerous advantages: the location attracts many skilled professionals who are much needed in production, for instance.
New laws for greater safety
BPW has established itself as a key supplier in the trailer city. In 1995, BPW KG set up a joint venture in China under the name BPW Meizhou Axle Co. Ltd. – giving it its own axle factory for local production. It is based around 1,000 kilometres from Liangshan. ‘BPW Meizhou works closely with Liangshan Yongli Trading Co. Ltd., a very well established dealer in Liangshan,’ explains Bernd Rhein, who is responsible for application consulting in the Vehicle Systems business unit. He visited Liangshan Yongli Trading a few months ago for a workshop looking at how legislative changes in China are affecting the transport industry. New regulations have been issued to improve road safety, including new rules guided by European legislation for disc brakes and air suspension in vehicles transporting hazardous goods. ‘China has recognised that modern solutions are essential in achieving greater safety,’ says Rhein.
The cooperation between Liangshan Yongli Trading and BPW Meizhou began in 2004 with the purchase of an initial small batch of BPW components. This decision was down to Jia Cunyong, the managing director of Liangshan Yongli Trading, who noticed that the ports in Shanghai and Ningbo were using BPW running gear, as were many high-end domestic logistics companies. He wanted to offer these products to his customers too, and got in contact. In-depth discussions then led to the idea of a partnership, which grew into a highly successful collaboration. Liangshan Yongli Trading’s sales have seen considerable growth since 2010 in particular – not least due to the strengths of the BPW brand and the support from the sales team at BPW Meizhou.
Raymond Huang (right) from BPW Meizhou sets great store by the trusting cooperation with the local partner in Liangshan. With 3,000 axles, the warehouse contains enough stock for around a month.
Flexibility and speed
According to Raymond Huang, member of the management team at BPW Meizhou, the success of Liangshan Yongli Trading is based on providing a comprehensive package of services for customers. The dealer offers flexible payment options and package prices for axles and other components, along with technical support. It has a sales network with its own salespeople and offers impressively fast delivery times – a standard axle will normally take just one day to reach the customer. ‘The company is an expert in local customs and traditions, has contacts and understands the local buyers’ concerns and needs,’ explains Huang. The customers speak highly of the sales team’s skills and knowledge in particular. ‘The team helps them to expand their business and provides the end users with a professional after-sales service that is able to solve specific usage problems on a consistent basis,’ says Huang. ‘The BPW brand impresses on the Chinese market with its outstanding product quality and has developed a reputation to this effect among users. Once domestic logistics providers have been convinced by the excellent performance and reliability, they rarely switch to other brands.’
150,000 axles per year
The production of standard and special-purpose vehicles in Liangshan began in the 1980s and the industry has enjoyed ever greater success since the year 2000. This has been aided by factors such as the expanding domestic economy, increasing urbanisation and the construction of motorways. On top of this, the public authorities in Liangshan invested the equivalent of almost 130 million euros in the development of an industrial estate, which was followed two years ago by another investment of 28 million in redeveloping the main street in the city and building an international conference and exhibition centre.
Around a third of all trailers sold in China annually are now produced in Liangshan. These require around 150,000 axles each year. BPW has a large market share: in 2017 around 38,000 BPW running gear units were sold in Liangshan, compared to around 50 in 2005. Despite this, business is still challenging in China: ‘The Chinese competition for semi-trailers is still tough,’ explains Bernd Rhein. BPW Meizhou is therefore focusing on greater product variety and continual optimisation of product quality. ‘One major advantage is naturally our expertise as BPW – local manufacturers cannot offer this,’ he explains. BPW Meizhou is in close communication with the BPW headquarters in Wiehl: ‘We work together closely at all levels in production, sales, application technology and engineering services – and this is a constant process.’
Several buildings in Liangshan feature advertising banners for the BPW brand, which has an excellent reputation in China.
Diverse transport conditions
China is a large country with extremely varied conditions for transport: while you encounter mountains, deserts and many unsurfaced roads in the west, the east and south are highly developed. ‘There is an excellent road network there and a very good infrastructure of airports and railways,’ reports Rhein. ‘It is all very modern and so European commercial vehicles also work very well there.’ The BPW running gear solutions provide the flexibility that is needed – for good and poor road conditions.
BPW’s network in China is very well developed and BPW Meizhou works with garages all over the country. With the support of BPW Meizhou, Liangshan Yongli Trading also provides on-the-ground customer training as a dealer, covering the products, installation and repairs, and has also recently set up its own training facility. Such activities help the company to underline its expertise in the field. Many of the trailer manufacturers in Liangshan are a long way from being able to offer this: ‘You could describe it as a very dynamic industry,’ explains Huang. ‘There are lots of small companies there too that do not have official approval. One of them will be shut down by the government every few days. This is in stark contrast to the larger, highly successful companies, which have increased significantly in number in recent years.’ They are concentrating on strengthening their brands, on technical innovations and, above all, on the quality of their products. The growing economic strength in China means that high-quality transport services are in increasing demand: ‘Growing numbers of tankers and special-purpose vehicles such as car transporters and low loader trailers are being bought,’ reports Rhein. Unlike in the past, the end users and large logistics service providers are increasingly focusing on a long service life and high reliability in such vehicles. They are therefore increasingly specifying higher-quality structures and consciously investing in strong brands.