A spark of hope

From the September 2019 issue.

The dire economic state of Russia is influencing how prominent OEMs in the region conduct business. Tonar, despite tremulous market conditions, is committed to manufacturing flexibility and equipment reliability without compromise.

Tonar is one of the biggest trailer builders in Russia but 2019 is not looking as optimistic as 2018 according to General Manager, Denis Krivtsov. He explains that the Russian economy is stagnating, with less than one per cent of growth year-on-year.

While infrastructure projects such as the Crimean Bridge have been completed, there is nothing currently in the country’s engineering pipeline that compares. Expected works such as highspeed rail from Moscow to Kazan and a bridge to Sakhalin seem to be in a holding pattern until the Government allocates funding.

“There are also number of local factors influencing the Russian market,” he says. “The energy export ban to Ukraine via Russia has caused a collapse in the coal mining sector – coal transportation reduced consequently and the suppression of the forest trade with China has put a stop to the sales of timber trailers which were booming over the past few years.”

So far, Krivtsov confirms that commercial vehicles dropped by about five per cent this year.

In January-April 2019 the Russian new trailer and semi-trailer market increased by 5.1 per cent on the same period as 2018 and amounted to 9.23 thousand units, according to Russian Automotive Market Research. For the reporting period Tonar sales grew by 56.9 per cent and amounted to 0.91 thousand units.

That five per cent growth in the Russian trailer market, according to Krivtsov, is a statistical anomaly.

“People buy more new trailers instead of used ones from Europe, their import was banned in April 2019,” he says.

“If the import of new and used trailers are combined then the trailer market is also technically decreasing.

“Tipping semi-trailers suffered the most, as usual. Curtainsiders and container chassis are growing, though. The winners, though, are those Russian companies that replace imported trailers – Tonar is one of them.”

Despite collapsing market conditions, Tonar is well placed with the production of around 1,500 trailers. If these conditions remain the same, Krivtsov expects to see a total production run of around 3,000 trailers by the end of the year. “We produced 170 curtainsiders in April 2019, which is our best result so far,” he says.

In addition to manufacturing a diverse range of trailing equipment, one of Tonar’s specialities is producing tipping semi-trailers.

“When most of the companies around the world were developing light vehicles, Tonar – since its foundation – has been developing more and more heavy trailers as there were no real weight control on the roads and the market demanded the transportation of larger volumes,” Krivtsov says – explaining that the in the past few years this situation is changing and more road freight operators are opting for legal transportation. “Most of our recent developments aim to reduce trailers weight and increasing legal payload capacity. It is a challenging task, when you consider tough road conditions and careless road freight operators running the risk of overloading. In more recent times, Tonar has developed a full range of light tippers for different materials made of aluminium and SSAB’s Hardox steel, with three- and four-axle variants. In combination with 6x4 or 4x2 prime movers they perfectly match Russian road regulation to assure maximum payload.”

Beyond Russia, Tonar exports trailers to ‘hard working’ countries such as Western Africa and the Middle East – countries, according to Krivtsov, that understand what a real overload is. “Standard European equipment simply does not work in these areas long-term,” he says. “Tonar fully utilises its experience with developing trailing equipment that is specified for rigorous use under difficult conditions.”

Krivtsov also compares the European and Russian markets. “The economy of united Europe is huge and quite stable, so the main players are focused on mass production of their main models, like curtainsiders and reefers for example,” he says. “Specialisation helps to increase productivity and efficiency a lot, making them unreachable for others. It’s the opposite in Russia. Everybody is trying to increase their product range in multiple directions to remain competitive. Specialisation for Russian OEMs is generally too risky.”

One of the greatest challenges for road transport operators in Russia is that there is a massive concentration of the population (approx. 150 million) in the west but the main natural resources are found in the east.

“Rail is, of course, playing a major role in the transportation of resources, including chemicals and metals, over long distances across the country – its turnover is almost 10 times that of road transport,” Krivtsov says. “At the same time, though, road transport can cart more cargo by weight tenfold. “For fresh food and consumer goods road transport is probably the only option regardless of distance.”

More and more industrial goods are being transported via curtainsiders from the east to the west of Russia, Krivtsov says, whereas fresh food is being sent the other way. “So, for curtainsiders and reefers it is becoming more difficult for these
vehicle operators to efficiently manage return loads.”

In Russia, the more you transport, the more you earn. Tonar builds road train combinations to satisfy the operational requirements of ambitious businesses looking to maximise their payload gains.

Krivtsov says that public roads can limit road transport possibilities due to regulations however, on private roads, operators generally have more freedom, and a good engineer can see them rise above their competitors.

“We can see that more and more mining companies in the world need long distance road transport,” he says. “Tonar recently completed a project in Siberia where a road train is used to transport 130 tonnes of diamond ore along a 178-kilometre route one way. There are many long uphills with a maximum gradient of 14 per cent, and there are steep declines where the proper use of a retarder is required. Ambient temperatures in this zone can reach -60°C.”

This Tonar road train combination, specifically developed for the mine project, comprises a 6x6 prime mover with Cummins QSK19 engine, Allison 6000 series transmission, B-double trailers with 130-tonne payload on Tonar 25-tonne axles and IPH hydraulics.

Tonar manufactures in-house under a 50,000-square-metre roof and does everything from cutting steel to trailer assembly and painting. Krivtsov says the OEM even produces its own axles.

“We have a strong and dedicated engineering group of 50 people, which enables us to bring new products to market with relatively short lead times.

“Tonar has invested considerably in robotic and automatic production. Generally, robots that operate in a serial production line are configured to produce the same trailer model over and over. Tonar has so many different models in its range that we often see completely different trailers on the same production line. All suppliers of robot equipment were quite sceptical about our chances to automate at the production level with so many models, but we surprised them all. I’m really proud of our production flexibility.”

In addition to bringing innovative trailers to market, Tonar is equally committed to ensuring its customers receive the best value when it comes to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

“TCO is more than just mathematics,” Krivtsov says. “It encompasses the customer experience as a whole.

“I started at the company 15 years ago as a purchasing manager. To build a good trailer you need world-class components and at that time you can only import them. Most of the suppliers back then didn’t have any representatives in Russia and we travelled a lot all over the world. It was a good chance to compare different sales approaches and cultures in different countries. 

www.tonar.info

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