The Internet of Transport
German component specialist BPW used the 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover, Germany, as a platform to showcase the company’s sprawling innovation drive and push the Tesla-fication of the transport equipment industry at large.
Much has changed at BPW, a modest, somewhat conservative German manufacturing business, since Carlo Lazzarini took on the mantle of Member of the Management Board, Sales Trailer Equipment & Solutions, in 2014.
Traditionally focused on the axle and suspension market, he helped the Wiehl-based family business finalise the transition into a modern full-service agency that is involved in almost every aspect of the commercial vehicle value chain – apart from assembling the actual truck or trailer itself.
Next to manufacturing axle and suspension systems, BPW is now also active in the telematics field and exploring the service and parts market, for example, making for a distinctly different brand experience that is more akin to Tesla or Google than an incumbent engineering firm.
With the expansion of BPW’s portfolio also came a notable change in language and attitude that has not only seen the company talk extensively about issues like digitisation or big data, but actively invest in the field. The ensuing business model has been centred on disrupting the status quo by acting swiftly and decisively and publically manifested itself for the first time in the guise of a new product line-up presented in Hanover. Global Trailer met Carlo Lazzarini at the Show to find out just how Tesla-fied BPW truly is.
Q: When we last spoke in the lead up to the 2014 edition of IAA, you said ‘leadership must heed the reinvention imperative’. How have you managed to reinvent the BPW brand since then?
A: As I said back in 2014, BPW has always understood how to balance a long and proud tradition with innovation leadership, so luckily I had a good foundation to build on. Since I arrived, my job has become more and more systemic in nature, helping BPW evolve from a product-focused business into a service-focused one. Today’s transport businesses are looking for a different kind of supplier, someone who can actively help them optimise transport and loading processes. OEMs, on the other hand, are looking for someone who can help them streamline production processes and professionalise. As a result, we created a two-fold strategy that helped us become a mobility partner for the fleet market, and a system partner for the OEM one. To me, that’s quite a comprehensive reinvention process.
Q: The language and technological focus of BPW have certainly changed in line with that evolution. Are we witnessing the Tesla-fication of BPW?
A: Not quite, even though I have to admit some of the Tesla mindset has certainly spilled over to us – especially the focus on disruption and driving our own agenda. Tesla is selling a technology mindset just as much as it is selling a product, and we’re certainly moving from a product focus to a technology and solution-based one, too.
Q: With much of BPW’s IAA presence revolving around electrification – you showcased a new type of wheel hub generator technology in Germany – the analogy seems especially fitting…
A: It does. While our focus was firmly on providing a holistic service offering that will assist a fleet on every level of operation – from component sourcing through to everyday fleet management – we also explored the concept of electrification again. Take our ePower wheel hub solution, which is particularly suitable for supplying power to refrigerated vehicles. Just one axle equipped with two wheel hub generators can generate enough energy during braking to cool a refrigerated box body. This could reduce diesel consumption by about 2,500 litres per year, and even with an additional battery to store the excess energy, we think it will turn out weight-neutral when compared to a diesel generator-based system. On top of that, we also unveiled eTransport, a new electric system involving axle, electric drive and energy storage that has been developed specifically for manufacturers of distribution vehicles. The drive is emission-free, recovers the braking energy and improves the manoeuvrability of transporters by actively supporting the steering.
Q: Haven’t we seen such a concept before?
A: It’s true, the concept isn’t all-new, we have only reawakened it. Electrification is a mega-trend that is now capturing the entire vehicle and logistics industry, so we needed to be part of the discussion. Inner-city work will become especially important in the future – we think by 2025 it will be more or less standard – and it’s here where we think our new technology will shine the most. Testing is already well underway.
Q: Are there any interim results? Does the system work?
A: Yes, we’re very proud of our engineering prowess and made sure we would only show technology in Hanover that was ready to work. While we’re very fixated on disruption and time to market, we also need to stay true to the BPW name, which stands for highest quality. That’s all I can say for now.
Q: So the old BPW as we know it is still alive?
A: Very much so. BPW is a long-standing family business with a strong corporate culture, which we intend to preserve. But we’re also in a time of change. We’re moving away from being a specialist for running gear to providing integrated transport solutions that will benefit our customers’ businesses as a whole. So what’s changing is our value proposition. BPW’s soul is the same.
Q: Speaking of value proposition – the new BPW is already well immersed in the big data debate. Where do you see telematics lead us?
A: Big data is a fascinating field with seemingly endless opportunities for the transport industry. But it’s not just about mining data, it’s about extracting the right data. That’s where our promise of being a full fledged mobility partner comes into play. We help businesses understand and apply data so they can operate more efficiently. A lot of our acquisitions over the past year or two have focused on giving us access to that kind of expertise. Now the challenge is to transfer our expertise to our clientele and make it all come to life. Only then will connectivity and digitisation really make a difference.
Q: In Germany, the term Industry 4.0 has become almost unavoidable in that context…
A: Not only in Germany, even though it’s especially prevalent here. We believe the fourth industrial revolution has already begun, along with the transformation of existing value chains and networks. Extensive connectedness now allows machines, warehousing systems, equipment and products to exchange information, prompting autonomous actions and enabling them to control one another’s activities. Already, everybody speaks about the Internet of Things. In the logistics industry, however, we rather call it ‘Internet of Transport’. We have even secured the term as a trademark for BPW since our strategic aim is to actively shape tomorrow’s digital logistics industry, thus helping our customer’s businesses to become better. The central promise of the Internet of Transport is complete transparency from supplier to customer, networked processes, and decentralised management, in addition to cost-effective small batch manufacturing and high numbers of variants. These goals can only be achieved with a digital supply chain shaped by big data, our logistics 4.0, if you will.
Q: In line with that, which role does autonomous driving play for BPW?
A: While our language has changed a little recently, autonomous driving is not necessarily part of our vocabulary just yet. Electric mobility and connectivity will be our key focus, which is also why we registered the name Internet of Transport. Logistics as we know it will change dramatically, and we think we have the perfect package to help our customers adapt. Be it by electrifying existing equipment or by providing the full suite of running gear technology, brakes, sensors and telematics.