Kässbohrer: A legacy of innovation

Having a look at Kässbohrer’s long history, there is one constant that has stood the test of time – a rare combination of sensitivity and sagacity, involving unremitting attention to the economic landscape and a profound understanding of the wheelwork behind it.

Acquired over the course of a whole century, Kässbohrer’s business intelligence has become an asset in its own right, emphasised by a deep determination to lead the way in modern engineering instead of just following the crowd. In that sense, Kässbohrer is nothing like a settled, 120-year-old business. To some, a history of success may be a good reason for complacency, but in this case, you come to think that one accomplishment stimulated the next. 

If you ask Kässbohrer’s in-house marketing expert, Ayşenur Nuhoğlu, today’s trailer industry is more professional than ever before, also because there is a whole new attraction to the old articulated semi in the wake of the EU’s expansion to the east. “Our engineers are driven to transcend the ordinary,” she explains – retaining a firm expression on her face saying she is not just repeating a marketing phrase.

Some say that Ayşenur Nuhoğlu, just like General Manager, Gökhan Vergon, or fellow Marketing Manager, Mehmet Onen, represent the next generation of senior management. They are part of a new, hungry group of people that is dedicated to retaining the urge to innovate Karl Kässbohrer established in 1893, when he founded the eponymous company in the German city of Ulm. Reportedly, old Kässbohrer had a relentless need to forge ahead and be first, an obsession with quality down to the smallest screw.

Fast forward more than a century, and the German icon is owned by Turkish trailer giant Tirsan Treyler – a young, go-getting corporation that has the same drive to continue innovating, but with a charming, creative touch that has added a new facet to the business.

Despite that structural change, however, the ‘new’ Kässbohrer Fahrzeug GmbH still is the company that has gained a strong repute over the course of the last century, and Ayşenur Nuhoğlu – daughter of Çetin Nuhoğlu, Chairman of the Tirsan Board – has every interest in following Karl Kässbohrer’s vision and maintaining his heritage.

To join the old and the new, Nuhoğlu’s marketing team coined the term ‘enginuity’ – a buzzword combining engineering and ingenuity, or, as she has it, the best of both worlds. “Inspired by Kässbohrer’s long history, enginuity is what the business is all about. The right balance of engineering and ingenuity.”

Considering the dual heritage now tangible, Nuhoğlu’s neologism does make sense. Here is a long tradition of German engineering; there is a buzzing corporation that has taken Turkey – probably the world’s most promising marketplace – by storm and has successfully gone through a process of becoming a huge corporation without neglecting the old Turkish maxim of ‘business is personal’.

In fact, there is an old German tagline as well – ‘pushing the boundaries of engineering’ – and it too is still palpable in the business. It may be an old-fashioned expression at first sight, but it is suitable to a 1100-staff company that successfully united European know-how and Asia’s legendary mercantile tradition.

While Ayşenur Nuhoğlu’s marketing team is cautious to not confuse Kässbohrer and Tirsan, they seized the opportunity to re-think every aspect of the Kässbohrer operation – including product portfolio, research and development, marketing, supply chain management, and talent development – when the business joined Tirsan in 2002.

The result is a successful connection between the pulsating continent of Asia and Europe’s ever-growing manufacturing hub, Germany – albeit the official policy to focus on Kässbohrer only on the international stage. Most importantly, the result is growth.

“It was our goal to increase production capacity to 10,000 vehicles and to be one of the five biggest trailer manufacturers in Europe by 2010, and we have made it happen,” says Çetin Nuhoğlu, praising Kässbohrer’s new focus on resourceful engineering, or enginuity in short. By 2014, the company is expecting to sell 15,000 trailers a year, generating sales of €375 million in Europe alone. “In less than two years, we want to be one of the three biggest semi-trailer manufacturers in Europe, leading the way in the tank/silo and low-bed segment.”

To achieve that goal, Nuhoğlu has come up with a range of key performance indicators for the entire business, and introduced strategic planning meetings according to the Balanced Score Card Methodology, an analysis technique designed to translate an organization's mission statement and overall business strategy into specific, quantifiable goals and to monitor the organization's performance in terms of achieving these goals.

Most recently, Kässbohrer dedicated substantial R&D resources to the development of a new generation curtain-sided semi-trailer. The project, named Pro 2012, was meant to excel in the field of load security and safety, forcing the engineering team to re-design the acclaimed Kässbohrer chassis. The modular structure they created will now allow a flexible approach to customer requirements. The idea behind it all is the total cost of ownership (TCO), or best value, principle. “Price is not only different from cost, but price in fact is merely one element of cost,” says Nuhoğlu. “TCO is a mix of quality, service, delivery, and price. The result is a vehicle that will cost you less over time.”

In addition, Kässbohrer can now offer a wider range of optional extras, including a telematics system, dynamic ride height, aerodynamic improvement, or even a roof safety airbag, just to name a few.

According to Çetin Nuhoğlu, that approach – called ‘mass customisation’ in automotive lingo – will give the company an innovative edge. “The idea is to combine lean production principles with application-specific engineering,” he says, leaving no doubt there is more to it than just marketing talk. “While we can’t control the commodities market or raw materials costs, for instance, we can continue to push the envelope to lead the industry in trailer design – seeking out lighter and stronger materials that improve performance.

“At Kässbohrer we try to understand our clientele and provide a suitable transport solution rather than just sell a vehicle,” he adds. “We call it application-specific engineering. Our engineers are not just designing a new vehicle, but also interface with our clientele to understand what they really want to achieve out in the field. That also includes experiencing what the vehicle has to endure in real life.”

To create that link between the design department and the end-user, Kässbohrer is a strong advocate of real life testing. “We believe that rapid prototyping is key to fully understanding a new concept,” Nuhoğlu explains – revealing that every new model has to undergo rigorous testing before going to market. “Take the Pro 2012 project. We invested more than 55,000 hours of work into that one model, backed by 5,000 hours of simulation and 50 physical tests per trailer type. Total testing amounts to some three million kilometres for a vehicle like the Pro 2012.”

According to Nuhoğlu, that production principle is a good example of Kässbohrer’s historically grown sagacity. “One thing Karl Kässbohrer has taught us is that innovation does not mean pressure. Our take on innovation isn’t a frantic, activity-laden, false sense of urgency. It’s all about keeping the focus on the opportunity,” he says.

To young Ayşenur Nuhoğlu, Vergon, and Onen, the company’s recent success in the European market is proof that Kässbohrer’s cross-cultural conception has worked out well. The Turkish cherish history, so relating to Kässbohrer’s 120-year legacy was a natural process to the troika.

In fact, it may be just that open commitment to their dual heritage that has kept them ahead of the game. “I believe the key is to keep reviewing and updating traditional business practices in light of recent global events,” says Nuhoğlu.

To this end, Kässbohrer is better positioned to manage and navigate its way through an unstable economic environment. “To survive and thrive in an ever-changing global economy, it is vital to anticipate needs and proactively solve problems to aid our customers’ businesses to run better, smoother and more cost-effectively in the long term,” she adds, showcasing that special sense of prudence palpable all throughout the business. “Cherishing the Kässbohrer legacy is not just a project. It’s a way of being.”

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