French evolution

Eighteen months ago, French OEM Chereau – a brand with a long and proud tradition in the design and manufacture of refrigerated transport equipment – became part of the newly formed ‘Reefer Group’, a holding established by Spanish private equity firm, Muira, in the wake of the Eurozone crisis.

In what is widely considered the most profound corporate restructure in the company’s history, Chereau found itself directly connected to Valencia-based rival and fellow Reefer Group affiliate, SOR Iberica – prompting it to reassess not only the product portfolio, but the very value proposition the brand was built upon.

The result is a refreshed, more focused organisation, according to newly appointed CEO, Damien Destremau. “In joining the Reefer Group, both manufacturers have widened their scope,” he says, readily admitting that Chereau has pledged to stay clear of the Spanish market and vice versa. “Both brands are now positioned differently. A SOR trailer is simpler and generally has fewer technological features on board, for example, meaning it is also less expensive.”

Chereau, meanwhile, has developed a distinct technological edge with a strong focus on data management and telematics integration to differentiate it from the new sibling and react to unmet industry demand: According to Destremau, providing “clever solutions” that benefit the driver in the field is not enough anymore in the digital age, with more and more fleets now demanding real time updates on key metrics such as load temperature and door lock status.

Before focusing on data delivery, however, Chereau first set out to create the right technological back end, using multiplex wiring – a technology that debuted in luxury cars some 20 years ago – to improve both the communication between sensors and  the link between truck and trailing unit, allowing data to be delivered right to the dashboard, without having to exit the vehicle. “In developing this system, we focused on the combination in its entirety, covering everything from safety and connectivity through to ergonomics,” he explains – pointing out that it is now possible for the driver to get an update on the fridge status via the existing truck dashboard.

To make such a high degree of integration possible, he says Chereau reached  out to all European truck OEMs, with Scania, Volvo and Daimler already on board, and the rest likely to follow soon. “The multiplex wiring allows us to show the temperature inside the trailer and in any separate compartments there may be. Set points on the cooling machine can also be shown,” he says.

“But that’s just the beginning. We’ve created a much more complex interface connecting truck and trailer in real time. If the tailgate isn’t closed properly, for example, the driver now receives a warning signal and the truck will apply the brakes, making driving off impossible. The system also checks on the rear doors and, of course, the number of door openings during the trip. When it’s time for the fridge to go to maintenance, the driver also gets a warning, as is the case when the level of fuel for the cooling engine gets low.”
Chereau’s powerful, yet-to-be-named black box is mounted at the front of the trailer, just below the cooling engine. No separate connection with the truck is needed, just the standard, existing 15-pin electric cable. To further set the brand apart from SOR and the European competition, Destremau says more features will follow soon.

In combination with SOR’s ‘no-fuss’ approach, he adds the two companies now cover the entire spectrum from entry-level through to highly specialised, custom-built equipment. “There is a significant number of customers that already have both makes in their fleet, which goes to show how well they complement each other,” he says – proudly pointing to the fact that the Chereau brand is often compared with Bentley or even Rolls Royce, especially in France.

The realignment under the new holding has been timely, according to Destremau, who says Europe’s refrigerated trailer market is well and truly back in expansion mode. “In France, the share of refrigerated equipment in the overall fleet has risen from 12 to 18 per cent, and we believe globally the cut is somewhere between 12 and 15 per cent now.”

Acutely aware of the cyclicality of the market, Destremau says now is the time to react. “The European fridge trailer market used to be about 22,000 units strong, and no one was complaining. For some three years now, it’s gone to 28,000 trailers, and it looks like the trend will continue in the years ahead, so we need to make the most of this stability.”
With the ability to produce up to 17 trailers per day in factories located across the picturesque Normandy region, Chereau customers are currently facing delivery times of up to three or four months, Destremau says. What they receive is a uniquely French unit with almost 50 per cent of all parts sourced locally – a fact that is increasingly valued outside of France, too. Nearly half of all trailers produced in France are now exported to other European countries, mainly to Italy and other southern neighbours, making for a record 22 per cent annual growth rate in the export department.

Even though sales in Germany and Spain have slowed of late – either due to strong local competition or a deliberate refocus – Destremau says small, often-underrated economies like Portugal are now on the rise again. Additional overseas growth is meant to come from a new focus on the rigid truck market, enabled by the acquisition of a Spanish body building company specialised in light-duty equipment.

Also high on the agenda is the future of the diesel engine, with France planning to ban carbon fuel burning vehicles from the country by 2040. Destremau says this will also impact cooling engines on refrigerated trailers, but won’t share his strategy to handle the transition. “The current situation is much like a brainstorm,” he says. “All options need to be studied, and we’ll have to see where they get us.”

Until then, it’s all about Chereau’s evolution into a high-tech, upmarket brand, he adds – but only to a degree. According to Destremau, the brand will continue to focus on making the driver’s job as simple as possible, and only bring technology to market that can provide real value in everyday life. After all, being part of the same family as rival SOR Iberica doesn’t mean the competition has stopped.

Fast Fact
With an estimated market share of 10 per cent, Chereau is the best-selling refrigerated trailer brand in France, according to CEO, Damien Destremau. In 2016, the company reportedly produced some 3,900 units.

Fast Fact
Chereau is planning to launch an improved version of its ‘Smart Open C’ roller door soon. “When the driver opens this back door, the LED lights in the trailer click on, while the cooling engine immediately shuts off, in order to keep cold air inside the trailer as long as possible,” explains CEO, Damien Destremau.

Fast Fact
The final name of Chereau’s new data integration system will be revealed at the Solutrans trade show in Lyon in November 2017.

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