Where eagles dare

The intermodal industry in the US, much like CIE Manufacturing, is set to expand and flourish in the 2020 decade, according to President and CEO, Frank Sonzala. The skeletal trailer specialist sees the name change as a positive first step towards bringing manufacturing back to the Land of Opportunity.

“We have learned that since we operate in a global economy, tariffs at 25 per cent, which equates to a ‘buy four and pay for five chassis’, is a sales deterrent. Also, we started to think of what else could hurt our sales besides tariffs: A natural disaster? War? Maritime shipping strike? Because of all these possibilities, we decided to shield ourselves from outside influences hampering our great product from the marketplace. Therefore, becoming a certified manufacturing company in the US was the best answer.”

In light of ongoing US-China trade tensions, among broader globalisation challenges from scrutiny on sustainability through to wider supply chain disruptions, it makes sense for CIE Manufacturing to protect its production interests by consolidating manufacturing domestically.

“Although we sold a record 45,441 chassis at a tariff of 10 per cent, it truly had its toll when it was raised to 25 per cent,” Sonzala said. “The trade war affected several products, our chassis were just one of them that was needed in the intermodal industry. Having this knowledge, our competition then raised their prices and did not invest in the infrastructure to satisfy the market’s needs. As a result, many chassis that should have been replaced never got bought and lead time moved out into 2020 from early 2019.”

To meet industry demand following domestic changes to its production processes, the forward-thinking team at CIE Manufacturing reinvented two factories (California and Virginia) during 2018 and 2019.

The OEM held a ribbon cutting ceremony in June 2019 to celebrate the opening of its South Gate, California, facility. This site expansion added more than 50,00 square feet (4,645 square metres) and another 50,000-plus square feet of additional parking space, while building houses offices for purchasing, human relations, finance and accounting, logistics, sales support and key executives.

The additional space enables the  manufacturer to improve and re-organise the legacy facility in South Gate to update and enlarge all offices, employee facilities and operations.  A modern, fully-outfitted IT department was added along with a technical centre training room and new production support offices. The CIMC IE parts department doubled in size and re-designed production lines can now produce a hundred 53’ chassis and a hundred marine and various other stock chassis per shift.

“We took those upgraded facilities and made them into a large volume fast track automotive type production line, capable of putting out 100 chassis per day per in an eight-hour shift at each plant,” Sonzala said. “In this process we changed the company name to CIE Manufacturing, Incorporated. CIE stands for ‘Chassis of Impeccable Excellence’.”
CIE Manufacturing’s shift from international reliance to internal resilience means that the OEM can focus on its own chassis production and distribution and still benefit from CIMC’s operations in China.

“We can buy from any country, source from the global supply chain, and manufacture in the US,” Sonzala said. “We are an American company – always have been an American company – and we are in the CIMC Vehicle Division, a publicly traded company on the Hong Kong stock exchange.”

The OEM’s reinvention has been met with a range of responses from clients according to Sonzala. “We have received many positive responses from all of our customers and most of our competitors’ customers, (who are angry because of that price gouging tactic), pledging orders from our ISO9001 Certified factories as soon as the first quarter of 2020,” he said. “They were very happy doing business with us as Intermodal Equipment and are anxious to continue business with CIE Manufacturing.”

Despite the change of name, the OEM’s Revere chassis line, first introduced in 2018, continues to be a standout product. Leading an intermodal evolution of sorts, the Revere chassis features components sources from the best in the industry, a KTL paint process reported to be ‘light years’ ahead of the competition, robotic welding for the perfect weld job on every chassis which means longer lasting equipment that can move more loads.

The Revere chassis can be fitted with Phillips uptime and electrical air package with the offer of a limited lifetime warranty on lights and harnesses as well as SAF-Holland landing legs, brake chambers and slack adjusters (10-year warranty), wheel ends with Accuride (10-year warranty), Hutchens Industries’ spread axle suspension and five-year warranty Bendix BECU and air valves.

“Since we launched the Revere specification in 2018, it has become our flagship product,” Sonzala said. “This premier product line is the lowest cost of ownership in the field and has the best ROI of any brand to date. Price is competitive, quality and durability leaves competitors’ products well behind our ISO9001 chassis of impeccable excellence.”

Looking to the future, Sonzala aims to remain a leader in chassis development and vows to “achieve 60,000 units off our production lines and replace every antiquated chassis in North America with a certified CIE Manufacturing Incorporated product” and “to be the best for our employees, customers, investors and for the US. We survived tariffs and going forward the future is bright and CIE will lead the way as always”.

About Frank Sonzala
Sonzala has been an active member of the trucking industry since 1983 where he started at International Transquip Industries (ITI), manufacturing Mini Max Springless Parking Brakes. After multiple ownership changes at ITI, by 1993 a trucker, who brought a tyre inflation system to meet ITI, showed him the product. The ITI owners at the time did not see the same potential that Sonzala saw, and in 2000, Sonzala became a vendor to CIMC in China for the PSI Tire Inflation System.

In 2015, Sonzala was asked to ‘put his hat in the circle’ for the CEO position at CIMC Intermodal Equipment (CIE). After many interviews and meetings, he was chosen over the other candidates.

After 22 years at PSI, Sonzala embarked on a career with CIE on 1 March 2016 and ushered the OEM into a new era following this year’s rebrand ‘CIE Manufacturing, Inc, effective 28 January 2020.

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