MWSD expanding into Germany with forged aluminium truck wheels

Wednesday 24th August 2016 | 0 Comments

Operations director Matthew Mardle and technical director Kevin Ryan intend to focus on the new German company’s expansion
Operations director Matthew Mardle and technical director Kevin Ryan intend to focus on the new German company’s expansion

Motor Wheel Service has been active in the wheel industry for more than eight decades, and for the past 35 years has concentrated on the distribution of commercial vehicle wheels under the name Motor Wheels Service Distribution (MWSD). Whilst the initial focus was on steel wheels, around a decade ago the Manchester-based company decided to explore the forged aluminium wheel market in cooperation with the manufacturer Wheels India. Today MWSD distributes the latter’s Xlite and Xbrite+ ranges as well as its steel wheels. The MWSD board of directors has now, as operations director Matthew Mardle explained in an interview with Tyres & Accessories, decided to establish a new company in Germany at the start of next year. The aim of setting up shop in Germany is to enable MWSD to significantly expand its aftermarket distribution in continental Europe and then use this in the mid-term to establish original equipment partnerships with truck trailer manufacturers.

The forged aluminium wheel market was still in its infancy when MSWD decided to enter into this business around a decade ago. Only US firm Alcoa Corporation had the requisite expertise to establish a name for itself in this market, and it was later joined by Speedline (part of the Ronal Group since 2007). Since then, these products have gained a considerable share of the market thanks to their lower weight, greater stability and more pleasing aesthetics – precise market figures are not available, however, as neither MWSD nor its competitors share details pertaining to percentage share.

MWSD’s decision to jump on the forged wheel bandwagon so early on was somewhat coincidental, as Kevin Ryan explains. The technical director has worked for MWS Distribution Ltd. for almost 30 years and knows the company’s history like the back of his own hand. At the time the company began distributing commercial vehicle wheels more than 35 years ago, its commercial relationship with Wheels India Ltd (WIL) was already decades old, albeit centred on the distribution of spoked rims for classic vehicles. After WIL entered the commercial vehicle wheel segment, the MWSD management team saw great potential for these products in the UK market – and decided to branch out into this field.

The Indian wheel manufacturer is part of the TVS Group and one of the world’s largest wheel manufacturers, and in the financial year ending 31 March 2016 achieved a turnover of Rs 20.18 billion (£226.29 million). MWSD started distributing steel wheels produced by Wheels India into Europe and the UK in the early 1980s, and was the first European client when the Indian company began manufacturing forged wheels for trucks in 2005; today it is the exclusive distributor of these products in Europe, as well as in Turkey and Russia.

After more than a decade in the forged truck tyre business, MWSD is now limbering up to take the next stride towards further growth, and is drawing upon its extensive experience in the British market for this. Matthew Mardle – who joined MWSD in March from Giti Tire Europe, where he was European supply chain director and general manager for Germany – and Kevin Ryan consider the company firmly established in the British market thanks to its supply agreements with virtually all UK trailer manufacturers as well as its distribution partnerships with major tyre chains such as Michelin subsidiary ATS Euromaster, and with truck manufacturer-operated service centres. MWSD doesn’t deliver wheels directly to truck makers for use on their production lines, however.

A strong product, a strong brand and a strong tyre dealer network that is capable of satisfying fleet demand for replacement products and servicing is vital in order to gain broad acceptance as an OEM. This is in turn strongly influenced by replacement demand within the market. Companies wishing to achieve a breakthrough on both ‘fronts’, in the original equipment and aftermarket, need to approach this in a step-by-step manner. For MWSD, the next step will be taken in Germany.

MWSD offers Xlite (pictured) and Xbrite forged truck tyres in various finishes – here in mirror polished; all offer advantages in weight and stability, as well as a better appearance

MWSD offers Xlite (pictured) and Xbrite forged truck tyres in various finishes – here in mirror polished; all offer advantages in weight and stability, as well as a better appearance

While MWSD has offered the Xlite and Xbrite+ ranges via resellers in Germany’s aftermarket for some time now, by establishing its own firm it aims to substantially expand its presence in the German aftermarket and then, in the medium-term, establish a foothold with major trailer manufacturers. Mardle describes both ranges as “premium-quality products,” adding: “We have great confidence in these products, they offer real added value with our premium range.”

What is now planned? The new limited liability company will be founded on 1 January 2017 and will be named MWheels GmbH; its headquarters will be located near Cologne. Matthew Mardle shares that the new firm will initially employ two or three people who will deal with market-related matters and look after potential customers. These new employees are primarily tasked with establishing contact with networks and larger retail chains, as well as with independent specialist truck tyre and wheel dealers – companies that, in Mardle’s words, “want to jointly and strategically develop the business.” MWSD’s intention is not just to deliver wheels, rather to develop a close business relationship and cooperation over the long term.

The forged wheel business will be the new company’s focal point. The distribution of steel rims and complete wheel units, such as those MWSD produces in the UK as service provider for several tyre and trailer manufacturers, won’t be the new company’s focus in the near future. While the new German company will be a 100 per cent subsidiary of MWS Distribution Ltd., its warehouse logistics and thus its supply capability will be managed by third-party logistics providers in Germany.

As the operations director points out, the supply of forged aluminium wheels requires all parties involved to possess the necessary know-how. For this reason, MWSD intends to assist its German distribution partners by providing extensive technical training and supplying them with materials and services to support sales. The aim is to develop the brand, brand awareness and the market together and, when looking at the big picture, “develop the business together” through a “slow, strategic and sustainable” approach.

When examining the fundamentals of forged truck tyres, the necessity of close partnership between retailers and service providers becomes clear. For example, while the average steel rim weighs around 41 kilogrammes, Xlite and Xbrite rims are, at 24 kilogrammes, some 40 per cent lighter. In comparison, cast aluminium rims weigh at least 30 kilogrammes. At the same time, a laborious production process utilising high-strength aluminium, a specific heat treatment and post-production using CNC milling machines gives forged rims considerably more strength – the talk is of a fivefold strength advantage over conventional steel rims. And – this is a key point, an argument for which dealers need to be schooled in – forged rims are also around four times more expensive than the same-size steel rim. Yet this sizable price difference pays off for many trucks, as forged rims provide the opportunity to transport additional paid loads while saving fuel thanks to the 15 kilogramme per wheel weight saving.

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