Forging a Path Into Europe
Leading commercial vehicle wheel business Motor Wheel Service Distribution recently invested £500,000 in UK and European infrastructure in preparation for the “official launch” of its xlite range of forged aluminium commercial vehicle wheels. xlite wheels were “soft launched” some time ago, with Tyres & Accessories previewing the initial release back in April 2005. Since then the product range, branding, infrastructure and strategy have all evolved from what was initially a low level market trial into a Europe wide sales and distribution operation prepared to operate on the scale of the largest players in the business.
With over 80 years experience in the wheel business, Motor Wheel Service started out specialising in passenger car products, especially wire wheels. This business continues to this day, running out of the Motor Wheel Services International operation in Berkshire and company representatives still claim the ability to resurrect virtually any wire wheel back to its former glory. But now this wing operates as a distributor for the main part of the company’s business – Motor Wheel Service Distribution based in Manchester, which has been supplying commercial vehicle wheels for over 20 years.
Motor Wheel Service Distribution brings together three distinct divisions – MWS Wheel Systems, which supplies steel and forged aluminium CV wheels to OEM markets and first tier aftermarket distributors; MWS Aftermarket, which specialises in aftermarket sales and holds substantial stocks; and MWS Operations (formerly known as ACT Wheels), a fabricator and distributor of commercial truck and bus, industrial and construction industry wheels. To put the scale of the business into perspective, the Wheel Systems and Aftermarket divisions hold dominating 77 and 76 per cent shares of the domestic UK market place respectively. With this in mind, it is clear the company are aiming to bring the same degree of professionalism to the launch of the xlite forged truck and bus wheel range across Europe.
Half a million pounds of investment
Over the last 12 months, Motor Wheel Service Distribution reports that it has invested over £500,000 in securing what I calls “quality partners in each country,” in addition to its own distribution hub in Italy, in order to meet all the requirements of both OEM and aftermarket customers. As a result the company is now able to deliver anywhere in the UK or Europe within 24 hours.
Amongst other things, MWS’ “infrastructure” investment means hiring experienced professionals with specialist knowledge of the field including a couple of staff with previous experience at Alcoa. However, that is not to say that MWS and xlite are trying to poach market share from the small number existing competitors. Instead John Ellis, MWS managing director, points to market projects that show there is plenty of market to go round now and in the future.
One of the key developments in the recent evolution of xlite has been the brand itself. While the company has previously gone on the record as saying that everybody knows who they are (and with such high market share you can understand this point), the forged wheel concept requires a much higher level of awareness of this specific product. That’s the wheels are now promoted as xlite rather than MWS’s forged wheel line as the originally were back in 2005. This approach also makes room for the partnerships that will take place between MWS and distributors in the other key European markets, allowing them to feel comfortable giving the xlite brand their full support rather than MWS.
Here’s how managing director John Ellis summed up the recent developments: “Throughout the last year we have worked diligently with a number of key partners to ensure the product and the distribution network were working in sync, and now the time is right to officially launch xlite into the marketplace.”
However, as much as the distribution channel is key to the success of the xlite brand, there is also need for certain degree of product education as well: “The market itself understands the benefits of a forged aluminium wheel, such as extra payloads, improved mileage and reduced CO² emissions, but we must now take these messages one step further and show exactly how substantial financial benefits can be achieved by every operator,” Ellis explained adding: “We have set very high sales targets for the next financial year for both the UK and Europe, and given the product and the networks, I have every faith that these will be surpassed.”
xlite wheels are forged from a single aluminium billet using computerised numeric control (CNC) machinery. According to the manufacturer, TVS Group-owned Wheels India Ltd, this process offers a high degree of production accuracy and means the finished products are up to five times stronger and 40 per cent lighter than standard steel wheels. Those familiar with Wheels India won’t be surprised to learn that the forged wheels are produced at the company’s 41,000 square metre plant, which is set on a 29 acre plot in Padi near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. This plant, one of the company’s four factories in the country, is Wheel India’s main truck and bus wheel production facility.
MWS points out that product quality, something of paramount important to MD John Ellis, is very high, with the company not only achieving TUV accreditation, but actually engraving this on the individual wheels. And furthermore, MWS reports that it is the only aftermarket company in Europe to ensure all its wheels are homologated to OEM standards.
Xlite wheels are available in the most popular 17.5, 19.5 and 22.5 inch size and three finishes – machined, polished and xbrite – with the latter using a special coating which means lower maintenance and a lasting shine. Other added benefits common to all aluminium wheels include lower reduced vibration and longer wear on surrounding parts due to better heat dissipation.
Unique safety features include a hump on the bead seat, meaning a tubeless tyre sits more securely on the wheel rim, reducing the chance of tyre-shift due to air loss while driving and a groove at the bore that reduces the contact area and therefore minimises the likelihood of corrosion build-up.