European aspiration – Ecobat preparing for swift expansion of battery business
Manchester Batteries has come a long way since Harry Pemberton started the business in 1952. Now known as Manbat Ltd., the firm is a leading supplier of automotive and industrial batteries in the UK, and since 2009 has been a part of the Ecobat Technologies group, the world’s largest producer and recycler of lead. In order to extend the strong position Manbat has built up in Britain, Ecobat has consolidated it into a new company, Ecobat Battery Technologies. The new firm was officially launched last month at Automechanika Frankfurt and at IMHX 2016 in Birmingham.
With this entirely new entity, Ecobat says it intends to “offer a unique and comprehensive battery service across Europe.” As Myles Pemberton, marketing manager at Ecobat Battery Technologies, explained to Tyres & Accessories, Ecobat Battery Technologies is a consolidation of three very successful businesses – Manbat Ltd., Manbat France and Hefra. Manbat UK is by far the largest of the trio; Hefra is a formerly family-owned business based in Rotterdam that serves the Benelux markets, while Manbat France, the smallest of the three consolidated companies, has been active in the French battery market since 2009.
“We have big aspirations about going into Europe and expanding the business as quickly as we can,” states Pemberton, adding that the creation of Ecobat Battery Technologies was “a strategic development” that makes the business Europe’s number one battery partner. The official Automechanika/IMHX launch followed some 18 months of preparatory work, and the marketing manager anticipates that all aspects of the new company’s rollout will be in place by the start of 2017.
The European headquarters for Ecobat Battery Technologies is located in Solihull, southwest of Birmingham. Functions currently performed in offices belonging to the three regional businesses, such as purchasing, marketing, IT and finance, will be relocated to Solihull, and the team at the new site will grow over time. The Solihull central office is headed up by Philippe Desnos, who in August was appointed vice-president and managing director of the new pan-European entity. “Philippe is a strong aftermarket specialist with experience in a number of product areas,” comments Myles Pemberton. “He brings a great deal of automotive sector aftermarket experience with him; prior to joining Ecobat he served in a number of positions at Delphi, most recently as president of Delphi Product and Service Solutions, a post held since January 2014.”
Desnos’ career within the automotive industry began with his appointment as engineering manager at Lucas in 1995, and in a way his recruitment to lead Ecobat Battery Technologies brings him full circle – Pemberton states that Philippe Desnos has been tasked with expanding and rolling out the Lucas brand across Europe. “Lucas is going to be very important to us going forward. It’s a brand that Manbat UK took on some seven years ago. It was pretty much on its knees at the time, and we’ve rebuilt it to such an extent that the brand’s global owner has awarded us the licence for the whole of Europe.”
Sales of Lucas batteries at Manbat Ltd. have grown year-on-year and the brand has become a major player in terms of its aftermarket penetration for both the automotive and commercial vehicle markets. Yet despite its UK origins, the Lucas name is not confined to our island. Historically, the brand has been active across many other industries and on the global stage, and therefore Ecobat Battery Technologies views it as an extremely prominent brand that commands great influence. “Lucas has become our European group brand,” states Pemberton. “Pan-European business is a strong focus for the new company, and Lucas is the brand that will be used across Europe. While we previously sold small quantities of Lucas products in Europe, this will now be very much ramped up. It amazes me what a well-known brand it is, everyone knows and wants the Lucas brand.”
The elevation of Lucas to the status of Ecobat Battery Technologies’ European group brand doesn’t alter the company’s commitment to the numerous other brands it distributes. Numax remains an important brand for Ecobat in the UK and France, VMF will still be a very strong brand in Benelux, and the company will to continue offer the Varta, Optima Odessy and Sonnenschein brands in specific markets. As the marketing manager comments: “We still also have our house brands, these will not change. While we’re repositioning ourselves, we’re not changing.”
Indeed, Pemberton’s message to customers is to expect “business as usual” despite the creation of a new company. “Our independence is important to us and we’re not beholden to any manufacturer or brand, and this means that Ecobat Battery Technologies will continue to offer the same quality and the same service that we’ve built our company on since 1952. Ecobat Battery Technologies is a continuation of what we’ve done historically, and even though we’re keen to diversify into and look closer at other areas, such as leisure, marine, industrial and agricultural, our bread and butter will always be automotive and commercial vehicle batteries.”
The 4 C’s and Big 5 expansion
The marketing manager also stresses that Ecobat Battery Technologies is more than just a distributor of batteries: “Internally, we refer to the business areas we cover as the ‘Four C’s’ – conception, construction, circulation and collection.” In addition to its distribution arm, a team from the company works with battery manufacturers on matters related to battery design and construction. “Although we don’t assemble batteries ourselves, Ecobat manufactures most of the components that go into a battery, such as leads and polypropylenes.” The new company also offers a closed-loop recycling service that takes care of all workshop waste management requirements and ensures the most environmentally sensitive outcome for battery disposal.
At present, Ecobat Battery Technologies sells globally from its bases in the UK, France and the Netherlands, however Pemberton says the company is strongly focusing on expansion: “We want to expand our bases into the ‘big five’ European countries where we’re not already present, Germany, Italy and Spain. We’re very aware that we need representation there in the form of branches. We’re actively looking to grow our business base.”
The marketing manager confirms that talks with potential local representatives in these countries are already taking place. “Our preferred method of growth is acquisition, yet we’d also consider greenfield growth. Our new managing director’s focus is very much to expand the business throughout Europe as far as where our distribution hubs are. There will be announcements going forwards.”