Attenzione! Astra’s here to stay
Astra’s African footprint is spreading like wildfire across the plains and with a man like Andrea Ceccarelli lighting the fire there is no stopping this Italian truck manufacturer.
Italy: a land of beauty, friendly people and excellent cuisine. But Italy is also the origin of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known, which began in Rome and spread throughout Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. A little less-known empire, but Italian and far-reaching none-the-less, is that of Astra Trucks. An Italian truck manufacturer building heavy-duty commercial vehicles, aimed at tough-terrain industries such as mining, quarry and construction, has been available in Africa for many years and over the last four years made its presence known in South Africa.
And why is this Italian truck so well suited to South African conditions? “Our trucks are the right vehicles for severe applications,” says Autumn Star Trading, Astra’s sole importers and distributors in South Africa, CEO Andrea Ceccarelli. “Many companies in tough-terrain industries are currently using standard road trucks. These trucks are designed for road use, and are being used for off-road purposes. There is currently an 80% misuse of the vehicles, resulting in far higher maintenance, running and tyre costs than is necessary.” Astra trucks are different, in that although they can be used on the road, they are specifically designed for off-road conditions. “This makes our trucks far more cost-efficient for these purposes than most other trucks on the market,” explains a proud Ceccarelli.
Another special feature of Astra Trucks is that it is very flexible in terms of customising for clients’ specific needs. “Only 3 000 vehicles are made at the factory in Italy each year, so we are able to focus on making the specific adaptations our clients request,” Ceccarelli notes. 90% of the company’s vehicles are tailor-made for clients. One such client is the highly successful CMC Italy, a construction company responsible for the Gillooly’s Interchange in Johannesburg. “They currently own 800 Astra trucks, including tippers, truck tractors and specialised crane trucks,” says Ceccarelli. Other clients include Alltech, a Canadian company, and South Africa’s energy provider Eskom.
Astra is currently working on its dealer footprint, aiming for full coverage of Africa’s strategic points. In South Africa, Astra is looking to have three dealerships in Gauteng: in Pretoria, central Johannesburg and in the south (Wadeville). “Some 42% of business is done in Gauteng, and we want to focus on big construction and utilities companies,” explains Ceccarelli. There will be two dealerships in Mpumalanga: Middelburg will focus on coal with the Nelspruit dealership focusing mainly on timber. Natal will be home to dealerships in Pinetown and Richard’s Bay, servicing the timber, sugar cane and mining industries. There will be a Brits/Rustenburg dealership in the North West aimed at the platinum mining industry, and one in Kimberley in the Northern Cape targeting diamond mining. Other strategic points include Cape Town and Pietersburg (Polokwane), and there will be a service point in Bloemfontein. In the rest of Africa, Astra’s footprint spreads across the Savannah from Botswana to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Madagascar.
Ceccarelli himself is an energetic, yet dignified man. He explains the “culture” of Astra, as having “big engineering” behind the scenes, but the overall image of the truck is simple and reliable. This seems to ring true for him too, as behind his casual innocence and enthusiasm one can see an unstoppable mastermind at work: constantly thinking of what must be done next or who needs his help. Ceccarelli has lived in South Africa for 20 years and has an obvious passion for the motoring industry. He values South Africa for its massive potential for growth, and sees it as his home, with both his daughters having grown up here. Despite this being his new home, he tries to return to Italy once or twice a year to visit family there. “You just can’t make an Italian mama cross!” he exclaims with a characteristic chuckle.