Powerful backing for the Powerstar
The decision by China North Industries Corporation (Norinco) to take over Powerstar bodes well for the future prospects for the brand in Southern Africa.
By taking over the assets and distribution from the Super Group, the giant Chinese vehicle manufacturing conglomerate has also made a formidable investment in the country – the kind of commitment fleet operators like to see.
Norinco is one of China’s most powerful heavy industry enterprise groups. In China, it manufactures a variety of vehicles including trucks, cars and motorcycles. It is the parent company of Beiben, the manufacturers of the Powerstar.
The name Norinco is well known in America where its products are so popular that there have been calls for measures to protect local manufacturers. What’s more, according to FleetOwner and American newspaper reports, American truck manufacturers have been warned that if they don’t come up with a truck designed for African conditions and at half the price the Chinese and Indian manufacturers demand for less sophisticated trucks, they can say goodbye to this part of the global market.
The Powerstar concept has a European pedigree and a good one. It is the kind of truck many operators want and can afford. It is the type of truck some first world OEMs are now trying to emulate for developing nations in collaboration with other Chinese manufacturers.
The entire driveline components are based on original European designs and are since manufactured by Weichai and Fastgear, two fast growing and leading manufacturers in China.
This engine technology makes for efficient running (direct injection, turbo-charging and inter-cooling), meaning it stays clear of sophisticated computer electronics that can cause complications and additional expenses in relation to maintenance and repairs.
The vehicle has been used by transporters in countries with terrain and conditions similar to those in South Africa. Operators in Iraq, Ethiopia and Nigeria have praised both the performance and simplicity of the vehicles, while the United Nations and the Chinese military have also employed the Powerstar as their commercial vehicle of choice
Enhanced over the past decade to benefit from even more fuel-saving engine technology, the Powerstar can be said to have a head start on the new models OEMs are being advised to design for Africa.
Norinco’s controlling interest in Powerstar is reflected by the composition of the new board of the company, but the sales and marketing team has been left in the capable hands of South Africans who are well known in the truck market and who know the market well.
President and chief executive officer Frans Cloete worked for many years for Nissan Diesel SA, Iveco and Toyota – the two Japanese truck manufacturers having introduced trucks for South Africa based on what they call “appropriate” technology, which explains the popularity of Japanese trucks in SA.
The takeover means Norinco now owns the investments made in property, including the assembly operation for the Powerstar in Pietermaritzburg, which employs about 50 people, the parts and vehicle structure and technical support.
Following the Norinco takeover and restructuring of the company, Cloete has established a formidable team. The team consists of marketing manager Erwin Stolze, who is also in charge of dealer development, and more recent operational appointments include Frans Calitz, head of after-sales, Derick Vorster, head of sales, Fil Morkel, head of retail and Gerhard Harzenberg, head of assembly operations.
Asked for comment on the American news reports, Cloete reiterated that the Powerstar was an “appropriate” vehicle and the right concept for Africa, but more important to him than price, was the need to add value.
“Pricing is the last thing that worries me. Our total focus will be on delivering the right quality consistently and provide needed value add. So yes, we will address the areas of warranties, maintenance, finance and other parts of the package that customers are demanding. In this respect we are going to prove ourselves.”
The Powerstar is available in various configurations in 209, 261 and 313 kW (280, 350 and 420 hp) engine options. According to Cloete, it is ideal for short and medium haul, on-off highway applications in the construction and quarrying industries. The vehicles are backed by a 12-month/100 000 km warranty on the vehicle and a 24-month/200 000 km warranty on the driveline.
Also included in the takeover is Powerstar’s smart and highly visible head office in Jet Park that houses a staff of approximately 40 and the local dealership network, with dealers in Centurion, Cape Town, Ermelo, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia as well as several service agencies located around the country.
The ambition of Cloete and Stolze is to expand the dealer network to cover the entire sub-Saharan region. This means that by the time the American and European OEMs get their truck designs (and prices) right for Africa, they may well find themselves running into Powerstars all over the place.