Optibelt Group turns to India for growth
The Arntz Optibelt Group, the European market leader for drive belts used in industrial and commercial vehicle applications, is raring to enter the Indian automotive market, which this family-held German company expects to contribute significantly to its growth in this segment worldwide.
Automotive business presently accounts for a third of Optibelt’s sales, split evenly between OEM and aftermarket, but its share is growing rapidly. The company is a preferred supplier to carmakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Porsche, Seat, Skoda, Vauxhall, and Volkswagen. Its ribbed belts can be found on every Porsche 911, and will be standard equipment on the Panamera as well, Optibelt GmbH managing director Heinz Wilkening told Autocar Professional. Truck OEMs DAF, Kamaz, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, Renault V.I., Tatra, and Volvo; and busbuilders Evobus (Mercedes and Setra), Irisbus, and Neoplan figure prominently on its customer list, as do engine manufacturers Deutz, Lister Petter, Perkins, and Sisu Diesel. The company’s engine belts are original equipment on the D7E and D9B engines that power Volvo’s B7R and B9R coach and bus chassis around the world, and the former model uses its fan belts as well.
All the big names in agricultural equipment – AGCO (Fendt, Massey Ferguson), Case, John Deere, New Holland, and Valtra, – construction equipment manufacturers Caterpillar, Case, JCB, and Terex, and municipal and special-purpose vehicle makers Bucher-Guyer and Kässbohrer also use Optibelt products as standard equipment.
Going after the aftermarket
Optibelt Power Transmission India MD Torsten Seifried said the company’s top priority in India is to “crack” the independent aftermarket with its CarPower and TruckPower brands of V-belts, ribbed belts, and timing belts, even as it develops initial contacts with Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors, and Volkswagen into supply agreements and engages with other OEMs.
For this purpose it has devised what it believes is a unique strategy that will go into action in the next three months. The plan envisages Optibelt connecting with its end customers, in this case the repair workshops and the parts retailers, through a single intermediary layer consisting of carefully selected regional distributors.
“We want to be able to give each of our customers the best possible price regardless of his order volume, in complete contrast to our industrial business, where pricing is determined by how much the customer buys for the year. This will allow everybody, no matter how small, to buy from us,” Seifried said.
This, he pointed out, was not going to be possible if the company had to go through the three or four layers of intermediaries that constitute the supply chain of the independent aftermarket, since all its products are imported to begin with.
According to national sales manager Ujwal Muthal, the lean distribution strategy will use the replenishment model employed by Fleetguard Filters in India to amazing effect. One key advantage for Optibelt is that the foundation for this strategy already exists in the form of a central warehouse at its Höxter plant in North Rhine Westphalia where more than 9,000 belt sizes and variations are permanently in stock.
Automotive belts are a technically exacting, low-margin business in Europe, and Optibelt’s new factory in China focused on automotive product lines gives it the cost advantage to compensate for these low margins, Seifried said. The high-performance RBK ribbed belts, ZRK timing belts, and KBX banded wedge belts (kraftbands) are presently produced only in Germany, and the Marathon 1 and 2 series for cars and HCVs respectively in Northern Ireland.
The Marathon raw-edge cogged fan belts, the manufacture of which is highly labour-intensive, will now increasingly be produced in China. These are also the largest-selling variety in the automotive aftermarket, Seifried pointed out. In applications involving higher centre distances (up to 3m in road milling machines) between the drive pulleys and severe vibrations, Optibelt’s kraftbands, consisting of two or more single moulded cog belts combined side by side with a common tension cord layer and outer cover fabric, can transmit more power than two or more single belts because of the kraftband’s greater stability on the pulleys. The company’s capacity for this variety has been booked for the next five months despite the fact that a kraftband is far more expensive than a corresponding set of single belts, Seifried revealed.
Its ribbed belts represent the highest state of the art in automotive applications, allowing higher drive speeds and serpentine drives with smaller pulleys. This means a single belt can drive all the engine systems like generators and water pump. In fact, all European truck OEMs have shifted to ribbed belts for their engines, whereas most buses still use raw-edge cogged belts to drive the air-conditioning compressor and the fan, which are separated from the drive pulley by up to a metre, and subjected to extreme vibrations. Since the drive pulleys account for as much as 75 percent of the cost of the drive, the company’s high-performance belts allow engine manufacturers to use smaller-diameter and narrower pulleys, thus saving both cost and weight. “In the beginning it will be easier for us to play in the heavy commercial vehicle space, where customers are willing to pay more for better quality,” Seifried said.
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