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Future of High Quality Trucks in Saudi Arabia Bright


Trucks of world class quality are assembled in Jeddah. One of only two truck assembly plants in the Kingdom, Arabian Vehicles and Trucks Industry with just 65 employees three quarters Saudi delivers 650 Volvo trucks a year. Two years ago with just 35 employees, output was 350. In 2007, General Manager Imran Malik expects to pass the 1,000 level.

So rapidly is the demand for the trucks developing that a second assembly line is planned. The expansion of the market is set to continue as the demand for trucks will be driven by the huge construction projects of the Kingdom's industrial cities.

Nasser Bayram, director, commercial division, was confident about the future of high quality trucks in the Kingdom. "The initial cost of a truck is less than 25 percent of what you will spend on it," he said, "including fuel, maintenance and repairs over its life." The key calculation, he said, was the purchase plus running costs versus the residual value and, most importantly, the reliability of the vehicle during its working life. Fuel costs over the life of a truck are considerable and driver training plays a big part in determining this. "There can be a difference of 30 to 40 percent fuel usage between drivers," said Bayram. "We have a team of driver trainers who offer the service free. Our customers get free driver training." The spin-off is that the drivers use less fuel and are taught to drive large trucks safely. "We are not just a seller, we try to make the customer's business our business. That includes the man behind the wheel," Malik confirmed

The project started in 1999 when Volvo and Zahid Tractor teamed up in a 25/75 partnership and a start-up team visited the Kingdom to initiate the plant. A team of young Saudis was sent to Volvo in India to train on the assembly line and in the skills of assembly and some went on to Volvo in Sweden. So far has the project progressed that Volvo sends trainees to Saudi Arabia for training in the Gulf area.

"One of the things we focus on very much is developing Saudis," said Malik. When Volvo came in 1999, they were clear that they were not here to stay for the next 10 or 15 years. "It was always the local people that have to be trained; it is the same in other countries, so why not here?" The plant provides opportunities of good mechanical training for young men. Everyone starts on the pre-assembly line learning the basics of tool use and part naming. "They take to that very well because they see there is a pathway up the chain," said Malik. The supervisors and team leaders prove it; that is where they started.

"We also have special guys working here with speech and hearing challenges," said Malik. "They are given the same opportunities as others." One who started on the assembly line is now one of the team leaders in charge of building trucks.

Staff turnover is almost zero. Malik puts that down to the opportunities on offer for a career and the rapid expansion of the plant. Volvo trucks have climbed sharply to an 18 percent market share. The quality of the plant's output is audited along with all the other assembly plants around the world to ensure they produce to Volvo's assembly and safety standards.

Each truck is fitted with sensors that, as it nears completion, are linked by Internet to Volvo in Sweden. There, the accuracy of the build and conformity to standards are checked and, if met, confirmed.

If so, it can go anywhere in the world and be tracked and carries its history with it. "It's a sort of birth certificate for your truck and during its life, the records are updated as it is serviced and repaired," said Malik. "We are among the leaders when it comes to world quality. It is in fact simpler to get the quality right in a small plant than a big one because you can react quickly to potential problems."

The unit has one of the best assembly times in the world, 84 hours for a four-by-two truck, which is about 30 hours quicker than any other assembly factory of a similar size in the world.

Next to the assembly plant is a service depot. Malik saw that is very useful. "We often get the service department popping in to see how a truck was put together. It often cracks some servicing problem," he said. When the joint venture assembly plant was set up, it was placed next to the service centre for that reason.

With the Kingdom aware of the need to develop a post-oil economy, the assembly and distribution of trucks and possibly other automotive products holds tempting prospects both for the manufacturers and a whole generation of young Saudis with engineering aspirations.



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