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SAF-Holland talks vocational markets, evolving product lines and managing supply

Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 15 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

SAF-CBXAS23-AeroBeam-1400

If conventional wisdom prevails: Vocational trucking segments are poised for a breakout year. With huge truck order demand and an infrastructure bill in the works, the trucking industry expects strong vocational application business going into Q3 and Q4. But, you don’t just have to take my word for it.

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“We’re very bullish on the market, and I see a strong specialty trailer market,” said Bill Hicks, trailer suspension and axle product manager for SAF-Holland, during a virtual press conference to announce SAF-Holland’s new CBXA AeroBeam Series of fixed frame suspensions. The lightweight CBXA AeroBeam Series line of fixed frame air suspensions includes 23K, 25K, and 30K pound capacity models. During the Q&A portion of the event, Hicks and SAF-Holland’s new Vice President of Sales (Americas), Randy Flanagan, fielded questions ranging from product to market to the current supply chain environment. Here’s what they had to say.

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More on the specialty market

“With COVID, everything dropped [in Q2 of last year], and then in the fall of last year van and reefer orders absolutely took off, but the specialty segment was lagging,” Flanagan said. “Flatbed manufacturing struggled for quite a while. On the other hand, you would have a hard time buying a brand new van or reefer before the end of 2021; a lot of backlogs are into the first part of 2022 already.

“What we are seeing now is home building starts are taking off, as well as a lot of home improvement happening,” he continued. “There’s a lot of lumber products and things of that nature that are moving well. The specialty segment is coming back. Because it was down during COVID, it’s going to have a much greater pent-up demand going forward and be able to sustain itself.”

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On infrastructure investment

The infrastructure bill conversations continue between Congress and the White House, but it’s likely that the country will see infrastructure investment in some form or fashion this year. Provided the money comes rolling in, it could be a boon for the vocational markets.

“That is going to play a big role with hot asphalt tanks and pneumatic bulk tanks that haul cement and dry products. Also benefiting will be dump trailers and flatbeds that haul steel and girders for bridges,” Flanagan said.

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Those are all applications that the newly-announced SAF-Holland CBXA AeroBeam Series fixed frame suspensions aim to serve.

On working with the supply chain

Microchips might be getting all the supply chain challenge headlines, but many commodities are seeing the strain of increased demand. It’s a good problem to have compared to lack of demand, but it presents challenges for a supplier like SAF-Holland who rely on their own network of component suppliers. Flanagan explains how the company is working through these issues:

“We’ve all heard about microchips on the trucks; we actually have chips in some of our components, sensors in our fifth wheel and other places for example. So chips are becoming an issue for us,” he said, explaining that supply issues aren’t just an SAF-Holland challenge, it’s an industry challenge. Those challenges go beyond chips to other materials that impact trailer OEMs that utilize SAF-Holland suspensions.

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“I spent the last three and a half years with one of the top van and reefer builders in our industry,” he said, “much of the supply chain is in distress. Wood floors right now are a very big concern in the industry for building dry vans, for example. … So, supply challenges are hitting from all directions.”

On meeting big product demand when supply is tight

“We are going to handle it just like everybody else—we are hiring as many people as we can,” Flanagan said. “In the COVID downturn we got lean. So, we’re hiring good quality people back in, we’re training them. We’re making sure our sourcing is robust so that we can bring in all the components.”

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Flexible product offers will also help SAF-Holland meet trailer OEM demands as orders continue to climb. Consider SAF-Holland’s fully dressed wheel end, like its P89 air disc brake.

“A disc brake is a fully dressed wheel end, which means the trailer manufacturer does not have to have its workforce assemble all the bearings, seals, hubs, drums and other components, although we also have fully dressed axles in a drum brake configuration as well,” he said. “We can take some of that work out of the trailer manufacturer’s portfolio. It allows the OEM to utilize their labor to build trailers instead of building suspensions.”

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On the eventual end of the CBX product line

Hicks made it clear that the CBXA would replace the current CBX suspension offering, but that it would happen over time.

“The CBXA is a new update, obviously, from a standpoint of the beam design and for weight, and yes, we are targeting the lightweight customers from flatbeds and standard-duty tanks,” Hicks said. “However, we also understand that in the specialty market, it’s a broad portfolio of applications. We’re not forgetting the heavy-duty to moderate-duty series.”

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