Truck tractor trailers need to be more than just tough if they are to survive in Africa, writes Tristan Wiggill.

While overloading is a major problem on the North-South corridor, the general specification of exported trailers are not always altered, with the tyres and suspension largely the same as those whose use is confined to South African roads.

Many local trailer manufacturers supplying cross-border transport operators tend to stick to South African rules and regulations in terms of trailer length and weights, too, since many rules and regulations have to be met and police clearance obtained. This is according to Loutjie van der Merwe, marketing coordinator at Afrit trailers. His company exports a number of trailers into Africa and has an office in Namibia.

He says that, while trailer customers in South Africa are, to an extent, brand loyal – in the same way as they are to truck brands – they can be swayed with significant price cuts. But, despite this incentive, transport operators won’t necessarily put all their eggs in one basket, he explains, preferring to test different trailer brands in different operating environments.

In his experience, operators on this corridor prefer rigid-type trailers. He says there is strong demand in Zambia and other SADC countries for side-tippers. Containing manufacturing costs is proving to be a challenge for trailer manufacturers at the moment as steel, axles and spares used in their construction are all imported.

Afrit trailers are locally manufactured, cut and welded and the company has developed partnerships with various parts suppliers and specialist trailer workshops and mechanics, which are certified by the company to carry out repair work.

Van der Merwe says the used trailers business is doing well at the moment. Trailer manufacturers are beginning to offer in-house finance and insurance products to become one-stop shops, he adds.

The idea of a one-stop shop is already being echoed by the Midvaal Paramount Trailers branch, which has set up shop right next door to Chinese truck manufacturer PowerStar. Standalone Chinese trailer manufacturers continue to move in on the turf of established industry players.

Old school

“Generally, we make heavier, more durable trailers for cross-border operators to deal with road conditions and heavier loads, says Henred Fruehauf sales director Johan Serfontein. “We prefer to use older-design trailers with special channels and side rails for added robustness,” he says. For Fruehauf, popular trailers include side-tippers, flat-sides, drop-sides and tankers. “Trailer buyers come from a combination of South African companies as well as those companies based within SADC in equal measure,” he adds.

Refrigerated trailer specialists Serco, meanwhile, tell Transport World Africa that many of its South African customer’s transport goods locally and cross-border and, so, they want durable trailers that can withstand Africa’s operating conditions. “Where customers expect to travel off-road, special reinforcing may apply, says Serco MD Clinton Holcroft.

“Specifications are generally similar, although certain SADC countries have special requirements such as red reflective tape. If standards could be harmonised, as in South Africa, it would be beneficial.”

Holcroft says transporters going into Africa generally want trailers that are simple to repair, with availability of spares being important – hence the use of ABS air brakes rather than EBS, and dual tyres instead of single tyres.

The company offers limited after-sales support through various service agents in Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and is busy sourcing more partners. Major accidents and rebuilds are sent to its South African manufacturing plants.

“African exports are growing as road infrastructure improves but border congestion is still a major issue for perishable goods. Improving this, to allow easier trade, would help open up markets for more growth,” he pines.