In 1965, the Chinese Ministry of Forestry purchased 10 Scania-Vabis trucks for long-term evaluation in exceptionally tough timber haulage. The deal marks the beginning of Scania’s continuous 50-year presence in China. In traditional Scania fashion, the pioneering years were characterised by personal initiative and dedication.
In the early 1960s, Scania-Vabis had no plans to venture into China, but the interest was triggered by the tender from the Ministry of Forestry.
In search of higher efficiency than domestic products could offer, the Chinese Ministry of Forestry decided to import a selection of heavy-duty timber trucks from abroad to evaluate performance and durability in tough operation at high gross weights.
As in many forested regions across the globe, logging in China is mostly done during the winter to take advantage of stable, frozen roads. The trucks were required to cope with ambient temperatures down to minus 40C or even colder.
Forestry being one of Sweden’s core industries, this has driven the development of high-quality heavy trucks to cope with high payloads, as well as long transport distances.
Scania-Vabis’ sales engineers were not yet familiar with the conditions in China, so they had to do a bit of guesswork, but made sure they specified the toughest components in their toolbox.
A stroke of genius
The trucks turned out to be precisely what their Chinese customer needed. The Scania-Vabis LT76 6x4s performed exceptionally well, were easy to maintain and repair and became popular with the Ministry’s drivers. The vehicles had heavy-duty chassis and suspension, 11-litre engines and tandem bogies. Some were delivered complete with the latest in timber bodywork and cranes from Sweden.
The repute of the sturdy Swedish trucks spread among Chinese Ministries. For the first major Chinese foreign-aid project – the Tanzania-Zambia railway in Africa, which provided sea access for the mine district in inner Zambia – 200 Scania-Vabis tippers were ordered, complete with bodywork from Swedish Ilsbo.
Serving between 1970 and 1976, many trucks survived and returned to China for new challenges. Scania opened a comprehensive service facility near the construction project and this gave Scania a dominating position on the east African heavy truck market. It was therefore logical for Scania to set up an assembly factory in Dar-es-Salaam to comply with the local content requirements in the early 1980s.
Back in China, Scania’s Regional Sales Manager stationed in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, Carl Anders Wikner, witnessed the forest trucks in winter operation on one of his field visits. Yes, the conditions were very tough indeed, but the vehicles were kept in large garages overnight, so strenuous cold starting was no issue.
Having tried out what the foreign products could offer, the Ministry of Forestry decided to order 500 timber trucks from Scania to be spread out at their depots around China. The vehicles were delivered in 1975.
Mr Wikner participated in the tender work. This time, it was not a matter of guesswork. Scania knew what was required and nothing but the toughest would suffice.
Repeated success – more forest trucks
In the early 1980s, the Ministry of Forestry needed more trucks. Scania had just introduced a completely new truck generation, with a spacious and aerodynamic cab range styled by Giugiaro in Italy. The highly modularised chassis were shared between bonneted and cab-over-engine models. Although the cab and the looks were completely new, all major components remained the same as on the old trucks, including the renowned 11-litre engine, which reassured the Ministry of Forestry.
Hong Kong and Taiwan at full steam
By the late 1980s, Scania’s operations thrived both in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Scania had a strong position in the Taiwanese container haulage and long-distance coach markets. Container haulage was also strong for Scania in Hong Kong, and so was construction and long-distance haulage across the border into China.
An innovator, Mr Christer Agell, owner of the Scania distributor in Hong Kong, not only identified the customers’ operational needs, he also strived to understand their financials. He could thus provide useful advice on operational improvements when truck fleets were up for renewal, an early example of Scania partnering with customers for mutual benefit.
The Chinese market opened in the 1990s
State trading continued in China until the early 1990s, but the market then opened for private operators running long-haulage, primarily along the coast. Represented by Forefront Motors, Scania grew with the market and strongly supported the establishment of service points by stationing experts in the region.
Entering the new millennium, Scania made an in-depth review of the market and adopted a completely new approach by setting up a wholly-owned importer company, the first in the commercial vehicle field. In parallel, Scania opened a strategic office that is in charge of lobbying and relation-building, aiming to inspire decision-makers and stakeholders to enact rules and regulations that steer the transport market in a healthy direction.
But that’s a completely different story.
This year it’s 50 years since Scania entered China. Scania Newsroom give attention to the jubilee in three separate stories. This was number one and the following stories will cover the later years.