Beefing up the box

The newest trailer maker on the block is putting together a dry van package designed to appeal to both cost-conscious and value-minded fleets.

The concept is simple, said Richard Dessimoz, president of Vanguard National Trailer Corp., during a press conference at its manufacturing plant in Monon, IN-- build trailers like automobiles, in an assembly-line fashion with as little fabrication as possible.

“We’re bringing more automation and robotic manufacturing, like what’s used by car and truck makers, to the trailer building process,” he explained. “More automation results in a more consistent and reliable product, with lower labor costs and less ‘wobble’ from the variances created when you have to fabricate components on the production line.”

In business for just a year, Vanguard is owned by China International Marine Container Group (CIMC) and is built on the ashes of bankrupt trailer maker HPA Monon. CIMC bought the manufacturing assets of Monon (along with the name) as part of its growth strategy to expand beyond the container market.

The key to making Vanguard work, said Dessimoz, is combining U.S. expertise in trailer manufacturing with CIMC’s huge engineering, production, and financial resources. For example, automated production tooling from both the U.S. and China is used in Vanguard’s plant while a dedicated computer linkup also allows it to tap into CIMC’s huge engineering department in mainland China so it can rapidly develop models of trailer components, said Mark Roush, director of engineering.

Another key is on the aftermarket side, where Vanguard wants to become a full-line supplier of trailers parts and services not only for its products but for competitors as well. “The aftermarket support network will be critical to our effort,” Dessimoz said. “We want to be a ‘one-stop shop’ so that no matter what make or model trailer is in a customer’s fleet, we can take care of it.”

To date, he added, Vanguard has 100 parts and service centers set up in the U.S. and the company plans to “aggressively” grow that number.

On the product side, about 20% of the components on Vanguard’s trailers are built in China and then shipped pre-assembled to the U.S. – just as the axle packages and trailer landing gear come pre-assembled from domestic supplies, Roush explained.

Complete components – rear frames with doors already installed, coupler plates, and landing gear support brackets, for example – with holes pre-drilled and all “hot-dipped” galvanized for maximum corrosion protection, making trailer construction speedier and less costly, said Roush.

“That allows us to offer as standard features what most other trailer makers would charge a premium for,” he noted. For example, Vanguard offers as standard longer lasting and more expensive Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) instead of incandescent bulbs for trailer lights because of savings from lower overall production costs.

Right now, Vanguard offers just two dry van trailer models – the 53-foot, 100-in interior width VIP 4000 and the 53-foot, 101-in interior width VIP MaxiCube. Dessimoz said, however, that over the next two years, the company plans to roll out more models so it can be a full-line provider of dry van trailers to the trucking market with the intention to eventually look at building refrigerated and tanker trailers at some point.

The company built 3,000 trailers in 2004 and is ramping up to build 8,000 this year, with larger production targets ahead. “We’re committed to being a premiere trailer manufacturer and aftermarket supplier, with our goal to become one of the top three aftermarket suppliers in the trailer business,” said Dessimoz.

TAGS: Trailers
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