Marcopolo South Africa (Pty) Ltd (MASA) is replicating its renowned Brazilian successes on a continent strongly benefitting from the Company’s lean approach to bus building
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Vivek Valmiki
As a 100 percent subsidiary of Marcopolo SA in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest bus body builders, Marcopolo South Africa (Pty) Ltd (MASA) continues to replicate the Group’s domestic successes in one of its key global markets.
The partner organisation was founded in 1949 and is listed on the Brazilian Stock Exchange; and over the past 70 years has evolved and migrated on a worldwide scale to become an industry leader, producing more than 350,000 units on five continents - a world-class benchmark.
Concurrently, MASA has witnessed an exponential growth in its operations as a result of enhanced tender attainment and customer loyalty in a country that has taken Marcopolo to its heart and that offers an abundance of export opportunities too.
“With the objective of reinforcing the core business, the Marcopolo Group is structured in three main business units: Marcopolo embraces the fabrication of buses and coaches; Volare is an independent business unit under the Group specialised in the fabrication of midi-buses; and finally, Moneo is the financial service provider,” lists South Africa General Manager, Mikel Ecenarro. “Last but not least, the Marcopolo Foundation is the social development arm of the Group where founding members’ values are converted into socio-economic development projects.
“All together they stand for a solid group, offering a wide range of products and services worldwide.”
From South Africa specifically, MASA has capitalised on the robustness and reliability of its products and their seamless fit with local requirements. Consequently, thousands of vehicles have been delivered over the decades to countries all over the continent as either a main contractor or relaying for the OEM chassis builders.
Ecenarro continues: “Marcopolo adopts two different approaches when it comes to identifying new opportunities. There is a commercial structure in Dubai that takes care of the LHD markets in Africa, while MASA here in South Africa takes care of the RHD. It is a well-coordinated team that is constantly seeking new opportunities to present the three brands to customers on the continent.
“In a practical way, we create a market matrix (crossing customer requirements and Marcopolo Group’s product portfolio) and study the best way to offer the most suitable product in each case. In most of the cases this exercise is done together with the OEM, putting together experience and vehicle specs to perfectly suit customer expectations.”
A move forward
Primarily feeding MASA’s growth is the wider Group’s three continuous improvement pillars of being people-driven, internationalisation, and lean manufacturing principles.
“These three master strategies combined have raised a 15,000-employee company, with manufacturing capacities on five continents and a powerful engineering mindset, resulting in a wide product range portfolio,” Ecenarro says. “But most importantly it defines the ‘Marcopolo Way’ and a passion for the brand on behalf of all stakeholders involved.”
Applying such an ethos in Africa, MASA’s progression since operations begun on the continent in 1996 has been representative of the Group’s overall development across all other regions. In 1999, the Company was awarded a tender to build buses for Great North Transport as a platform and milestone which prompted the creation of local manufacturing facilities, and the rest is history.
Ecenarro continues: “During the first years of production and sales, a combination of locally-assembled units and imported CBU (completely built-in unit) and PKD (partially knocked-down) settled the Marcopolo footprint in terms of product quality and service standards. The products were gradually adapted to local market requirements in a joint effort of our headquarters’ engineering department and the local team.
“Meanwhile, product expansion and diversification-wise, Marcopolo has used four different strategies to identify customer requirements; to design the required solutions; and to adjust global mobility trends to specific market conditions.”
The four aforementioned strategies refer to new product creation, new generations, facelifts, and localisation. The former, as it sounds, leverages internal skills and experience to identify future needs and to transform them into a vision represented by new products and solutions; while new generations accounts for reconfigurations of existing products in line with ever-changing industry demand and technological advancements.
Lower level transformations facilitate the facelift element of product portfolio evolution, while - finally - localisation ensures that all regional requirements and regulations are adhered to and implemented within the Company’s products; as opposed to adopting a standardised international approach.
A recent example embracing a number of these facets has seen a renewed positioning in the coach sector, segmenting the product family in both heavy and light vehicles.
Additionally, “within 2018, Marcopolo will bring new solutions to the African markets, in terms of both local, manufactured products and also those coming from overseas in CBU or PKD format”, Ecenarro adds. “Service-wise, MASA is also prepared to make a move forward. Actually recognised as the best after-sales service supplier in South Africa, we are on our way to create a closer look at stakeholder requirements (end users, operators, municipalities, maintenance teams, etc.) and bring new value-adding solutions to the fore.”
The power of information
Thriving as a global group with local targets, the business is able to share best practices from adjacent regional subsidiaries before implementing the best solution applicable to each respective presence point. In 2018, for MASA, this will translate into a more innovative outlook that aligns to the 2018-2022 strategic plan and that looks to react to pertinent industry trends.
“While on the outside it might look like the industry of bus building hasn’t evolved too much, there are plenty of trends being driven from two main sources: bus operators looking for higher efficiencies, and end-users looking for a better travelling experience,” Ecenarro says.
Inevitably, digitalisaiton is first and foremost among these resultant trends, as the GM explains: “It’s here to stay! Operators are keener on implementing telematics on their vehicles while the full system includes FMS reading from the chassis - a typical GPS system that locates the unit within metres of precision - and GPRS communication systems embedded that offer online information to the operator’s control centre.
“This combined information allows our customers to read the operation online, to understand the behaviour of vehicles and drivers, and also to make an intelligent management of assets. The power of information to operate, maintain and out-perform is already available.”
From a passenger perspective, Wi-Fi and USB chargers further adhere to the tech era’s demands, while the second big trend is seeing the builder of a chassis or body take care of their own products, allowing operators to focus their efforts on capturing new customers.
Marcopolo is not just reacting to trends but dictating and pioneering them in many cases, as is witnessed across the building materials used during buses’ manufacture. Heightened usage of new cloths and plastics in the interior complements a change in the structure make-up which now comprises more steel, stainless steel, aluminium and derivatives.
Facilitating each of these new strategies and indeed its own ongoing growth, MASA continuously engages in capital expenditures and has recently upgraded capacities within its factory, and has equipped said factory with the latest technologies and machinery.
Simultaneous updates of its ERP system has compounded internal, structural improvements to this end and last but not least, “MASA is restarting its lean thinking strategy this year”, Ecenarro emphasises. “We have hired a new KPO (Kaizen Promotion Officer) and also appointed a new consultancy company that will help the company to go lean.
“It is a systemic and strategic approach that will cover all of the Company’s processes and manufacturing (both direct and indirect).”
MASA was initially incepted as a manufacturing facility triggered by South African demand, and the faith shown in the Company has been repaid ever since virtue of concerted localisation strategies and efforts.
Encompassing personnel, supply chain and CSR considerations, the ability to perform to global standards, but as a local entity is no easy achievement, but has been accomplished nonetheless.
From a workforce perspective, MASA initially leveraged Brazilian personnel to build the culture and expertise but this has long since evolved into a more complete local investment strategy, and when it comes to hiring, the Company overcomes competition challenges via the proposal of self-tailored training programmes and ongoing partnerships with local academic institutions.
“The employment strategy at MASA is based on meritocracy, training and experience,” says Ecenarro, “and this means that we try to hire the best professionals we can, independent of their country of origin and based on the value they can offer to the Company. However, there has been a tendency in the past few years to rely more on local people for middle and top management and during 2018 the last Brazilian expatriate will finish his cycle and from then on all contracts will be local.”
Now an active and integral member of South Africa’s overall localisation strategy, MASA’s supply chain ethos and formulation of business partnerships has followed suit in recent times, in accordance with BBBEE initiatives; complemented further by its dedicated CSR foundation’s numerous initiatives.
Ecenarro details: “These are usually related to the collaboration of the Company in basic and technical training programmes in schools near the factories. There are also seasonal initiatives to help those with basic hygienic, food and health necessities though.
“This aligns with a strategic country initiative that Marcopolo has had the honour of co-leading in Brazil called Caminho ad Escola (“On my way to School”). Running for more than 10 years, it is an initiative that provides a reliable and safe means of transport to protect the country’s most valuable future asset: its children.”
As a result of this initiative, thousands of new buses have been built to safely transport children in rural and city areas to their nearest schools, and it has proved to be a scheme that epitomises both the manufacturing skills and ethical attributes of the Company.
In Africa, such a combination has resulted in a wide product range portfolio in all market segments, making it the highest manufacturing capacity on the continent (able to build as many as 1,600 units a year).
Ecenarro concludes: “Looking forward, we can also identify our after-sales service as a key strength and I expect differentiators like this to lead to the industry recognising Marcopolo as the most professional company on the continent in the future. Professional, efficient, cost-effective, customer-focused and facilitating the best mobility experience; our big leaps in lean transformation will then offer stakeholders even more quality across both our supply chain and customer base.”