Tatra Trucks seeks to develop foothold in Saudi Arabian market

Photo: archive of Tatra Trucks

Czech defense companies are looking at an upturn in business after a period of flat demand. And Tatra Trucks is one company that has survived difficult times and is now looking ahead to meeting orders won in part thanks to its flexibility in sharing some of the workload with the customer.

Transfers of know-how and technology and even some of the manufacturing capacity are part of what it takes these days to land major orders. That was the case with iconic Czech vehicle producer Tatra when it sought to land a 4.5 billion crown order to supply transport vehicles to the Saudi Arabian army.

The order to replace ageing US trucks for the Saudi army was won in part on Tatra’s twin T-810 and T-815-17 transport vehicle’s ability to deal with the local desert terrain. But it was also founded on the willingness to concede to the Saudi government’s stated policy to exercise an ever greater self-sufficiency in supplying its military needs.

In particular, Tatra accepted the principle of opening a assembly plant for both trucks in the kingdom to cover part of the three-year order. Company bosses say the assembly hall for the trucks has now been opened. Two hundred completed T-810’s should be delivered this year with the parts dispatched in the third and fourth quarters of the year for a further 100 vehicles to be assembled on site. The pattern of direct deliveries and local assembly should be repeated for the heavier T-815-17.

Tatra Trucks’ Kopřivnice is currently said to be bustling with Saudi technicians being trained for the assembly, maintenance, and diagnostics skills needed for the two Czech trucks. Company instructors will also be on hand in Saudi Arabia The Czech company’s sales and manufacturing foothold is expected to bring its own rewards.

For example, Tatra Trucks is expected to get a look in when the Saudi Ministry of Defense awards a contract for self-propelled howitzers. Tatra Trucks already has some basis to build on there with French tank and transporter producer Nexter Systems is already signed up to manufacture some of its models using the Tatra chassis.

Tatra Trucks has hopes that the Saudi Arabian formula could be used to win contracts outside that country as well. It would like to restart manufacturing and assembly plants in China, where Tatra vehicles were in the past produced under license before 1989. The new bosses of the Czech company are also reported to be looking at strengthening possible sales in Russia, a market that was largely ignored by the previous US owners of the truck company.

Tatra Trucks was taken over by its new management in March 2013 after the previous owner, Tatra, filed for insolvency. It is now owned by Czech businessmen Jaroslav Strnad and René Matera.

In spite of the difficulties, Tatra Trucks produced its highest number of trucks in 2013 since 2008 with 763 vehicles being completed. Around two-third of its production is exported. Turnover for last year fell just short of 3.0 billion crowns, a figure which puts the Saudi order in some perspective. Tatra Trucks expects to sell around 760 vehicles this year