Sogefi Group is flexing its OE muscles and aiming to retake a sizeable chunk of the UK’s aftermarket filtration business over the next three to five years.
Although it says it remains the market leader in the UK, with 26 percent of sales in 2011, ten years ago it would have had a 40 percent share of the sector, close to the one-in-two aftermarket position it has in France today.
The €1.1 billion company invited CAT to Vire in Normandy to pay a visit to one of its 44 worldwide manufacturing facilities and to talk to Andrea Taschini, General Manager of the Sogefi Aftermarket Division, and newly-appointed Country Area Manager for the UK Nigel Duffield.
OE and the courtroom
Taschini says complexity of design and patent protection mean some filters will always be captive parts for the company that developed them – the oil filters Sogefi developed for the 225bhp 1.6-litre engine used in the Mini Cooper S, for instance.
While car parc coverage is very high across a range of suppliers, Taschini casts doubt on some supplier claims. He has made it clear that Sogefi isn’t associated with the Crosland brand it sold to ECP (see last month’s CAT), and now isn’t mincing his words when it comes to coverage.
“This company is investing a lot of money to produce this kind of patent product that we are selling, daily, into the aftermarket.
“There is no other way to have it, if not through Sogefi. Of course with patent there is a lot of discussion and at this moment we are in court. The point is we have to defend ourselves and defend our territory.
“I can tell you that if you are not an OE supplier, guys, you will not be able to do a good job in the future.
“Whoever tells you that it’s possible, being only an aftermarket company to compete in the market is telling, simply, bullshit. This is not possible. In the medium-long term, if you are an OE company you can deal with the aftermarket.
“Filter is full of patent and tricks. If you’re not an OE patent developer it’s very difficult to be able to sell and to stay in the aftermarket in the future.
“If you are not an OE company, you cannot compete in the aftermarket. This is very, very clear and this, in my opinion, is one of the answers about the packagers that, especially in the UK, are trying to sell more and more filters.”
So, the OE versus alternative matching quality part debate continues.
Seven into three (x2)
Taschini came to Sogefi in 2009 after more than a decade with Brembo. He’s seen a huge proliferation of brands in the braking sector and likes the relative simplicity of filters. It’s almost become a mantra.
“Basically 77 percent of the European filter market is owned by three producers [Mann and Hummel, Mahle, Sogefi]. It means the market is very, very concentrated into the hands of three, due to technology and due to the patents.
“On brakes 77 percent of the market is probably 20 brands. It’s a mess. So filter is still a profitable, good, sane business.”
Since Taschini’s arrival, simplification has continued with the number of filter brands, and European warehouses, both reducing from seven to three.
Coopers and Fiaam have been combined, Fram and Purflux retained, but others, including Crosland have rather pointedly been shod. Sogefi will take more of a lead on branding from here on in.
“It’s more difficult to be a multi-brand than a mono-brand, so I decided to build up the concept of the Sogefi umbrella brand, where Sogefi Group is the guarantee of good quality, good performance, and good product.
“Sogefi is becoming bigger and bigger. It will be printed on every OE product. CoopersFiaam, Purflux and Fram will remain a box – a box with the same product inside with a different image outside. Our intention is to push as much as possible the Sogefi concept.”
Part numbers are also simplified, but not at the expense of quality and performance, promises Sogefi.
Recently there has also been the closure of the Llantrisant plant with the loss of 190 jobs. Unions had tried to secure investment from Sogefi to keep it running, but Taschini says it was the end of the road for the plant which was beyond saving.
Tredegar continues to this day, however, and along with Spain, the UK is one of only two markets outside of France to retain its own warehouses so the market demand for next-day delivery can be offered on orders taken up to 5pm.
Trucks, bus and bouncing
Taschini also wants to build in other areas with the Sogefi Pro brand. “We want to push Sogefi Pro as much as possible, because we think we could play an important role in truck and bus.”
It’s not just for that, either, says Taschini: “Sogefi Pro stands for professional. Today it is only trucks and buses, tomorrow who knows.”
How big a share of each market is the company aiming to secure? It depends from country to country, as some territories already have a slight recognition of some brands is higher, but he adds: “I would be disappointed if we don’t reach 20 percent market share in the next three years.”
There are also springs. Sogefi is a leading supplier of springs to OE, but it doesn’t do a shred of aftermarket work with it. “We’re still studying it. It’s something we’re thinking about. It looks natural, one day, but how and when? I don’t know.”