The Powerstar Fire Engine showcases one of many possible applications outside of the construction realm.
The Powerstar Fire Engine showcases one of many possible applications outside of the construction realm.

There is more than just a passing coincidence that relatively new trucking upstart Powerstar shares aesthetics with the iconic Mercedes-Benz NG73/80 trucks is more than just a coincidence.

Bob Wang.
Bob Wang.

After all, the Chinese truck manufacturer’s product has been sharing the genes of the legendary workhorse since the early days when BeiBen, the heavy-duty truck company that is based in China, signed an agreement with Daimler-Benz in 1988 to manufacture the German brand’s licensed trucks and axles for the Chinese domestic market.

The finished product went on to build a reputation for strength in loading capacity and durability throughout the world, including in SA.

Q: Your product has quite a global history in the heavy-duty sector. When was the local subsidiary established and how many dealers do you operate?

A: The company was set up in 2012 after being originally established by the Super Group in 2006. We assemble SKD ranges of Powerstar VX, Prime Mover V3 heavy-duty truck and the FT range at our Pietermaritzburg assembly facilities that are then sold and supported by a network of 36 dealers nationwide. We also have a retro-modifications wing at the assembly plant.

Q: Who is the typical client of Powerstar products?

A: Because our Powerstar product range is limited and more affordable, our clientele is concentrated mostly in the construction industry where tippers, water tankers and such are in great demand. We also service startup entrepreneurs who require reasonably priced equipment for a successful launch into the construction industry business.

Q: Are 36 dealers sufficient to run a successful trucking business in SA?

A: Yes indeed. It’s quite enough for our product range and sales projections. Our brand is comparatively still in its infancy and we continue to build on the business, refining the model and expanding our product portfolio.

Q. For most industries, 2018 is a year that has proved difficult and the sooner it passes the better. Was it the same case with your establishment?

A: Yes, 2018 was very tough. We saw declines in new sales due largely to the economic climate, particularly a decrease in demand from our key clients such as entrepreneurs, small medium and micro enterprises and the government. But we are confident that 2019 will be a better year for all.

Q: What can the industry expect from Powerstar in 2019?

A: Every year we introduce updated versions of our trucks and thus this is a priority. However, the bigger plan is to expand our portfolio of products. We’ve recently announced the addition of our new FT light and medium truck range to this market. At its smallest, it has a GVM of 7,500kg and tare weight of 2,560kg with payload capacity of 4,940kg. With 500Nm between 1200rpm-1900rpm from its Cummins engine, the FT range is spot-on with incoming changes to government sanctioned broad-based BEE regulations, which will see more support and development programmes aimed at small-size, entrepreneur-run establishments rather than fully fledged business units. The FT range is aimed at addressing this particular group as well as all potential customers looking to bolster their fleets with any of our products. We will also expand into the long-haul sector, in which we currently don’t have representation. But in 2019 we will have product fit for this sector.

Q: With the automotive industry gripped by the shift to electric drivetrains, what is the outlook from your perspective?

A: Research and development continues on this aspect and because Powerstar is Chinese, it benefits from that country’s government support programmes in technology and subsidies. We already have electric truck drivetrains in use in that region, but with usage limited to short distances within Chinese cities.

The government provides attractive incentives such as a 50% financial assistance when purchasing electric trucks and this is further supported by restrictions aimed at curbing the environmental impact by limiting diesel trucks to a minimum allowance of operational hours, while electric trucks can be in use 24 hours a day.