Liqui Moly SA CEO Melicia Labuschagne. Picture: SUPPLIED
Liqui Moly SA CEO Melicia Labuschagne. Picture: SUPPLIED

Melicia Labuschagne launched the Liqui Moly premium engine oils and additives brand in SA in 2008, in the midst of a global recession, and built it to the success story it is today.

One of only a few women leading businesses in the male-dominated automotive industries, Melicia remains focused on thriving, rather than just surviving, through this time.

Phuti Mpyane: The journey of Liqui Moly SA is a fascinating one. How did it all start?

Melicia Labuschagne: We are a wholly owned subsidiary of the mother company in Germany. In 2007 I was speaker at a pharmaceutical convention and met the company recruiters there. The company has distributors in more than 130 countries worldwide and they were looking for a different approach to open not another distribution channel, but an official subsidiary. They approached me and suggested I’d be the perfect candidate to work with them on this new brand. SA was the first of its kind followed by the US and Portugal.

PM: Liqui Moly is positioned as a premium brand. Was it difficult to break into the budget seeking SA market?

ML: It starts with my belief in value rather than price. I don’t want to sell something which someone can come back tomorrow and say it didn’t work or it made something fail so even before we could begin I went to Germany to have a look at how they operate, what their values were, their back-ups, service, communication protocols and how they are seen worldwide as an established brand.

Later in the same year we started operating. But when we first brought Liqui Moly there were already many competitor brands, and worse still in a recession period. We were expected to compete with price and I believed at the time it was the completely wrong way of going about it.

Where the fight is the price there is no loyalty. I prefer to build relationships. If someone buys a product based on price alone then tomorrow they will go to another supplier who is even cheaper. I knew it was going to take longer to establish the important trust in our brand and I was prepared to see it through.

PM: What makes Liqui Moly stand out among its peers?

ML: We have aftermarket products and some of our oils are OEM accredited. Europe doesn’t really have a service plan with your vehicle and most of the premium brand dealerships like BMW and Mercedes-Benz don’t have service centres on their premises. Vehicle service is done off site mostly at approved but independent workshops. So our German made oils which are used in these centres are made according to strict OEM specifications.

And in some case our additives are used within the OEMs themselves like for engine flushes.

PM: Will a company like yours survive the electric age?

ML: I look at the rest of world, electric cars; I also look at the technology, the emissions regulations in Europe, the trucking industry and public transport and realise  we are very far behind from an African point of view. If we look at the current collection of vehicles that need to be maintained still going forward.

We have a huge portfolio of products that are used for many applications in the equally vast and wide automotive industry, like specific lubrication for trucks as an example. There will also be collector’s vehicles that need maintenance as well.

The other benefit for Liqui Moly is that we are proactive when it comes to new developments. Now we also have DPF cleaners for petrol engines alongside the older diesel versions. An electric car may not have requirements of lubricants but there will be a lot more that must still be looked after, like on the inside and outside by the owner.

PM: On a lighter note, what does the Liqui Moly name signify?

ML: Aside from the many people assuming our red and blue corporate identity means the brand is American while it's German, Liqui Moly is derived from Liquid Molybdenum disulphide, which is an additive that decreases friction inside the moving parts of engines. So ours is a liquid form of the patented additive and it’s added into many of our products like sprays and greases and in some of our oil products. 

But it’s not added to OEM recommended spec oils. Those are manufactured to strict OEM requirements. If we add the Moly additive we would then breach optimum OEM recipes and that will cause problems.

Where we add more of the Moly the law requires that we state it on our packaging. This is normally done with our aftermarket products though, of which there are more than 4,000. They cover engine, gear and automatic transmission oils, additives for all fuels, radiator systems, throttle valve cleaners, inside and outside car care products, bicycle, motorcycle, marine, aero and even a gun range.     

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