Sweden is being held up by some as an example of how to deal with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While the early signs suggest its pragmatic approach is working, it will be months, or possibly years, before the world will be able to judge whether its fight to keep the country going, when others have closed ranks, has truly been successful.
The fleet industry, of course, rarely gets more than a few hours grace before it can be held to account. Some industries may be enduring enforced lay-offs, but many fleets are still busy providing essential services to keep food and economies going.
Tellingly, the regional division of one of Sweden’s most famous exports very early on decided that it had no choice but to keep its operation going as much as it possibly can.
Like many of us, the staff of Scania Middle East are adjusting to the new normals of social distancing and rules on how many people can be in their Jebal Ali office at one time.
Disruptive it may be but regional sales director Hans Wising tells T&FME that the firm is determined to help support its customers as the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt business in the region.
With the on-trend niceties of checking that we can hear each other – even if the video isn’t behaving – out of the way, Wising is early to confirm that, with sectors such as oil and gas and construction continuing in parts of the region, customers can still access workshops and fleet support. In fact, even through a wobbly connection (at T&FME’s end), there’s plenty of bandwidth for him to stress that Scania Middle East is ready to serve fleets whenever they need help.
“Trucks are a part of a society’s lifeline; keeping goods and medical supplies moving. The focus at Scania is to keep our customers running and keep our workshops open and keep spare parts available.”
Wising says that construction and food supply continued to ‘move on’ even after the start of lockdowns and Scania Middle East and its dealers offered a full set of sort of services at their workshops as well as the continuation of mobile unit support for fleets – even when showrooms and sales operations were largely closed down.
He tells the magazine that the variety of rules in place between countries in the region means that the workshop services currently available to fleets may differ.
“Take Oman, for example, they have quite strict regulations that it’s only sort of more emergency basis,” says Wising. “You don’t just walk in there. You have to make an appointment and so on,” he explains before stressing that the message remains the same: “All our workshops are open.”
More than ever, access to spare parts is crucial for operators during a time where uptime is vital with many fleets needing to run with reduced teams. Stock is still available through the dealers and the global warehouse in Europe is manfully continuing to ensure that more obscure SKUs remain in the supply chain.
“They are facing challenges in both in-bound and out-bound. In fact our production was (effectively) shut done because we couldn’t get components and parts,” he muses. “But when it comes to purchasing, of course, we have products that are available.”
(After halting production at most of its facilities in March, Scania said it was gradually restarting production in Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil and France at the end of April. All locations began operating at reduced capacity, with its Swedish plants opening initially for two days of the week, and at half capacity compared to normal operations.)
At the start of the lock-down in April, Scania Middle East juggled restrictions to maintain a maximum of only 20% of the workforce sitting at their desks. Wising explains that meant that only one of the management team was able to go in any one time. There is a pause and then a chuckle, “Tuesday will be my next day.”
Turning more serious, he adds, “Of course, even with the need for minimal contact, our role is to ensure we support our dealers support their customers.”
Part of this help has been to give advice and guidelines on how to survey workshops and provide safe assistance and help to incoming truck and bus owners or drivers. Wising says it has been helpful when introducing these new practices to fall-on the Scania expertise in other regions.
“We have been able to follow Scania’s own global guidelines although of course there are different regulations in some countries,” he adds.
As we talk, Scania trucks supplied by the Swedish manufacturer’s dealer SATA are being deployed by the Royal Navy of Oman to help ferry fuel supplies between the port of Sohar and Musandam, on the peninsula coast in the Strait of Hormuz.
Bulk cargo and oil and gas specialist DATE Transport, whose clients include Oman Oil Marketing Company (OOMCO) and Al Maha Petroleum Products Marketing Company, has been tasked with the vital role.
Wising explains that the closing of borders to contain the spread of the virus means the fuel has to be transported by sea.
“They face the challenge of delivering fuel from Oman to Musandam. Normally they could go through the UAE but trucks will get stuck at the border.”
The regional sales director adds: “Now, the trucks go on the boat from Sohar to Khasab in Musandam – offload and go back again.”
Wising has been reassured by Scania Middle East’s progress in Oman despite the disruption caused by the outbreak. He also observes that Saudi Arabia appears to be a market that has remained active where others have taken a pause.
“On one hand they imposed stricter curfews, but some business seems to be ongoing for us.”
Given its resources and knowhow, Scania has also been able to help the Coronavirus effort in its home market as well as in this region.
The company is involved in a number of initiatives to help fight the virus, including lending purchasing and logistics help to the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm; aiding the acquisition of protective equipment for healthcare workers working to save those suffering from COVID-19. At the same time, trailers from Scania are being converted to mobile testing stations.
It has even sent its own employees out into the field to help with these initiatives, Wising explains.
“They help with the logistics and purchasing but employees can go into the internal website and see job ads to go and work in the hospitals. They get medical training as a nurse – or whatever – and offered the chance to take an absence of leave.”
Like Ford and General Motors in the US, and companies like JCB elsewhere in Europe,
Scania has also been on the frontlines to help the national effort to ensure there is enough medical equipment out in hospitals.
He adds: “We actually have people from production helping to make the ventilators.”
Like many other company’s Scania Middle East has considered using the slow down in the market to prepare for when the market improves. Although he says the firm has not had a huge amount of extra time (“some things are adding work,” jokes Wising), it has provided a chance to catch up with some training. The main focus he says has been the chance to look towards the long-term, alhough; “it can be difficult to do when you’re sitting in different locations and not meet face-to-face.”
As we talk, we are interrupted by two young intruders curious to see what is going on on the computer screen.
“These are some of the challenges we face!” Wising jests.