Homegrown Body Builder Looking to FutureMon, 09/01/2014 - 11:00
Beccar, a Mexican-based bus body builder, is a clear example of a local success story in the automotive industry. Its founder and Director General, Julián Becerra, explains that the company began as a spontaneous project that then evolved into a full-blown business. Beccar traces its roots back to a workshop in Zapotlanejo, Jalisco, where it was founded in 1992 to conduct renovations on old bus units. Becerra quips that the company’s journey to becoming a coach vehicle body builder was done almost in reverse to the norm. “We began making buses without engineers. For us, this was a vivid and reversed engineering experience, as we worked on rebuilding units until we knew how they were assembled. This saw us really evolve into engineers,” explains Becerra. The company has now grown to 18 engineers, focused either on design or on manufacturing. In 2001, Beccar took the next step in its journey, beginning to develop joint ventures with companies such as Navistar, growing through strategic partnerships. Having entered the urban bus segment back in 2002, Beccar developed a strong line of new models for this market. Vertical integration followed in 2005, with the company being able to match its manufacturing with design, engineering, and technical processes. This allowed Beccar to find more clients, offering them fully assembled units. Predictably, this led to a boom in demand, which saw the company boost its installations to 50,000m2 and bring in the latest technology. New space and new technology led to new models, giving it a total range of 60 different models used in the market for various brands. This expansion is accompanied by a US$3.5 million project that will see warehouses for materials and accessories being expanded, a further increase in production areas and a designed space for R&D. “Through this internal investment and development, Beccar is working alongside brands like Mercedes-Benz, Scania, MAN, Volkswagen, Navistar, and Hino. This has seen us become the Mexican company that designs, manufactures, assembles, and does all the body work for those companies,” says Becerra.
Strategic partnerships are crucial for vehicle body builders like Beccar, says Becerra, explaining that the automotive market is versatile and that no single brand can be imposed upon it. For instance, Becerra mentions that some companies have agreements with a single bodybuilder that will dedicate 50% of its production to that brand. The remaining 50% is open to the market, which is where the brands and models with the highest potential must be identified, according to Becerra. In order to be competitive in this market and especially when competing with brands coming from overseas, Becerra stresses the importance of identifying clients’ needs and the terrain in which they operate, and then offering a product adapted to these factors. For example, some vehicles have a higher performance and simpler design, while other units are oriented to heavy work. “In flat terrain, a Mercedes-Benz vehicle might be the best option since they are lighter, less complex, and consume less fuel. But in mountainous and difficult terrain, a Navistar International model could be better, as these are heavier and have higher performance parameters,” Becerra explains. It is this knowhow and its relations with numerous brands that enables Beccar to offer truly tailored vehicles to the right market segments.
Beccar’s particular business trajectory has enabled it to amass a wealth of knowledge on the peculiarities of the domestic market. It puts that knowledge to good use as it currently covers the urban, suburban, and light inter-state sectors, with 18 different vehicle configurations. Despite this breadth, Becerra believes there are still segments to be exploited. “Beccar has identified a gap in reference to the cost difference between a light inter-state unit and a luxury unit. Mexico has routes between municipalities and states that do not need a double-decker bus or a luxury bus,” tells Becerra. To take advantage of this gap, Beccar has decided to tackle medium to low segments and has begun manufacturing buses that are better equipped and can offer comparable services to their more expensive counterparts. Beccar’s models have not just found regular use on the open road, since its URBI is a regular feature in Mexican cities. Becerra explains it was designed to provide safety and maximum visibility in urban environments, with an ample body designed to be lightweight and durable. Next to it, the URBUS is more compact, allowing Beccar to have product offerings for different passenger requirements. Finally, the B330 is an inter-city option. Its aerodynamic design saves on fuel costs, important even for short trips, and Becerra maintains it has quickly become an industry staple.
The ability to tap into automotive trends and incorporating them into its product portfolio has ensured Beccar a firm place in the industry. Through visiting markets such as China, Spain, Belgium, and Argentina, Beccar’s executives have been able to detect trends there and consider possible corresponding applications to the Mexican market. One such trend is alternative fuel use. “While visiting other countries, Beccar was exposed to several products that use natural gas or electricity. As a result, a new project is being developed to quickly bring a unit to the market that runs on natural gas,” Becerra comments. “Beccar has also participated in test runs for a hybrid unit in Mexico, which is in line with the government’s increasing interest in such units.” He stresses that in Mexico, vehicles should be renewed more frequently as they are sometimes used for up to 20 years, causing a lot of pollution. Becerra wants to use Beccar’s market expertise and knowledge to offer alternative options for its clients. “As a vehicle body builder and assembler, Beccar is able to manufacture for any application, be it natural gas, electric, or hybrid.” Beccar sees maintaining close ties to clients is also important way to add value. “Beccar operates in both the production and service business segments, and we have a workshop where we service up to five insurance companies. In terms of customer service, we offer clients solutions for any workshop issue they might have,” explains Becerra. “To address nationwide coverage, Beccar provides training to mechanics across Mexico and then sends spare parts to their workshops.”
As a homegrown success and having been awarded the Successful Company Award by the Ministry of Economy, Beccar is also looking to give back. The first recipients of its scholarship program are the children of its own staff. Those still in school will see their education costs covered by the company, provided they maintain their grades at a certain level. Furthermore, Becerra says he has steered the company toward environmental programs. He explains that the company has set up the creation and oversight of areas that are turned over to greenery, as well as a program to encourage the general public to start composting.
Having undergone these various evolutions in its manufacturing and production portfolio, one of the company’s top priorities for the future is to further formalize its corporate structure and move away from being a family-run business. “This direction will provide new bases and regulations which the next generation of Beccar’s management can adopt in order to make the company grow even further,” Becerra explains. It is expected that by 2015-2016, the Becerra family will no longer fully direct the company, as external managers are currently being considered. For Becerra, setting this new general direction and business management approach will offer a different vision which will allow the company will be able to grow even more. “New and experienced people will enter Beccar and strengthen the roots and motivations that first forged it.” The company already has a strong presence in Mexico but Becerra is now looking to expand its reach abroad. “We have made certain tests in countries like Venezuela to gauge how we would fare in new markets, the space we could claim, and in which areas we could grow,” says Becerra.