Sweden's secrets to trucking success

By: Steve Skinner

The small Scandinavian country punches well above its weight as a manufacturer, and not just of trucks and buses

Sweden's secrets to trucking success
Volvo Trucks chief, Claes Nilsson, minus a tie: he says the Group has an informal culture.


How does a country at the top of the world, with less than half the population of Australia, manage to produce the second biggest heavy-duty truck builder on the planet?

Sweden’s achievement with Volvo is all the more remarkable when you add that other great global brand of heavy vehicle, Scania, now majority owned by Volkswagen.

TradeTrucks recently travelled to Sweden courtesy of Volvo Group and interviewed Claes Nilsson, global president of Volvo Trucks, at the company’s Gothenburg training centre.

I asked Claes Nilsson to put brand rivalry aside in explaining the big Swedes’ secrets to success, achieved without government subsidies or protection.

He reckons there are many factors but three main ones.

"First of all we are a small country of just 10 million people," Nilsson says. "We have to be export-oriented from the start, because the domestic market is so small compared with the Germans, or the French, or the Americans or whatever, who have a big domestic market, which we don’t have the luxury of.

"Secondly … the healthy competition between the two of us (Volvo and Scania) I think has been very good for both companies.

"The respectful internal domestic rivalry between the two of us has really forced us to be on our toes all the time and try to beat the other one."

Thirdly, in being neutral during World War II, Sweden didn’t have its industry destroyed.

"So when the market came back up Sweden was very fortunate to have the machinery up and running immediately, and we and other companies definitely benefited from this," Nilsson says.

He includes there several other high-tech Swedish companies: Sandvik (tools and engineering); Atlas Copco (industrial tools and equipment); and SKF (bearings, seals, lubrication systems and more).


Marketing innovation too

Meanwhile over recent years Volvo has been putting a big effort into marketing as well as manufacturing.

A lot of us have seen the popular Volvo "stunt" online commercials, highlighting various advanced pieces of technology – for example the one featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two travelling trucks, to highlight the precision of Volvo’s dynamic steering.

This sort of viral internet publicity has come as a bit of a surprise to some long-time observers of what seemed like a staid, old-fashioned and even secretive company.

"Maybe that’s also a bit back to the Swedish culture," suggests Nilsson.

"We are a rather quiet, conservative culture, not very much about bragging and things like that, so I think we’ve actually in the last 10 years or so tried to pay much more attention to how we communicate … and maybe started to be a bit more daring in our communication."



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