Bell Trucks America Inc.’s South African parent company has a proven track record of approximately sixty years. Bell’s off-road articulated dump trucks (ADTs) are being distributed by Bell Trucks America Inc. in a mutually beneficial relationship. It has only been four years since Houston, Texas-based Bell Trucks America began, but it is quickly gaining a reputation for being the best at what it does. We spoke with its Senior Vice President of Sales Kevin O’Donnell to find out more.
Bell Trucks America’s articulated dump trucks (ADTs) are highly reliable machines with excellent fuel economy. At the recent ConExpo construction industry trade show, Bell Trucks showcased a host of new vehicles sporting leading-edge technologies that have not been harnessed by many other similar companies.
In March of 2013, Bell Trucks America was born and became successful within a few short years by targeting dealers in strong markets.
“In order to accomplish that, the first thing we did was put parts on the shelf in inventory, prior to getting the very first truck in stock. We had to show that we were strong with product support. You only get one chance with a good first impression, and without product support, you are not going very far,” says Kevin.
Bell Trucks was fortunate to have a great team in Houston with plenty of years of experience in the ADT business. All the parts were on the shelf by May, and the first trucks arrived in June. At first, the company only had the 35-tonne truck, serving the smallest market in the U.S. (the largest market is for the 40-tonne truck.) Bell proved to have a well designed truck and the combination of having aggressive pricing and support allowed the company to compete in the 35 to 40 tonne class along with the 30 tonne class. Bell Trucks America was able to grow through its new dealer network and exceeded the factory’s expectations.
Bell produces the largest range of trucks in the world, from the new B20E LGP up to the new B60E. The range includes the B20E LGP, B25E, B30E, B35E, B40E, B45E, B50E and the B60E. Bell specializes in the ADTs.
“We started to diversify and expand our market presence with other trucks after 2013. The E series 25 and 30 tonne trucks were introduced into the U.S. market in 2014 along with the B40D and B50D.” This allowed Bell Trucks America to enter different markets to compete with the other manufacturers.
Bell Trucks did a tremendous job of selling the new 30-tonne truck. It included oil-cooled wet disc brakes, which is a big advantage over the dry disc brakes on the 25-tonne truck.
Bell Trucks America’s move into the industry was seamless. One of the main reasons for this is its people. Mitch Nevins, CEO, assembled a team of people he knew who had been in the business for a long time and had the experience in Product Support and Sales. Once that team was assembled, Bell Trucks started to get in touch with dealers like Four Seasons Equipment, Highway Equipment Company and Earthmovers and Heavy Equipment Rentals and Newman Tractor.
“First came the relationships and then the quality of the trucks and product support. We did it the right way by setting up product support first. It’s a known product; Bell has been in existence since 1954 and building trucks since 1984. Bell had been in the U.S. market prior to having a marketing agreement with another manufacturer. After 2012 the marketing agreement expired; Bell was reintroduced to the U.S. “The truck was already a proven product and it wasn’t as if it was a brand new to the industry,” says Kevin.
The distribution channels for Bell changed from one marketing manufacture agreement to Bell Trucks America, so BTA had to come up with its own new distribution channels. It did so rapidly.
The dealer network chosen by Bell Trucks America was strong financially and understood the market, so it was a natural progression. The company targeted single brand dealers of excavators like Hyundai, Kobelco, Case and Sany, that had a need for articulated trucks. Bell Trucks sold them on the idea that having an articulated truck gave them another piece of the puzzle that contractors needed.
Bell Trucks America is presently using twenty-two dealers, and that number is growing. “I would like to say at some point we would have every state covered, but we are growing strategically. We are growing where we need to grow, and this year we expect to add on three or four more dealers in some key areas,” says Kevin.
The ConExpo trade show concluded on March 11, and it was a fantastic opportunity for Bell Trucks America. Many people were able to touch and feel the equipment, see the quality of the build and talk to Gary Bell, the CEO of Bell Equipment from South Africa and the Team Bell Equipment and Bell Trucks America, Inc.
“Exhibiting at the ConExpo was amazing! 129,000 people from 150 countries came out. From Tuesday to Friday afternoon, our booth was extremely busy. Then it was more for the locals on Saturday, but this is when some of the key buyers show up because it is a slower time and they can spend more quality time discussing their needs and the product,” says Kevin.
At the show, Bell Trucks introduced the new 60onne truck, which is the largest articulated truck built. A 45-tonne truck was also unveiled along with the new 20-tonne, low-pressure truck. The 45E and 60E are part of the large series ADTs. The 60E offering is a unique truck because from the articulation joint to the back, it looks more like a rigid mining truck. From the front forward, is the 50-tonne chassis. The articulation allows the truck to be very maneuverable and the other key feature is the truck is all wheel drive, allowing for tremendous tractive effort even in harsh conditions.
“For the mining and aggregate business, we think it’s going to be very advantageous, and it garnered a lot of interest at the show,” says Kevin.
The new ADTs are being put to use at a new power plant in Georgia, and a Texas contractor recently purchased over a dozen new trucks. Bell Trucks America has gained a remarkable nine percent market share in only a few short years.
“We’ve done some good business with some of the large contractors who have used other trucks in the past, and find that we are a viable option to those other trucks. At the end of the day, it’s all about lowest cost per tonne for what we try to bring to the end user,” says Kevin.
When looking at articulated trucks, it is about how much you move at what cost. The costs include acquisition cost, operating costs and fuel costs. The goal is to have the lowest cost per tonne of material moved, and Bell Trucks America has trucks that are the most fuel efficient in the industry today.
In addition, Bell Trucks thrive on rough terrain, steep grades and mud. Articulated trucks are known for working in the worst ground conditions, and six-wheel-drive trucks have the power through each wheel to get through that rough terrain.
“We have hill assist. When you go up a hill, you can take your foot off the accelerator, and the truck stays there. It won’t roll back as some of the other trucks will. It applies a brake, and as soon as you build up torque, it releases it, and you go,” says Kevin.
Kevin always tells people that the ‘E’ in the model name stands for ‘evolution’ because the trucks are being improved. The company has learned from a lot of the mining applications in South Africa and the different ground conditions of that country.
That knowledge has been applied to work on a global level, whether it is in South Texas on a long, flat, seven-mile round trip or in the hills of North Carolina or Colorado with retarders and hill assist.
“There are a lot of features and benefits built into not just our trucks, but everybody’s trucks for different applications. I just like to think that our features and benefits outweigh the competition,” says Kevin.
The competition for Bell Trucks America is tough, but the company has done a great job in a difficult environment over the last four years. The partnership with its distribution channel is a huge part of that.
“We give a lot of credit to our local dealers out there in the marketplace as well as having a quality produced truck. We are looking forward to producing here in the U.S. That will give us a tremendous opportunity to grow even more,” says Kevin.