"Our Service Makes the Difference!"

Interview with Tobias Tönjes, one of the Managing Directors of A+T Nutzfahrzeuge GmbH and A+T Nutzfahrzeuge Süd-West GmbH

A+T Nutzfahrzeuge Tractor Unit from Renault
A tractor unit from Renault

Digitalization and alternative drive systems will also profoundly change the commercial vehicle industry. A+T Nutzfahrzeuge GmbH, as a long-standing authorized dealer of Volvo and Renault Trucks, has been confronting this comprehensive transformation for a long time. Managing Director Tobias Tönjes spoke with Wirtschaftsforum about the most important setting points for the future and current challenges.

Economic Forum: Mr. Tönjes, at a total of five locations, A+T Commercial Vehicles GmbH and A+T Commercial Vehicles South-West GmbH act as contract dealers for Volvo and Renault Trucks. What activities define your daily business?

Tobias Tönjes: In addition to selling heavy-duty vehicles and vans, at our main site in Garrel we also operate our own vehicle construction, where we manufacture trailers and semi-trailers ourselves and also assemble kits such as roll-off and three-way tippers as well as compressors and hydraulic systems. Moreover, we take care of all the repair and maintenance work for the products we distribute. Of course, we want to support our customers with their complex challenges in an even broader capacity.

A+T Commercial Vehicles Maintenance
A+T Commercial Vehicles also operates its own vehicle construction

Economic forum: What implications does this have for your business activities?

Tobias Tönjes: We have set ourselves the clear goal that our customer should be able to get everything from a single source with us. Therefore, we can offer him a complete package of services on request, which covers as much of his entire range of requirements as possible: For example, if a customer transports frozen goods, we can also provide the refrigeration unit including the necessary maintenance and service on demand. Through our cooperation with the respective manufacturer's bank, we can also handle the financing of the capital goods. Such a comprehensive range of offers has become a rarity in the market – and a clear competitive advantage for us. Because our service should make the difference. We know our industry and the requirements of our customers, which is why we also offer a 24-hour emergency service in case, for example, a truck with time-critical freight or frozen goods should break down – because we want to provide support as quickly as possible even in such a case.

A+T Commercial Vehicles Service Technician
The decline in workshop hours sold for vehicles with electric motors can be compensated for by other services, Tobias Tönjes is convinced
A+T Commercial Vehicles Refrigerated Transport
Refrigerated and scheduled freight is particularly sensitive: That's why A+T Commercial Vehicles operates a 24-hour emergency service

Economic Forum: The advancing digitalization also poses new challenges for the retail market. What implications does this have for your company?

Tobias Tönjes: Neither Volvo nor Renault Trucks offer their own direct sales, so we as dealers will continue to be an essential part of the value chain. Because while it may seem conceivable in the passenger car segment that vehicles could sometimes be specified online without expert advice, such a sales channel in the commercial vehicle sector is hard to imagine, as the sheer proximity to the customer and a reliable after-sales service represent an indispensable basis for success. Unlike car dealers, we do not operate market halls where we serve walk-in customers, but instead rely on a strong field sales force with highly specialized experts who should secure the highest possible market share for A+T commercial vehicles in their respective regions, not least through their special consulting competence. Against this background, a trustworthy appearance in external representation is also required, which is why we exclusively take care of our marketing and social media activities ourselves, to ensure a modern brand appearance.

Economic Forum: At the same time, a fundamental transformation in mobility is underway – is A+T commercial vehicles adequately prepared for this transformation?

Tobias Tönjes: Our manufacturers are already relying on fully electric battery-powered vehicles for freight transport, of which we were able to sell around 70 units this year. With the introduction of the CO2 toll, which came into effect on December 1, 2023, and from which even more vehicles will be affected due to the lowering of the toll exemption limit to 3.5 t on July 1, 2024, the economic attractiveness of electric trucks compared to diesel engines increases, even if the latter will not disappear completely from the market in the future. To be able to meet the already foreseeable strong demand growth, we have already further developed our sites in order to be allowed to repair and maintain these vehicles, and in this context, we have also invested in the specific further training of our employees. In any case, we place great emphasis on appearing as a strong training company in the market. We offer a wide range of apprenticeship professions, from specialist for warehouse logistics to mechatronics technician, automotive saleswoman, metalworker, to commercial assistant for office management.

A+T Commercial Vehicles Location in Meppen
View of the location in Meppen

Economic Forum: Some market observers expect a significant decline in repair shops in the context of electromobility - a perspective that A+T commercial vehicles must also fear?

Tobias Tönjes: Even fully electric vehicles have brakes that wear out, tires that need to be changed, mirrors that wear down, and even a gearbox that requires corresponding maintenance. Nevertheless, under realistic assumptions, we calculate a decrease in workshop revenue for vehicles with electric motors of about 30%. At the same time, however, our customers' requirements for their fleet management are increasing, which makes numerous new services attractive, such as monitoring maintenance status, locating vehicles, and remote software updates. Therefore, we do not see the expected decline in workshop hours sold by us as a sustainable problem for our business model.