Being a fifth wheel at SAF-HOLLAND is never awkward in the least. The company makes fifth wheels, hitches, and couplers -- products that keep trucks and trailers together. Other commercial transportation products include axles, liftgates, and truck and trailer suspension systems. A subsidiary of Germany-based SAF-HOLLAND Group, the company is organized into Trailer Systems, Powered Vehicle Systems, and Aftermarket divisions; it maintains manufacturing facilities in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The US and Europe each represent about half of its sales. SAF-HOLLAND was founded in 1910 as Holland Hitch, a manufacturer of products that kept horses and plows together.
Experiencing a revenue decline of almost 50% in 2009 over 2008, SAF-HOLLAND moved aggressively to consolidate locations, make staff reductions, reduce capacities in production, and shorten working hours; US management also took a voluntary reduction in salary. The recessionary tornado was selective in regard to SAF-HOLLAND's divisions. The Trailer Systems division was hit particularly hard, experiencing a 37% drop in sales over 2008, while the Aftermarkets unit actually increased by 40%, offering a stabilizing affect for the rest of the company.
On the flipside, there were positive developments for the company's Trailer Systems unit in 2009. It commenced axle production in North America, superseding the use of third-party axle producers. SAF-HOLLAND imported its European technology, becoming the only company in the US to offer axle systems with disc brakes rather than traditional drum brakes. The technology upgrade is just in time to meet stricter braking requirements that are being imposed in the US in 2011. Additionally, SAF HOLLAND unveiled its FWAL aluminum fifth wheel, which is lighter in weight than comparable products and requires less maintenance.
Amid the economic downturn, the company expanded its global presence in 2008 with the acquisition of Austin-Westran, which makes trailer supports known as landing legs. The real target of the acquisition was Austin-Westran's China-based production facility. SAF-HOLLAND plans to continue its expansion in growing countries, including China, Brazil, India, and Russia.
Early in 2007 US-based Holland Group merged with Germany's SAF Group (Otto Sauer Achsenfabrik GmbH). SAF made trailer axle and suspension systems for the European market, while The Holland Group manufactured related products in the US.