Tatra Trucks has a long-standing tradition of excellence and innovation, leading the way for European vehicle manufacturers
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
With a history that dates back to 1850, Tatra Trucks can boast one of the longest and proudest traditions in automotive manufacturing the world over.
The Company began when Designer, Ignác Šustala, began to work on the production of carriages and wagons in Kopřivnice, a town in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic. Almost 30 years later railway carriages were added to the Tatra’s portfolio, and in 1897 it produced the first passenger vehicle named Präsident.
“A milestone year for our company came in 1923, when our Designer, Hans Ledvinka, devised a chassis system that would go on to become the central backbone of our Tatra vehicles today,” explains Radek Strouhal, Chief Executive Officer at Tatra Trucks. “Today this system is known as the Tatra Concept and it provided us with a pivotal turning point in the manufacture of our vehicles.”
Moving into the 1930s, Tatra was the first company in the world to produce and sell passenger vehicles with aerodynamic bodies, in addition to its trucks, rail vehicles and sport aircraft.
Strouhal continues: “After the second World War we became a major manufacturer of heavy trucks for civil and military use in Czechoslovakia, supplying tens of thousands of vehicles to countries in almost all continents.”
However, in 1998 the Company’s production of passenger vehicles came to an end, and since that point in time it has been focusing exclusively on the production of trucks and special vehicles for the civilian market and army.
At present the vast majority of developmental work is focused on adapting the unique concept of the Tatra chassis, including its swinging half-axles and all-wheel drive.
“The characteristics of our chassis provide our Tatra vehicles with exceptional performance, both in rough terrain and on road,” adds Strouhal. “The off-road capabilities for our trucks are legendary thanks to the many years of development that have gone into them, while also being incredibly reliable for our customers.
“Supporting this is the fact that we are the only manufacturer of commercial vehicles that has been able to supply customers with trucks that comply with the Euro 5 emission standard, by equipping them with an original air-cooled engine of our own design.”
The biggest change for the Company in recent years - in terms of vehicle development - has been the launch of the Tatra Phoenix Euro 6 series, complete with Paccar engines in 2015. These vehicles are now the Company’s top-of-the-line product range for the EU markets.
“Alongside the addition of our new series we have also implemented changes to the backbone of our vehicles, a key part of all Tatra’s model series’,” affirms Strouhal. “The newly implemented design of the backbone is stronger and has a longer life; this will contribute to even higher durability and longevity of our vehicles, strengthening our reputation for the production of indestructible machines.”
Major market trends
After many years within the industry, one of the major trends affecting the Company at present is the necessity to reduce its production costs and the subsequent associated increase in cooperation between automotive manufacturers.
“In reaction to these new influences - including the globalisation of automotive component production - we have started to work with DAF in the field of engine and cabin deliveries for our Tatra Phoenix model series,” states Strouhal. “Most recently in 2017 we invested a substantial sum into the upkeep of our machine tools, particularly in the field of machining of gears in the drive system.
“As a direct result of these investments, we have not only seen higher productivity but also an increase in the quality and accuracy of machining.”
Alongside the upkeep and investment into the Company’s technology, it is currently in the preparatory phase of a project that will see the complete renovation of its production facilities. Given the huge scope within this project, it is expected to start in 2019.
“We are a very traditional brand with a lot of history, which will be reflected in these overhauls in the near future,” continues Strouhal. “We ensure that this legacy and tradition is carried forward through our employees, both new and old.”
Alongside Tatra’s impressive influence on the manufacturing industry as a whole, it is also trying to swing some of this influence to shine a light on corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives close to home.
“We are committed to supporting children’s activities and sports within our region, be that hockey, football or judo predominantly,” explains Strouhal. “Another example of our work in the past has been the organisation of an annual competition for students and the public; both are encouraged to design the future form of our Tatra vehicles, with the winner gaining the opportunity to work for us.”
In attempts to contribute to greater road safety the Company has also worked in cooperation with the Autoclub of the Czech Republic, where it has prepared courses that teach safe and economical driving to the masses.
“As well as our external work, we are also working with grant programmes on several projects that link to the rich history of the Company,” adds Strouhal. “These have included a project to build a new Tatra Museum and to renovate the exceptional historical express train, Tatra 68 Slovenska Strela, with its unique aerodynamic design produced in the 1930s.”
The construction of the aforementioned museum has been approved and the renovation project is set to start later this year, and it is hoped the project will contribute to the preservation of the unique technical monuments and vehicles related to the history and development of the Company.
“There are many exciting developments for us at Tatra, and I’m looking forward to seeing them come to fruition, particularly the planned reconstruction of our factory,” concludes Strouhal. “I believe this will significantly improve the working conditions of our employees, while also enhancing the overall image of the Company moving forward as a modern and progressive manufacturer with an exceptional history.”