Auto Ribeiro now enjoys intercontinental saturation and a six subsidiary-strong structure, that together will facilitate some of the most socially significant manufacturing activities to come out of Europe
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Tom Arnold
Over the course of more than 40 years, Auto Ribeiro has adapted to some of the most lucrative and challenging trends en route to compiling a comprehensive emergency and security vehicle portfolio; adjacent to a distribution network that covers three continents.
Initially tasked with manufacturing ambulances for the national fire department in its native Portugal, steady and concerted development from a volume and offering perspective was curtailed dramatically in 2008 as Europe’s economy crashed. However, as others around the Company fell by the wayside and strived for consolidation at best, Auto Ribeiro utilised its strong financial footing to address the challenge, while simultaneously spreading its risk should a similar event occur in the future.
“Before 2008 we worked solely in the Portuguese market but after the market decreased in 2008 we decided to spread our operations, to capitalise on our already big structure, and to explore other options.” As the new President, Mr Vítor Ribeiro went about creating a new long-term strategy to develop the Company.
A decade on, and this mission is both accomplished and still evolving. Via its AR Hispania, AR France, AVM Dubai and ARCD Africa strands (and complemented by a host of supporting distribution partners to take the business even further afield), six divisions now epitomise the diversity achieved since then.
AREquipment provides and manufacturers medical devices which are sold to Auto Ribeiro’s competitors who then take products like stretchers and ambulance seats to market, apart from a wider portfolio of other medical equipment, today with a presence in 27 different countries. ARAmbulance represents 60 percent of Auto Ribeiro’s activities with turnover increasing from €1 million to €8 million in recent times, and its market-leading vehicles distributed around the world. ARSecurity then caters for the armoured vehicles market and is the only example where Auto Ribeiro deals directly with the end customer as opposed to distributors, in accordance with EU confidentiality regulations. Meanwhile, ARMobility involves converting vehicles like taxis for people with disabilities. Rounding off the range is ARService which oversees all other strands of the Group, addresses aspects of quality control, and also comprises the Company’s vast aftersales operations.
“Our main differentiator comes from being this one-stop shop,” Mr Ribeiro sums up. “Previously, a customer would deal with a vehicle converter, or an ambulance provider, and then a stretcher provider, and then a seat provider, etc. But with Auto Ribeiro, they can deal with just one turnkey operator who has a network of partners already; giving us a massive advantage in terms of our capacity to produce a tailormade vehicle for any particular end customer.”
Achieving such diversification is no mean feat, but to do so on an increasingly international scale is even more impressive. At present, in Central Europe, the Company is present in Portugal (enjoying an 80 percent market share), France (where ambulance delivery volumes will increase from 150 in 2017 to 300 in 2018), and Spain. However, on the medical equipment side of things especially, this reach then broadens dramatically to incorporate the rest of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – from this Central Europe location – virtue of the third-party partnerships and subsequent distribution channels secured.
Mr Ribeiro explains: “In each case we have conducted market studies to see where to invest and France and Spain were obvious choices from this perspective. Dubai came from a similar strategy, and now in Africa, via Senegal, we will from this September be able to cater for all French speaking countries on the continent from a 30,000 square metre facility that replicates our best-in-class production lines in Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.
“In Africa there are not currently ambulance builders so there is a huge opportunity because even poor countries are investing in patient transport; especially with such dangerous illnesses like Ebola to contend with. There is now a conscious effort in Africa to invest in the primary emergency services and we saw the opportunity to be there and help this need.”
Consequently adopting 100 percent of the Senegalese market, such is its nascence, Auto Ribeiro is compounding its mere presence with a localisation strategy that will see it act as an indigenously sensitive entity. This ethos began in September, 2017 when an entire prospective Senegalese team was brought to Portugal for a year’s training, to prepare them for when operations open up back home in late 2018.
“Our approach is fully supported by the President of Senegal in terms of land, tools and employees, in the knowledge that our investment will aid employment rates and healthcare development in the country,” Mr Ribeiro elaborates. “And over the next five years, a similarly considered approach will see us expand into Morocco (delivering 100 ambulances), Greece (100) and Israel (50); to support our existing business which will rise to 500 ambulances to Portugal, the aforementioned 300 to France, 300 to Senegal, and 150 to Dubai.”
Innovative and flexible
A critical component facilitating every sector diversification or geographic expansion is Auto Ribeiro’s aftersales capabilities. And part of the Company’s willingness to increase its footprint derives from this dedication to be as local as possible to each and every customer around the world; whether it’s been delivered via a distributing partner or directly.
Meanwhile, back at base, the Company’s talented and knowledgeable R&D and manufacturing team works on continuously improving Auto Ribeiro’s levels of innovation, so that each of the Company’s six subsidiaries can meet the needs of this ever-expanding clientele.
“In terms of products, AREquipment has launched an electrical foldable chair that moves up and down stairs, as well as an electrical holder which takes the manual labour out of moving a stretcher in and out of the ambulance,” Mr Ribeiro details. “At ARSecurity, we have become more innovative and flexible with our armoured vehicles. And through ARAmbulance, we have worked a lot on what we call ‘ambulance connection’. This consists of a communication system which allows a doctor or nurse at the hospital to see and instruct what happens in the ambulance en route to the hospital, aiding the initial treatment process as well as time-to-department, to ultimately save lives.”
New machinery and equipment at each of the Company’s production facilities in Porto, Lisbon, Dubai and soon Senegal are being worked on around the clock to keep ahead of the industry curve, and often derive from an initial affiliation with Portuguese authorities and local universities which help to foster the best young talent in the industry. However, with it being such a niche industry, Auto Ribeiro then needs to go one step further to then give each individual much more bespoke, industry-specific training once within the confines of the business.
“By introducing them to the way in which Auto Ribeiro works specifically, people have the required skills to follow our strategy as we push forward with our future goals,” Mr Ribeiro concludes. “These goals include becoming the leading ambulance manufacturer and provider in the private markets where we operate; with a vision of making 1,500 vehicles a year.
“We have the capacity and the knowhow to achieve that, and soon we will have developed our already vast market footprint to deliver such ambitious volumes.”