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$15m plant to make HiLux bullbars

No bull: Abcor founder and chairman Greg Kaias (left) and Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner at the opening of the new Abcor plant in Melbourne's norther suburbs last week.

Toyota order expands Abcor’s reach from trucks into the 4X4 sector

General News logo22 Jun 2015

By IAN PORTER

TOYOTA Australia's switch to a new supplier for steel bullbars for its new-generation HiLux utility range has prompted the construction of a highly automated $15 million factory in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

The new plant built for the new supplier, the Australian-owned Abcor Pty Ltd, will initially produce around 12,000 steel bullbars a year for Toyota’s new HiLux range, due for release in October this year.

Once production for the HiLux has settled down, Abcor director John Kaias told GoAuto the family owned company will explore the possibility of exporting the new bullbar, which was designed in close co-operation with Toyota and meets every criteria set down by the Japanese automotive giant.

The Toyota contract extends Abcor’s footprint in the local automotive industry, building on its position as the supplier of all the ladder-frame chassis' used to underpin the locally made Kenworth range of trucks. It also supplies aluminium bullbars to Kenworth.

Abcor will make two types of steel bullbar, a “designer” bar and a “commercial” one, which will be supplied through Toyota dealerships as genuine Toyota parts.

Another Melbourne-based parts-maker, ARB Corporation, will still supply the genuine Toyota aluminium bullbar, which offers the same five-star accident rating as the steel bars.

Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner told GoAuto during the plant tour that around 75 per cent of all HiLux variants sold are equipped with a bullbar.

“It’s big business,” he said at the plant opening. “We do, on average, about 40,000 HiLux a year, and the fitment rate is pretty high.” Around 30,000 HiLux models get a bullbar each year.

“The current thinking is about 12,000 a year on the steel bullbars, but it’s got plenty of upside because the new bars are really stylish.

“They are not just plunked on the front. They are five-star, they look good, whether it’s the commercial bar or the other one,” Mr Buttner said.

“They’re good looking bars. They are fashion accessories for our vehicles.”

The steel bullbars were the result of two years of close collaboration with Toyota, said Mr John Kaias, a director of Abcor and co-owner with his brother James. Their father and company founder Greg is chairman.

Mr Kaias said Abcor had a liaison engineer embedded within Toyota Australia for two months and the company sent an engineer to Japan for a week at the peak of the development process.

“There were six months of high-end computer simulations discovering where all the stress points were and eliminating the red zones around the weld points.

“We were getting changes and revisions coming through left, right and centre.

You think you’ve got it right, you’ve worked out your processes, and they do a change.

“There were really a lot of changes all the way along, so we had to be very flexible, very dynamic about it. And we changed our processes a number of times.

“That’s just the nature of the beast.”

When the finite element analysis was done, Abcor had to start the physical trials, including the kangaroo impact testing, Mr Kaias said.

The high volume of computer simulation was needed because Toyota set a challenging weight target of no more than 60kg for the new bullbars.

“The issue with a bullbar is it is a large mass and it is hanging off the front of the chassis, off the crash boxes,” Mr Kaias said.

“These days they engineer vehicles so precisely that when you put that (weight) on the front of the car, the dynamics change quite a lot.

“These vehicles go through a lot of hard work and, if the engineering is not right, all of a sudden something starts cracking. That needs to be assessed very carefully in the design stage.”

Mr Kaias said the new plant could produce 20,000 bullbars a year but could easily be expanded to make 30,000 or even 40,000 units.

“I can push 25,000 at the moment, over two shifts. And we have got the capacity to find other work, and we will.

“The Australian dollar has gone down. I think there are some markets overseas we could definitely attack.

“But what I want to do now is bed this in, perfect it, supply Toyota, get it all running and then look for other opportunities.”

The plant was officially opened last week by Victorian manufacturing minister Lily d'Ambrosio.

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