Rubber land. The Matador factory in Puchov (northwest Slovakia) produced 3.5 million tires in 1997, ranking it as one of the top 30 rubber production plants in the world.
Courtesy of Matador
"Matador is not a typical [Slovak] company. Their approach is very proper, not like others."
Milan Urban, Automobile Industry Association
Matador's 1997 tire output reached more than 3.5 million pieces, with truck tires taking a 40.2 percent share on production. Last year's gross turnover was 12.037 billion Sk ($ 344 million), 638 million Sk ($ 18 million) more than in 1996.
Štefan Rosina, the president of Matador, said that the principal reasons behind the boost were lower production costs and higher product quality, which were the fruit of earlier investments and which paid extra dividends by attracting more customers. "Our ongoing effort at Matador is to achieve annual economic growth, which the company has kept for several years, despite adverse economic conditions," said Rosina. "The 1998 business plan expects an 8 percent output increase, and a 6 percent expenditure decrease," he added.
But despite Matador's positive results, one important customer, VW Bratislava, is still holding out against cooperation. In 1998, the German car giant intends to produce 120,000 cars, mostly the popular VW Golf, in Bratislava. None of those cars will have Matador tires on them.
The reason is price rather than quality, according to a source at VW. Matador tires are 500 Sk higher in price than the American Michelin tires currently used by VW. Thanks to an international contract, 4 million Michelin tires annually roll into VW factories.
According to retail price, however, Michelin is about 40 percent higher than Matador. But Marián Pilárik, a private retail tire salesman in Bratislava, said that price isn't the only determining factor. "You can't compare Matador tires to foreign ones like Michelin," he said. "It is a question of noise level, rubber quality and tire longevity." Pilárik said that Matador tires lose out in all three of these categories.
Jozef Kapec, Matador's spokesman, said that comparing Matador with other foreign tires doesn't tell the whole story. "Historically, Matador exclusively supplied the Czech Škoda Mladá Boleslav, and has never equipped Mercedes, BMW, or VW," he said. "These high-class cars prefer tires made specially for them, not ones like Matador's which are aimed at middle-class cars. This is why the question of noise level, longevity, or any other question of this kind, may emerge. But, we are trying hard to establish cooperation with VW and improve our standards."
Rosina said that a possible partnership between Matador and VW had some important synergies. "One advantage is the fact that the tires for the Volkswagen Golf, and the ones for the Škoda Octavia - already tested in Germany - which we supply, are identical." But if Matador wants to feed VW, they need to undergo new and demanding tests in Volfsburg, Germany, a long and difficult process according to Rosina. If successful, Matador would acquire the much sought after German quality certificate (VDA), which would allow them to supply VW.
Taking quality seriously
Although more than 60 percent of Slovakia's automotive companies, including Matador, have obtained a management certificate which recognizes management quality in accordance with the international standard ISO 9000, Matador is one of the only companies that take the quality achievements seriously.
"A considerably high number of [Slovak automotive] companies view certification as a goal, not as a tool to achieve the goal," said Jozef Uhrík, VW Bratislava commercial director for the weekly Trend. But at Matador, analysts believe the situation is different. "This is not the case for Matador," said Milan Urban, head secretary of the Automobile Industry Association. "Matador is not a typical [Slovak] company. Their approach is very proper, not like the others."
Proof of Urban's words can be found in a recent March 9-12 recommendation from a respected management certificate company, Det Norske Veritas, which granted Matador a product quality certificate, according to the American standard QS 9000. "Our company, which ranks among the 29 best rubber-production companies in the world, became the first one, not only in Slovakia, but in all of Central Europe, to have certificates for management, ISO 9000, QS 9000, and also the ecological certificate ISO 14000," said Rosina.
Despite all of these certificates, at present Matador is confined to increasing supplies for their current customers. Among their principal buyers are the Czech company Škoda Mladá Boleslav (Škoda MB) and the Russian Lada Togliatti. "Besides our other sub-suppliers like Barum, Debica, Stomil, Continental, or Michelin, Matador tires make up more than 40 percent of our purchases destined for the assembly of the Škoda Felicia," said Zbyněk Jeřábek, responsible for buying tires at Škoda MB.
Škoda also produces an upper-middle class car, the Octavia. Matador tires for this type successfully underwent difficult quality tests in Germany. "The tests went very well, resulting in the first 500 MP 14 tire series being delivered to Škoda MB," said Rosina. "We expect another 20-30 thousand pieces to be delivered after successful assembly inspection," he said.
Matador is growing into a promising company not simply in local lines, but also on a European scale. In 1997, exports covered 82 percent of total Matador sales. Concerning car tires for retail sale, besides the Czech Republic and Russia, Matador supplies Great Britain, the Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, France and Poland, among others. Among major buyers of truck tires are, excluding the domestic market, the USA, Russia, Great Britain, Ukraine and Poland. "Recently, we started negotiations with the Korean Daewoo, the Romanian Roman, and the Yugoslav Ikarbus and Fab, for further cooperation," said Rosina.