Squaring the circle
Relying on instinct and following one's own passions could turn out to be a risky gamble. Often, however, it can prove to be the winning choice.
Relying on instinct and following one's own passions could turn out to be a risky gamble. Often, however, it can prove to be the winning choice. Taking part in competitions and developing a sports DNA is a choice that, over the years, has contributed decisively to OZ Racing’s success on the market and it still creates important opportunities and significant technical and organizational challenges. The CEO and president Claudio Bernoni, the mind behind that move, tells us about it. "It was 1984 and I had just joined the company which, at the time, was still called OZ Ruote, and produced alloy wheels with the OZ and MSW brands. For most of the last five decades, the small Padua-based company, founded in 1971 by Silvano Oselladore and Pietro Zen, has been working with some of the most important manufacturers and leading names in the automotive sector, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Aston Martin, Lotus and McLaren. Thanks to these partnerships, a multitude of hi-tech projects have come to light, both in terms of innovation and design. Since 1985, OZ wheels have found their space in the main four and two-wheeled championships: from F1 to WRC Rally and MotoGP. In over thirty years of sporting activity, OZ Racing’s record of achievements accounts for more than 150 titles, collected in several competitions. The brand is now enjoying huge popularity in international motorsport championships, as well as being a leading producer of light alloy wheels.
Our presence in motorsport is not just a marketing gimmick," explains Bernoni, "it is a production activity in all respects, and a demanding one at that, and makes up between 15% and 20% of our overall business: "we only work with official teams, who come to us for a technologically advanced and successful product". In F1, OZ wheels are currently found in six official teams, seven in 2019. OZ Racing, though, enjoys an almost total monopoly in other championships such as Formula Indy and rally championships where the majority of vehicles are equipped with OZ wheels. Likewise, in the next season of Formula E, all vehicles will rely on OZ wheels.
About seven years ago, OZ made a comeback into the motorcycle sector, after a few years of absence, with cutting-edge products that shook the market. A production of forged magnesium racing wheels that sets the Padua-based company as the leader in two-wheel racing as well. In the 2018 season, in fact, OZ raced in MotoGP where, besides being the sole supplier for the Honda HRC team and World Championship clincher Marq Marquez, supplies also most of the other teams. In Moto 2 and Moto 3 OZ Racing products are used by 70% and 90% of the teams respectively. The brand's penetration of the global motorcycle racing market as a whole is around 70%.
From racing tracks to normal roads
Our active and successful participation in motor racing has certainly helped the notoriety of OZ Racing. However, "unless supported by quality and substance, a brand alone will not suffice to be competitive – states the group’s number one -. The development of racing wheels feeds our know-how, allowing us to continue working in this field and pass on the passion and experience gained to other divisions. The competition sector, in fact, is seasonal - continues Bernoni – and we saw to it that when it is necessary to support the racing division, part of the staff involved in mass production moves to that section. And vice versa. This periodic transfer of resources from one area to another favours a natural transfer of internal skills, benefitting the overall development of our products".
Commitment to racing has often been the key factor behind OZ Racing’s decisions as far as our mass produced models, often ahead of their times. In the mid-1990s," says Bernoni, "we began to produce fully machined aluminium forged racing wheels. Today they are standard models on top-of-the-range production sports cars". However, there are very few parallels to be drawn between a F1 and a production car. "True - our interlocutor points out - we have seen for ourselves how that technology can, after many years, be adapted to production cars". However, the underlying factors that drive the development remain very different: "As far as racing wheels, the specifications are chosen together with the team. In general, the aim is to achieve the best possible weight to stiffness ratio. In F1, aerodynamics is equally important, especially on the front wheels, and in this case the team’s engineers study the perfect solution and we industrialize it". Another difference lies in the fact that, while on racing cars the designer defines the project and then assesses the results on the track, in motorcycles, and in particular, in MotoGP the characteristics of the wheel depend mainly on the rider’s feeling. "In this case, the stiffness-to-weight ratio can have a decisive influence on the rider’s feeling with the front wheel".
This complex development has filled OZ Racing's toolbox with the necessary skills to create strong, light and aesthetically pleasing wheels, even for production cars. But we have to take notice of other trends too: "After years in which tire treads kept growing wider, we now notice a significant increase in the diameters required. Some cars leave the factory with the option of having 22 or even 23 inch wheels. The larger the diameter, the more weight becomes a key issue, as Claudio Bernoni confirms. Given the same diameter and reducing the shoulder, the weight of the tire drops, but at the same time the weight of the wheel increases. This trend brought with it the need for greater research into design, a key factor for the desired style of the car. "Some designs may be particularly appealing to look at but can penalise the overall weight of the wheel - indicates the CEO of OZ Racing -. The real art lies in is making larger wheels, great to look at, but still light and resistant". To do this, the Veneto-based company uses heat-treated materials and applies technologies such as flow-forming and HLT (High Light Technology) technology: "this makes it possible to reduce the thickness of the rim, reducing the weight of the wheel by up to 10%, while still preserving its thickness".
A large family
OZ Racing’s offer is now spread out over several brands: OZ includes racing wheels as well as items for mass-produced top-of-the-range sports and luxury cars. MSW, on the other hand, is the brand used for the group's entry level offer marked by an excellent quality/price ratio. Finally, Sparco wheels, a brand used by OZ under license, deals with more affordable sports product.
At OZ Racing, development never stops. The Italian manufacturer is already working for the 2020 season. However, without having to wait so long, news are expected also in the near future. In 2018, a couple of wheels were introduced for the van segment - which is growing strongly in Italy as well as Europe - OZ Rally Racing Van and MSW48 Van, the trailblazers of what will become a larger family of products in 2019. In 2018, OZ launched also its Hyper XT, a rim dedicated to medium-large and high-end SUVs. Then we have OZ Veloce GT, a wheel designed for class B and C cars, a light alloy wheel for compact cars with supercar dreams - as the slogan says -.
MSW, on the other hand, has a portfolio of products that offer a sporty design that fits the design of the cars they will be equipping. In 2018, a number of products were proposed that wink at a few specific car models, such as the MSW73 for BMW and MSW82 for Alfa Romeo, as well as the MSV49, whose neutral design is suitable for several different models in the mini SUV and crossover segments.
The OZ family is now present in over 70 countries worldwide. About 85% of our production is exported. The company can rely on exclusive distributors in each market - "we are not great fans of the open market", indicates Claudio Bernoni – and in some cases OZ is present through a subsidiary: in addition to its headquarters in San Martino di Lupari, in the province of Padua, the company has a branch in Japan, one in Germany - the most important and taking care of business in Austria, Belgium and Holland - one in Denmark and one in the United Kingdom. In addition, a further branch has recently been opened in China. "Germany has always been our main market, followed by the USA and, on an equal footing, by Japan and Italy - explains the CEO of OZ Racing -. The German market is the most important in Europe: there sales are ten times higher than in Italy. Now we are investing in China, where we see excellent opportunities for growth. The strong international vocation, allowed OZ to be always ahead of the competition - "in Germany, wheels must be approved according to TÜV standards, so when a similar regulation came into force in Italy we were ready" - and to resist even in the most critical moments.
"Italy has a well established market, like many others in Europe, and doesn't grow much, but it still give us much satisfaction," assures Bernoni. For this reason, our presence on the territory and the relationships we enjoy with our national distribution channel represent a particularly important aspect. "We need the support of our sales network," admits our interlocutor. We rely on the retailer to transmit the values of our products to the customer. In view of this we launched the Paddock project, a network of OZ Racing European flagship stores: "the sales points in the network are real showrooms and we try to build an advantageous relationship with them". In return, we only ask for expertise and product knowledge. "Turnover is not a key requirement to join the network. Above all, we want our Paddock dealers to be able to illustrate our product in the right way, offering our clients a customer experience in line with the brand". In Europe, more than 200 specialist dealers have joined the Paddock project. 70 are in Italy. "The list is constantly updated - confirms OZ Racing’s CEO -. We talk to thousands of stores, and to try to make things attractive for the group providing a B2B channel with a network of agents and digital tools aimed at improving customer relationship and buying experience: in our website, in a reserved area, for example, you can find a configurator which has been designed to facilitates the sale of our wheels. "It is a very useful tool for the tire specialist, and they can use it to choose the wheel the customer prefers, in line with the car’s registration certificate". Thanks to the license plate search, it is also possible to view each set of wheels compatible with that specific vehicle. "This is a service activated in collaboration with external suppliers and integrated with our database, developed over the years with internal and external data; an important asset for our network.
A promising future
After an exceptional 2017, which closed with a 10% increase in turnover, OZ Racing's expectations for the end of 2018 are to exceed that value, even if by just a little. "The goal at the beginning of the year was to maintain and confirm the results we reached in 2017, but if the current growing trend is confirmed we will be more than satisfied - says Claudio Bernoni -. As for 2019, we are bit more cautious. The global economic situation, in fact, is quite difficult to interpret due to the uncertainty related to the battle raging over excise duties and the complexity of some macro-political situations. The economic downturn expected for the second half of the year has actually occurred. However, in Italy at the moment, sales are not dropping. Things won’t be easy - concludes Bernoni - but we cannot rule out a further increase in turnover. Who knows if our feelings in this sense might prove correct, yet again!