The Austrian Honorary Consulate sat down with Florian Oppenrieder, head of pewag Traction North America to discuss this fascinating company, which operates a facility in Pueblo, CO.
Florian Oppenrieder, born and raised in Graz, Austria, came to the US in 2018. He was being tasked with the brand new production and manufacturing facility in Pueblo (built in 2014). The previous four years, Florian worked as the assistant to the owner, Aegyd Pengg, at pewag and focused on business development . Being asked to take over the plant in Colorado, the first non-European pewag manufacturing facility, was a big professional and also personal step. His wife and son were immediately on board and so the family relocated to Colorado with little hesitation. The Opps were very positively surprised by the warm welcome they received in Pueblo and quickly found a community of like-minded people. They are now really enjoying life in this small, industrial city in the middle of Colorado. Pueblo was chosen as pewag’s main US traction headquarter because of its location, in the middle of the US, in a state with lots of snow, with reasonable labor costs and costs of living. In addition to that Pueblo offered with its Economic Development Corporation, PEDCO, huge assistance in building/starting, the first North-American pewag manufacturing facility to the City of Pueblo, and creating new jobs for Pueblo. Plus… a steel mill right in town and a city that is very accommodating to businesses to relocate to the area. It made sense to pick this location for pewag!
pewag is an Austrian company with a very long history of producing chains, going back to 1479. There are rumors that Christopher Columbus used some pewag (anchor) chains on this oversea travels, but this is hard to proof of course. 😉
pewag is considered to be one of the leading chain producers in the world. It originally was a 2-family owned business, family Pengg and Walenta. Hence, the name pewag (with AG coming from Aktiengesellschaft, the German word for stock corporation). Today it is a non-public company managed by the owner, Aegyd Pengg. It’s biggest traction chain plant is in Brückl, Kärnten, but has several other facilities throughout Europe.
pewag has two different divisions:
1) Industrial chain division – lifting, conveyor, tire protection chains and components
with manufacturing facilities in Europe and distribution facilities across the world – as well in North-America (pewag Inc. – in Bolingbrook, IL)
2) Traction chain division – with focus on:
a) Passenger market focused on selling chains to individuals, who only need their chains for their private vehicles. These chains are produced in Europe and imported to the US under the brand name KONIG. Actually, pewag with their KONIG chains are the recommended supplier for Tesla.
b) Professional market that uses chains for companies who rely on traction chains as part of their job performance.
c). Forestry market focused on providing traction solutions for the forestry industry
Florian is tasked with not just managing the facility in Pueblo, but also increasing sales within the traction chain market throughout North America. He appreciates to work in a company that is family-owned, values sustainability and he is very proud of producing a high quality product. In fact, the quality of pewag chains are far superior than other chains, but the quality comes with a price tag.
pewag traction chains sold here in the US are 100% manufactured in the US. This in turn means higher quality steel, better manufacturing as well as higher employee costs, which results in higher prices versus a typical Chinese traction chain. But, according to internal tests, a typical Chinese traction chain lasts 45 miles on bare pavement while a Pewag chain outperforms it tremendously by lasting 800 to 1000 miles. This outperformance at a higher costs is very much appreciated by municipalities operating a fleet of snow plows as well as the transportation industry (CDOT, Caltrans, etc). These entities understand the advantage and are willing to pay the higher price for a much better quality product from pewag. It’s clear why pewag is already the market leader for chains world-wide in any category.
In the US market things look a bit differently. pewag is definitely the 1st choice for professional users, that means people who are relying on traction chains to perform their job. Traction chains are a highly seasonal product, which is dictated by some states with traction laws. In Colorado, for example, commercial vehicle operators need to carry chains with them from beginning of September to end of April to be prepared for any potential snow storm. Since they potentially can wait out any winter storm and only use traction chains sparingly, those type of users usually tend to gravitate towards cheaper, low quality chains from China. The same applies to individuals in passenger cars.
Traction chains, however, do not only have applications in snow. Industries with heavy machinery that needs to operate in mud or half frozen ground or rough surfaces like forests begin to understand the advantages of traction chains and are becoming another important market for pewag. A good example is the forestry market in Wisconsin that is heavily dedicated to cutting and harvesting trees.
While pewag cannot compete with cheaper raw material costs and labor costs of chains produced in Asia, it definitely had an advantage during the Pandemic. By not relying on any supplies from Asia, the supply chain was able to operate without interruptions.
In the US pewag employs about 55 people with 40 at the factory in Pueblo and another 15 people in the distribution center in Rocklin, CA and across the USA and Canada. pewag’s sales & tech support team is offering training classes, chain mounting support and repair throughout the NA. With sustainability being a hot topic, the pewag facility in Rocklin, CA also offers chain assembly and repair. Depending on corrosion and life cycle, cross chains can be replaced and so new life can be breathed into those chains by using replacement parts and manually fixing chains. Chains are heavy and so any repair is not a simple task.
We here at the Austrian Honorary Consulate wish Florian Oppenrieder and the entire pewag company a lot of success in the US market!
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Florian Oppenrieder.