By Malory Davies
The ERF name is finally disappearing from the UK road transport industry following the decision by MAN to stop branding vehicles with the ERF name.
The writing has been on the wall for the ERF brand ever since Cummins decided it would not to provide a Euro 4 engine suitable for the range. The use of a Cummins engine was the main differentiator between ERF and MAN trucks which both used the same cabs.
MAN has been equipping ERF models with its D20 engine and it says that this specification has been readily accepted by many ERF/Cummins customers. “However, this change to MAN’s Euro 4 engine has resulted in a significant reduction in demand for ERF badged trucks.”
MAN ERF UK pledged that, while significant demand for the ERF brand remained, the company would respond and keep the brand alive in the UK.
“Unfortunately this reduction in demand, together with the introduction of the new MAN TGX and TGS models, means the company has decided to cease production of ERF branded trucks.”
MAN ERF said it would continue to support its customers, operating some 20,000 ERF trucks on the road today.
Des Evans, chief executive of MAN ERF UK, said: “We have always said that while there was a sustainable UK market demand for the ERF brand, we would continue to build and supply them. Sadly for this historic brand, due to the fact we no longer have a Cummins engine as a differentiator, that demand has shrunk to almost nothing and it is not economically viable to manufacture and market the ERF brand.
“We are proud of our association with ERF and we have secured a very loyal customer base and a very experienced after sales network who are specialists in the supply and servicing of PET Reg and Hazardous Goods vehicles.”
ERF’s roots go back to 1856 when Edwin Foden began his career with a small engineering company near Sandbach in Cheshire that would become Foden Trucks.
According to the official ERF history, Edwin Foden’s son, Edwin Richard Foden, saw that the future lay in diesel power. He left Foden in 1931 following a boardroom dispute in which he advocated diesel over steam and set up the company that eventually became known as ERF.
However, that version is challenged by Allan Littlemore, a local historian who researched much of the history of ERF.
He says: “Edwin Richard Foden was a Victoria steam engineer, probably the best of his day. He wanted to hang on to steam, even into the 1930s. He still had plans for higher pressure boilers and superheaters. In 1924 his older brother, William, had left Fodens and emigrated to Australia as he could not put up with his interfering step mother any longer.
“The Foden board meeting minute book shows that in 1931, much to his reluctance, the board ordered ER Foden to design a truck round a Gardner 4L2 diesel engine. This he did but sub-contracted much of it to his nephew, Edwin Twemlow, who was later managing director at Fodens Ltd.
“By 1932 his step mother, who held most shares in the company, had him fired. He went to live in Blackpool. His son Dennis, still at Fodens Ltd, feared for his future so, with his cousin and Ernest Sherratt, started ERF Ltd. Initially it was called ER Foden & Son Ltd. They built their first truck, a diesel of course, in 1933 – fully two years after Fodens. Later that year Mr ERF started to take a genuine interest in the company and came back from Blackpool to live in Sandbach. He then became joint managing director, with Dennis, of ERF Ltd. He remained so until his death in 1950.
“ER Foden’s older brother, William (Billy) returned from Australia in 1936 because his step mother was now an old lady and was no longer interfering in the company. She died in 1938. He became managing director of Fodens Ltd and later governing director. He died in 1964 aged 96.”
The first ERF made its debut at the 1933 Commercial Motor Show. The company made its own chassis and cab with engines from Gardner, Cummins, Perkins, Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar.
A lightweight cab made ERF’s particularly attractive to carriers of bulk goods such as tanker operators.
Dennis Foden died about a decade after his father and was succeeded as managing director by Peter Foden.
The company was bought by Canadian truck maker Western Star in 1996. Peter Foden retired as chairman and chief executive of ERF Holdings in December 1996 becoming honorary life president enabling him to keep in contact with the company he and his family built up.
However, after Paccar’s purchase of both DAF Trucks and Leyland Trucks increased competitive pressure, and Western Star was approached by Freightliner corporation, the decision was made to sell ERF. MAN took it over in March 2000. At the end of that year ERF left the old Sandbach works and moved to their new factory at Middlewich.
Following the takeover, MAN found irregularities in ERF’s accounts – it had bought the company in the belief that it was profitable with net assets but it found that ERF made a loss and had significant liabilities.
In 2002, MAN sued Freightliner as Western Star’s legal successor for damages of around £300 million. That litigation was only settled at the end of May this year when Freightliner agreed to pay an indemnity of £250m to MAN.
MAN said of the agreement: “While MAN had been successful in the actions brought before British and US courts, time-consuming and costly actions before higher-instance courts in Britain and the US nonetheless awaited MAN, and these are now avoided by the settlement.”
Foden, the business owned by the other side of the family, became a divison of Paccar in 1980. Paccar owns Kenworth and Peterbilt in the USA, as well as DAF in Europe. Production of Foden Trucks was moved out of Sandbach to the Leyland Assembly Plant to reduce costs but the Foden brand was retired from new vehicle production in July 2006.