Spring 2023

A GSE legacy

Magnus Johansson

After 36 years at Kalmar Motor AB, managing director Magnus Johansson has sold his majority share to Vestergaard Company, thus giving Vestergaard full ownership of the innovative, Sweden-based aircraft tractor manufacturer

While the name Magnus Johansson is known around the world for his association with, ownership and leadership of Kalmar Motor, many do not know that he is the youngest of three brothers and that both of his older siblings have also played important roles in the success of the company – with Bengt Johansson acting as chief designer and Anders Johansson in the role of IT manager.

Going back to the mid-1980s, it was Anders and Bengt who were first to join Kalmar Motor as contractors, working on rebuilding drive axles for the baggage tractor range of vehicles it was manufacturing at the time.

The original owner and founder, the late Bo Elfström, had started to formulate an idea for a towbarless piece of equipment for commercial aircraft towing tractors. Elfström and Bengt Johansson jointly developed this idea and it quickly became a success in the market.

Anders Johansson was then brought in to work on the new Maxi dispatch towing concept – of which more below. He also handled a service contract for SAS in Copenhagen for many years.

Magnus Johansson was first employed at Kalmar Motor in 1987, when his role in the company was not in sales or senior management; rather, it was to engineer and manage the production line for the company’s conventional aircraft handling tractors.

As with Anders and Bengt Johansson, it did not take very long for Elfström to identify the potential in Magnus Johansson and he was soon assisting his brothers with the towbarless tractors and at the same time helping Elfström on the operations side of the company.

In the early years, Kalmar Motor had developed the TBL100, TBL180 and the very large TBL400 Maxi towbarless tractors. The TBL400 Maxi was designed for the handling of any widebodied aircraft, but most importantly it was designed for ‘dispatch’ type towing – in which the tractor tows a fully loaded aircraft to a start position on a runway at speeds to match that of an aircraft taxiing under its own engine power.

From the outset, the idea was to reduce aircraft fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and, in 1993, the Johansson brothers designed and manufactured Kalmar Motor’s first fully electric-powered TBL: the TBL100E. This was predominantly designed for gate pushbacks with the benefit of reduced operational and maintenance costs, while improving efficiency and, most importantly, cutting CO2 emissions.

Elfström retired in December 1996 and, as of 1 January 1997, Magnus Johansson became a joint owner of Kalmar Motor, sharing 50/50 ownership with Mats Petersson.

Prior to his retirement, Elfström declared that he wanted Kalmar Motor to stay true to its manufacturing, innovation-based vision and that the company should remain based in the city of Kalmar.

And, having worked with Elfström for many years, both Magnus Johansson and Petersson stayed true to their previous employer; they continued to develop and innovate in just the same way as their friend had previously done.

Magnus Johansson took the role of sales director, Bengt Johansson that of chief designer and Anders Johansson became IT manager as well as offering assistance in the areas of design and manufacturing. Mention should also be made of Bo Karlsson, who from 2000 worked very closely with the three brothers while also assisting Magnus Johansson in many of the day-to-day operations of the company.

Varied portfolio

Alongside the aircraft handling tractors, Kalmar Motor has also manufactured special equipment for the material handling sector. Generally, if nobody else made it, and something quite different was required, Kalmar Motor would do it.

Over the years, it has manufactured special cable roll handlers for the cable manufacturing industry, machines used in car manufacturing plants for the handling of diecast cases, and material handling machinery for smelting factories and many other industries.

The vision around designing and producing these special one-off machines was to utilise this business to generate new technology that could perhaps be used within the GSE sector. As chief designer, Bengt Johansson would not only take an important role in the design of these special machines, he would also play the lead role in their build and manufacture, just as he did with any new aircraft tractor.

Leading the way

Kalmar Motor originally invested in the design and development of Li-ion powered tractors back in 2008, with the first models being delivered to Scandinavian carrier SAS in 2009.

By contrast, many of Kalmar Motor’s competitors have only comparatively recently entered the market with electric powered aircraft handling tractors and, today, Kalmar Motor remains a leading manufacturer of a wide range of conventional and towbarless tractors, all powered by the latest lithium-ion powered battery technology.

While the company remains relatively small in comparison to some of its peers in the business, under the leadership of Magnus Johansson it has focused on its engineering strength, with a team of employees who understand the requirements of the ground support industry.

In addition, Magnus Johansson directed the Kalmar Motor operation to run smoothly and effectively with a simplified Swedish, creative focus.

The role of the three Johansson brothers stayed much the same for 25 years, although Magnus did take the position of managing director/CEO when Mats Petersson retired in 2015.

As part of the transition of Kalmar Motor to Vestergaard Company, Magnus Johansson is to stay on as a member of the board of directors. Alongside this role, he will continue to help with the manufacture of the special industrial machines under a new company, JBM Company Kalmar AB. (JBM combines the initials of Johan, Bengt and Magnus, with Johan being a former long-term employee of Kalmar Motor).

Bengt Johansson will also continue to work at Kalmar Motor for two or three days a week, providing support to its engineering team, helping to ensure that the company’s quality, vision and world-leading technology is passed on.

As the Johansson brothers hand the Kalmar Motor baton to Vestergaard Company (another Scandinavian family-based company), their vision is expected to remain part of the company, so that Kalmar Motor lives on as an innovation-driven aircraft tractor manufacturer.