Salvador Caetano is one of Portugal's leading companies, with a wide range of interests mainly connected with the motor industry. The Caetano group of companies now employ over 2,200 people, and enjoy an annual turnover exceeding £200M. Coach building was the start of this empire, but now only accounts for approximately 15% of the business. The company has diversified into many other areas, including the manufacture of a wide variety of automotive products, the assembly of Toyota light commercial vehicles and the distribution of Toyota, BMW and MAN products throughout Portugal.
The story of the man behind the company starts in 1926, when Snr. Salvador F. Caetano, one of nine children, was born on the outskirts of Oporto in northern Portugal. He left school at the age of 10, and decided to work for himself when he was 18.
It was in 1946 that the seed of the current company was sown, when the firm of Martins Caetano & Irmao was established, building wooden framed coach and bus bodywork.
Salvador Caetano was never slow to move with the times, and in 1952 was the first coach builder in Portugal to use composite wood/steel construction. This lead was repeated in 1955, when they were again the first in Portugal to use another new technique, this time all steel construction.
In 1965, the Oliveira do Douro factory was opened, and is still one of the company's major sites. The company now found itself with the capacity to serve more than just the demand from the Portuguese market, and so export was investigated. The first country it did business with was the UK, in 1967.
1968 was a significant year for the company, as Salvador Caetano were appointed exclusive distributors of Toyota products in Portugal. This meant, apart from importing and selling Toyota cars, the building Toyota light commercial vehicles, and the opening of the Ovar assembly plant in 1971.
The bus and coach building side of the business continued to move forward during this time, and integral buses were first manufactured by the company in 1970, with the assistance of German firm Magirus Deutz. The company continued to expand in the early 1970s, with numerous associated companies being formed. Aircraft refuellers were also produced, in 1973.
The Portuguese revolution in 1974 could well have been a set back for the company, as the country was gripped by a general strike. However, Snr. Caetano appealed to his workers, and production was maintained. It was also in this year that France was added to the list of countries that the company exported to.
The late 1970s saw further growth and development, with new premises for the Southern Division in Portugal opened in 1978, at Prior Velho, Sacavem. The Oliveira do Douro factory was restructured in 1979 to reach European technical and productivity level standards.
The 1980s were no less eventful for Salvador Caetano. Continued expansion saw the creation of more associated companies, one of these being Salvador Caetano (UK) Limited in 1984. Surprisingly, it was not until 1986 that Portugal's neighbour, Spain, became another of the countries in the company's list of export markets. Finland joined this list a year later, with Germany, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg added in 1988. The success of the Spanish business resulted in Salvador Caetano (Spain) being formed in 1989.
In 1990, the first of the successful Cobus, the purpose built airport apron bus, was produced. Popularity of this 14 metre long, 3 metre wide vehicle was such that the 100th Cobus was produced only 2 years later. The Ovar assembly plant saw the 200,000th vehicle come off the line and the opening of a training centre in 1993, whilst 1994 saw the company pursuing the ISO 9001 quality standard. The new Cobus 3000 was exhibited at the Inter-Airport show at Frankfurt in 1995.
1996 was another milestone in the company's history - it's 50th anniversary. The new headquarters building was opened, and a huge banquet was held for employees as part of the celebrations.
Caetano in the UK
The first Salvador Caetano coach was imported into the UK in 1967, by the Ford agent, Willments. The following year, the Moseley Group were appointed as agents for the UK. In these early days, Caetano coaches stood out from the crowd with styling that was considered exotic compared to the relatively conservative British designs. This, however, was not the case when the popular Algarve model was released in 1983, the vehicle blending well with other designs of the day.
Salvador Caetano (UK) Ltd. was set up in 1984, trading in Northampton. The Optimo was released in 1985, and the company began to carve a larger part of the UK market for itself. The commitment to the British market was very obvious when the UK company made a huge investment by moving to purpose built premises in 1988. These were extended in 1993 with state-of-the-art paint facilities.
Meanwhile, the Algarve model was replaced by the Algarve II in 1992, while the Optimo, released in it's second version in 1990, was improved further and the Optimo III was launched in 1993. The first of over 140 coaches was supplied to Bus Eireann in 1994. Many of these vehicles supplied were of a hybrid design, specially designed to meet the customers needs.
In December 2006 the UK Group of Companies was restructured and a new streamlined Company was the end result. Richard L Hunter was appointed CEO with Jonathan Highton as CFO. Caetano UK Limited faces the future with great optimism built on the success of the Caetano Levante, in both Twin Axle 12.6m and Tri Axle 14.2m form.