Öhlins Racing has been an intricate part of the motorsport industry for more than 30 years.
Kenth Öhlin himself was a pretty fair motocross rider who didn’t quite make it to the prestigious titles. Things got better when he began to help others. Already before starting the Öhlins Company in 1976 he was constructing exhaust pipes, engines and shock absorbers. When he started up his own company he was also a retailer for motorbikes and mopeds and business grew like wildfire. Too fast as it turned out, the company became too diversified and Kenth was forced to choose direction at the beginning of the 1980’s.
With so many activities going on at the same time we had too much money locked up. I discussed this with my accountant and chose to discontinue with everything except shock absorbers, Kenth says. We were already at that time well to the forefront in development and competition was not that great. The choice was not difficult for me.
Öhlins’ shock absorbers were fitted for the first time on a world champion bike in 1978. The rider was the Russian Gennady Moiseev who rode a KTM in the motocross 250cc class. A wonderful memory; at that time I was out on the race tracks more than today. Worked Monday to Friday at the company and then drove out with the service bus to competitions all over Europe at the weekends. Sometimes one of my work mates would keep me company so I didn’t have to drive myself, Kenth tells. The most appreciated prize was Håkan Carlqvist’s first world championship title that he won in 1979. Kenth had known him for a long time and even occasionally competed against each other.
Already then Kenth Öhlin had made the decision that still holds today. Those riders that wanted help had to pay for parts and service. Sponsoring with free parts has never occurred. On this point Öhlins differs from other competitors. For sure it has happened that riders have got things free from other companies and left us. But they have for the most returned to us after a month or two, says Kenth.
Another important period for Öhlins was when Kenth Öhlin decided to sell 50 percent to Yamaha in 1987. Up until then Öhlins had been mostly associated with motocross but the yellow shock absorbers had even moved over to asphalt racing with good results. In 1984 Eddie Lawson won the 500cc class in road racing on a Yamaha with Öhlins shock absorbers. In fact it wasn’t a difficult decision to sell to Yamaha. We had a lot of contact over the years and we were in agreement about how the collaboration should function. I had no anxiety about selling but saw the advantages of collaboration with a multinational company. I haven’t ever had any regrets about my decision either, says Kenth.
In recent years Öhlins have made their entry into the automotive segment, Kenth sees great advantages with this. When people look back on Öhlins in 20 years I think they will see us as a company that developed shock absorbers for the car industry, in spite of it not really being our goal. 20 years is the time it usually takes before racing products begin to be used in standard cars, he continues.
Kenth Öhlin’s own role in the company has changed over the years. At the beginning he was the brain behind the products, nowadays he is more the spider in the web that leads the company forward. We made a big reorganisation a couple of years ago and recruited two assistant managing directors to make the company more dynamic. But I am still involved in all areas within the company. I don’t design any more but am responsible for the vision of the way technology will develop five years ahead and I still have the feel that enables me to see if something is wrong. At least an hour a day I try to be on the factory floor, he says.
In order to continue to be market leaders Öhlins invests every year around 16 percent of the turnover on developing new products. That means almost 50 million Swedish Krona. In December 2007 Kenth Öhlin decided to repurchase the majority share of the company and today only 5% remains in the hands of Yamaha.
We have good people in all parts of the company, I have always been careful with that and we will continue to be first in development. If I had wanted to run the company just for economic gain I would have done it differently, concludes Kenth Öhlin.
The Öhlins HQ is the very heart of our operations. Everything once started here back in 1976 when the founder Kenth Öhlin started his business in his fathers’ engineering workshop a bit further down the road. All products are being engineered and assembled in the facilities just north of Sweden’s capitol Stockholm.
The International airport, Arlanda, is just around the corner making the area very strategic for visitors and for our race engineers that travels the world on a regular basis. Today more than 200 employees make their way to the factory every morning to produce the most advanced suspension products in the world.
Öhlins Racing has been an integrated part of the motorsport industry for more than 30 years and our focus has always been on service and support, all the way from the MotoGP circuits to the local national racing events in over 50 distributing countries. Our philosophy has always been to supply the aftermarket, OEM partners and teams with high-end racing technology and we are all dedicated to exceed our customer’s expectations throughout the world.
Our passion for innovations and state-of-the-art technology motivates us to search for the next generation of advanced suspension technology. Our dedicated and professional staff cooperates with some of the most prestigious racing teams in the world to find the optimal racing performance and in the end this knowledge finds its way to the aftermarket shock absorbers, front forks and steering dampers on the street.
Our aftermarket customers ride on factory racing technology with just small or even now modifications. Our goal is to offer the same level of service and support throughout our organisation, no matter if it is a racing team or a passionate enthusiast rider in search of a better functioning suspension unit on his bike, car, ATV or snowmobile. To be a respected and preferred brand in the high-end segment within our business areas is a motto and every employee strive to make this come true.
To be in the forefront of advanced suspension technology makes us work even harder to find the next chapter of suspension technology. Öhlins Racing has just turned the page yet again and opened the world to electronic suspension!