The Humvee is one of the most iconic machines of modern times. First developed back in the 1979, its speed and endurance have seen it deployed everywhere US troops have fought over recent decades, from Bosnia to Afghanistan. At the same time, foreign countries are increasingly adapting the vehicle for their own needs. Of course, the Humvee is not an easy beast to tame. But if they know where to turn, manufacturers can make it all their own - even thousands of miles from where they first rolled off the production line.
Nguyen Trinh knows the Humvee better than most. As executive vice-president for international defence at AM General - the Indiana, US-based company that first developed the Humvee in 1979 - he has worked with the vehicle for several years. Over that time, he has watched the steady rise of so-called 'technology transfer' agreements, whereby companies pass on their technology and expertise to other companies, often in developing countries.
"There are obviously many global customers that are looking to develop their own indigenous capabilities," Trinh explains. "That could be anything from designing their own vehicles to full-up production, supply chain management and life-cycle support post-production. It could be developing technologies or industrialising their automotive base, or establishing an automotive ecosystem."
AM General has thrown itself into all of this with gusto, hardly surprising given the company has such a vigorous understanding of its own machines. "We control a large portion of our own IP; the engine transmission is a primary example," Trinh says. "Because of that very robust and proven platform, we have a really strong baseline in helping customers look at their technology transfer requirements." This know-how has translated into a thriving overseas trade, with AM General now working in over 70 countries around the world.
Not that Trinh and his team simply hand out their technology before rushing home to Indiana. On the contrary, AM General commits to offering customers 'cradle to grave' support on their new equipment. This includes everything from concept design to optimisation of the manufacturing process and operations training. Even after a vehicle leaves the factory, AM General is on hand to offer maintenance checks and field service representation.
"This is the case with our Multi- Purpose Truck (MPT)," explains Trinh. "It's a demonstration of how we can provide a chassis and take it a step further by designing the vehicle system for the customer. Additionally, we can help develop the local supplier base, provide manufacturing best practices and establish a parts-support programme to ensure longevity of the systems."
Such has been the case with Otokar and MOWAG - Turkish and Swiss automotive companies, respectively - both of which have had support from AM General on their Cobra and Eagle II light-armoured vehicles for over a decade. It probably helps that the Cobra system incorporates AM General's mechanical components, meaning troops that also use Humvees can easily swap parts in the field. AM General has developed a similarly fruitful relationship with MOWAG, a Swiss company. All told, Trinh says, his team is ready to go the distance with foreign partners. "It's really a long-term thing. Our relationships could range from a couple of years to a couple of decades."
More broadly, working with so many partners allows Trinh and his colleagues to better understand technology transfer as a whole. If companies really want to profit from a handover, they have to understand the long-term desire of the customer from both an industrial and a policy angle. To make his point, Trinh highlights his experience with strict US technology law. "We've learned what we can do and what we can't do from a regulatory perspective," he says, adding that AM General will keep educating customers, "especially those who don't have a full appreciation of the regulatory requirements between countries."
Given how much AM General has achieved already, there's every reason to be optimistic. At any rate, it seems clear the company is ready to lead the pack in embracing technology transfers - just as it did with the Humvee back in 1979.