Their products are used in high-end and performance vehicles with computer-controlled gearboxes. 95% of their sales are to overseas markets in 40 countries across six continents.
Traditionally, there were two types of transmission – automatic (slow and clunky) or manual (faster but inconvenient to the driver). Around 10 years ago, manufacturers started making cars with Formula 1 technology, using computer-controlled transmissions that improve upon the speed of a manual while still providing the user simplicity of an automatic. These computer-controlled gearboxes use very complex ‘dual clutches’, which often are not strong enough if the owner upgrades the horsepower of their car.
“When these cars first came out, if something went wrong with the dual clutch transmission, there wasn’t much you could do. No one wanted to open it up because they were too scared; it was a black box, and it was very expensive. If the transmission had a problem, you had to ship the whole thing back to Germany or Japan, and the fix was no better than what you started with. It was hard to make the car go faster because there was no way to upgrade the transmission,” says Dodson CEO David Sweas.
Dodson started as a performance racing shop with engineer Glenn Cupit working on local cars as well those of automotive industry veteran Harry Dodson. Frustrated with the drawbacks of the Nissan GTR dual clutch transmission after it was introduced in 2007, Glenn decided to design his own upgraded parts. In doing so, Glenn and Harry first developed and then began manufacturing components that could enhance the performance of dual-clutch transmissions to handle upgraded power.
Having essentially created the product category, Dodson is now the world’s top brand in upgraded dual clutches. Many of the world's fastest GTRs, Lamborghinis, McLaren’s, BMWs, Porsche 911s, VWs and Audis are reliant on Dodson products, and their customers hold numerous world records.
David Sweas joined Dodson as CEO in October 2019. His background in automotive engineering and investment banking for automotive clients made him a perfect fit for this innovative automotive parts company.
“It’s a niche market, definitely,” David comments. “But we’re finding that sales of dual clutch transmissions are growing faster than that of electric cars. Especially for brands like Corvette, Lamborghini, and Nissan GTR. And our customers are the last ones who will ever switch to electric – just like some people are still racing horses 100 years after the Model T.”
“Social media has definitely helped our business. It’s created a competitive culture around the cars. There’s a desire to ‘one up’ everyone else who owns the same car – not just in your local neighbourhood, but around the world. That drives demand for our products and amazing customer loyalty.”
“Around half of our business is to the USA and another good chunk is to Europe, with the balance spread out among the Middle East, South Africa, Latin America, Asia and Australia,” states David. “Here in New Zealand, we are the local expert installing our own products, which is around 5% of our sales and keeps us sharp on what is happening with cars in the field.”
It was important to the Dodson founders to have an investment partner with a long-term outlook. Bringing Booster in as an investment partner has enabled Dodson to invest in new production equipment and plan for a move to a new facility.
“The founders wanted a partner as the business continues to grow,” David acknowledges. “Not someone who wanted a quick flip investment. They were looking for long-term support to help achieve their vision.”
“Having Booster on board also means we’ve been able to invest in our research and development. We need to get our hands on the new car models early so that we can beat the market on development work. We’re also bringing in specialised equipment that will enable us to cut down lead and increase our sales capacity.”
David points out that Dodson has invested significantly in trademark protection. “We’re the global leader in market share and that’s driven by our IP and our technology. Naturally, we’re going to protect that. We have trademarks, IP and patents reserved globally. We enforce IP protection vigorously when required.”
Before lockdown commenced, Dodson sent a message out to their customers worldwide to get orders in before lockdown started.
“And it worked – our customers responded immediately, and we saw a massive uptick in sales. In fact, in the 4 days prior to lockdown, we shipped 7% of our total sales for the year. On the last day, the team really hustled, and we sent out over 7 times our normal daily shipment. That put us in a really good position before revenue fell to zero for 4 weeks.”
“The support from the New Zealand government was helpful in making sure that we had the confidence to keep 100% of our staff retained despite the uncertainty. We also used the time productively to work on designs and our internal systems so that we could come out stronger on the other side.”
“We have exciting plans in the pipeline. We have signed on for a manufacturing premises that we are kitting out, and are ramping up our R&D projects around the new model of the Chevy Corvette, which is the first model with a dual clutch transmission.”
“Our focus is on the long-term – even if there might be speed bumps along the way. Five years from now, what is happening today will be a distant memory. It’s a matter of staying true to your course and tuning out the noise in a chaotic world.”