Öhlins Racing has been an intricate part of the motorsport industry for more than 30 years. Get updated on our history below.
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 nineteen eighties.
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.
1976, Öhlins founded by Kenth Öhlin
1978, Öhlins first World Champion titel, Gennady Moiseev
1981, World Champion with Neil Hudson, MX 250 Yamaha
1983, World Champion with Carlos Lavado, RR 250 Yamaha
1984, First CES patent
1984, Development centre in Jönköping, Sweden.
1986, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd become part-owner in Öhlins
1993, Nigel Mansell wins the CART Championship on Öhlins suspension
1996, Subsidiary in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
1998, Partner co-operation with Tenneco Automotive for CES, Continuously controlled Electronic System, by Öhlins.
1998, ISO 9001 Certification.
2002, Facility expansion in Upplands Väsby, total 15,000 sqm.
2003, The first Volvo S60R leaves the factory equipped with Öhlins CES.
2006, TTX system released in the market.
2006, ISO 14000 Certification.
2007, Distribution &Technical Centre at Nürburgring
More then 200 World Champion titles in Motorsport
2007 Kenth Öhlin buys back a 95% share of the company the 21 of December
2008 Electronically controleed suspension made Haga a winner in the Donnington WSBK