Unitrans Africa Business Operations

Our History

Our Proud History

Unitrans started as United Transport in 1962 after acquiring a family owned business, Thornton’s Transport which dated back to 1892. Since these humble beginnings our company has grown to be one of Africa’s most recognisable logistics and supply-chain brands. Now well over 100 years old, Unitrans Africa continues to grow and innovate.

1892: The story begins

The origins of the company date back to the 19th century, long before the existence of United Transport. The original core of the business was Thornton’s Transportation, a solid and respectable family transport business founded in 1892 by native Californian Samuel Thornton. Thornton’s steady growth through the acquisition of other transport companies eventually resulted in a major buyout by the United Transportation Company. In turn, the United Transportation Company had started life as a bus operating company in the United Kingdom in 1930. The bus company evolved into a diversified freight and bus business which, prior to the Thornton acquisition and the entry into SA, successfully operated in several other African countries.

1962: United Transport looks to the future

By the early 1970s in South Africa, United Transport had become the country’s largest road transport organisation, with capabilities and major interests in freight haulage, passenger transport, tourism, tanker services, as well as crane and plant hire. The group operated a fleet of some 1 400 buses and commercial vehicles, making it the second largest fleet in the country after the SA Railways. It had also branched out into a car hire business with some 900 vehicles.

1971: A focus on growth history

Unitrans has been in business as United Transport since 1962, our company is one of South Africa’s most recognisable logistics and supply-chain brands, with fleet on roads all over Southern Africa. Now well over 100 years old, Unitrans Africa continues to grow and innovate.

1987: Unitrans is born

United Transport finally listed on the JSE in 1987, with all of its subsidiary businesses assuming the name Unitrans.

1998: From the late 1990's onwards

Several significant acquisitions expanded the range and geographical reach of the Unitrans business. These included the acquisition of Matthysen Bus Transport, which would be renamed Mega Bus and Coach – still an integral part of the Unitrans passenger transportation business. Malbak Motors, a leading national vehicle distributor at the time, was acquired and renamed Unitrans Motors. This was followed by the launch of Unitrans Finance to provide consumer credit to the burgeoning motor vehicle market. Unitrans Motors’ subsequently acquired the balance of shares in Hertz Rent-a-Car. The Unitrans Motors successes were followed by the acquisition of the entire shareholding in Roadway Logistics(Pty)Ltd., which had been a 50/50 JV with Steinhoff Africa.

2006: A modern restructure

In this year a major restructure of the business saw the creation of Unitrans Supply Chain Solutions. This response to sophisticated changes in the supply chain market saw the existing operations of Unitrans Freight, Fuel and Chemical, Agriculture and Mining Services and Roadway Logistics grouped under the new holding division. An important new function, Unitrans Customer Solution Development, was created to deliver new business to these operational divisions.

2015: One Unitrans

In the same spirit of constant innovation and sustainable business growth, a new business model was successfully implemented at Unitrans late last year. Unitrans has firmly changed gears, embarking on a new phase of development for the company. Unitrans now operates as one business and function as one team. The key approach is customer first.

2018: Unitrans Africa

Unitrans Africa emerged as a focused Africa business in 2018. Following in depth evaluations of the ways of doing business in Africa, the shareholders thought it most appropriate to let the operations in Africa stand independently and be able to grow at an accelerated pace. Unitrans Africa has gone through a phase of re-alignment and is successfully building on its existing footprint in 9 countries.

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