By Patrick O’Leary
Well, that was it. Futuroad Expo, an exhibition punted by the organisers as “the largest truck and bus show in sub-Saharan Africa” came and went – with a wimp and a useless whisper.
Here’s what the marketing blurb for Futuroad stated on the organiser’s official website. “A comprehensive business platform for the truck, bus and commercial vehicle sectors. Brought to you by Messe Frankfurt South Africa, Futuroad Expo Johannesburg is the most comprehensive business platform for the Truck, Bus and Commercial Vehicle Body Sectors. As the first and only truly international trade fair of its kind on the African continent, Futuroad attracts a visitor audience from across the sub-Saharan region, making it the ideal platform to grow your business footprint.”
Wow! Those glowing words filled with promise would be enough to get any company to rush forward and sign up. And some did, but not many – and those that did went away highly disappointed, apart from Serco which recorded a couple of sales.
Personally, I can see why they were disappointed. I thought it was a load of rubbish and certainly did nothing to position the trucking industry as one of vibrancy and strength. In fact, it was, without doubt, a terrible reflection of the South African trucking sector.
“The most comprehensive business platform for the Truck, Bus and Commercial Vehicle Body Sectors”. Yeah, well this was about as comprehensive and satisfying as being served a cheese burger without the cheese or the patty. Consider this, counting the exhibitors listed in the official show catalogue, in Hall 6 alone there were some 240 companies, most of them being Chinese. In Hall 5, the catalogue listed about 200 exhibitors. I’m not too sure how they were mixed in terms of the two other separate exhibitions of Automechanika and Scalex.
Now let’s move to Hall 7 and 8 where the Futuroad Expo – “the largest truck and bus show in sub-Saharan Africa” (I didn’t say that. I got it from the Futuroad website) – was held. Guess how many exhibitors were in Hall 7. Here we go – six. And in Hall 8 there were 5, actually four as newcomer MAZ, a truck and machinery manufacturer from Belarus in Eastern Europe, was put down as being in Hall 8 but they were outside.
Present was Tata Automotive Corporation and Daiwoo Trucks (Daiwoo is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Motors). Both had highly impressive stands which must have cost big bucks – and I mean BIG. Then there was UD Trucks, which put on a magnificent ‘stunt’ show with guys jumping from scaffolding and spinning around in the air trying not to break their ankles when they landed on Mother Earth; FAW was also there with its models proudly displayed near the entrance of Hall 7 while Powerstar (Everstar Industries) also put on a stunning display. Volvo Trucks had a highly impressive corner stand and JMC had its models well displayed. Also there was MCV South Africa, the NEXT group and, believe it or not, Armscor. Serco had an outside stand.
So which OEMs were missing? Here they are. Mercedes-Benz, FUSO, MAN, DAF, Scania, HINO, Isuzu, Iveco, Western Star. I also didn’t find any truck component suppliers in the Futuroad halls. The likes of Bridgestone, Bandag, Wabco, BPW or any others. Maybe they were hiding in the Beijing hall but I doubt it. Trailer manufacturers like SA Truck Bodies and Afrit were also missing.
And the visitors? What visitors? Apart from the official launches held by UD Trucks, Daiwoo, Everstar Industries and Tata where a number of media and other invited guests (invited by the companies themselves) were present, I didn’t see visitors on the day I was there. The halls were empty of traffic – although a lot of cleaning staff were present looking bored as there wasn’t much to clean given there weren’t hoards of visitors scattering litter around. I actually felt sorry for them and was going to drop a piece of paper on the floor to give them something to do but decided against it. So I just smiled at them and they yawned back.
“Maybe tomorrow it will be better,” I was told by a hopeful OEM exhibitor. But no, it was not to be. One of my colleagues from FleetWatch attended the next day and said it was as bad.
And how’s this. The show closed at the ridiculous time of 4.30pm on the three weekdays and at 2.00pm on the Saturday. “We started packing up before 1.00pm on the Saturday as there was no-one there,” one of the OEM exhibitors told me afterwards. The opening time was 9.00am. So that gave exhibitors a total of 27,5 hours over four days to interact with – um, not sure with who? Certainly not “a visitor audience from across the sub-Saharan region”. That was a huge amount of money spent standing around your stand talking to people who sit next to you back in the office.
I have spoken to some of the representatives from the exhibitors and all were unanimous in stating their disappointment. “It was a let-down. We invested a lot of time, effort and money into the show and it came nowhere near to matching the promises made by the organisers,” one told me. I am not mentioning their names here. The organisers will no doubt hear from them.
From my side, I have been reporting on the trucking industry for over 46 years and I recall the great trucking shows of the past going right back to ITEC. I have attended JIMS, Auto Africa and all the others – including the first Futuroad show – and this was the worst I have ever seen.
I hate it when the trucking industry gets displayed as a wimpish sector when it plays such a major role in keeping the wheels of the economy moving. We have world-class OEMs and component suppliers operating in this country which together make up a powerful and dynamic sector. When they go onto a show, they pull out all stops to make their participation professional and dynamic. This show did not do justice to either the trucking industry as a whole or to the individual participants who believed the promises made.
In my opinion, it was a huge waste of money and time and should never be held again. Let the organisers stick to what seemed to be a successful Automechanika but please, leave the trucking industry out of it. Trucking is not a ‘side show’ – and that’s how it was projected here.