For many in the trucking industry, 2010 did not act as the National Sea Rescue Institute bashing through waves to haul to safety those who were swept out to sea by the international bank-induced economic storm of 2009 writes Patrick O’Leary.
However, there was one sector of our industry which, while in reality still paddling in shallow waters, broke through the surf and ran onto the shore waving their hands with bold statements of confidence in the future. This sector was the truck manufacturers who this year launched a plethora of new models onto our market.
I just love the ‘˜goedspa’ of our local truck manufacturers. It’s such a pity that the wider business community, politicians and the public do not take more notice of their actions. If they did, they would see a sector that time and again sketches a silver lining around the dark clouds that are so often seen to be casting shadows on any mood of optimism. In this sense, the manufacturers and suppliers of trucks are true assets to this nation. While others retract, they expand; while others look back, they look forward.
During a year when not much positive excitement took place on the wider front , apart from the World Cup of course , newspapers were dominated by headlines and stories of the seemingly endless shenanigans of our politicians – and certain business entities and personalities – all trying to grab as much loot as they could for themselves.
It was just recently that the Sunday Times carried a front page report quoting Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as saying that possible tender and procurement fraud to the value of R25-billion is currently under investigation by government. That’s a lot of loot going into the wrong pockets Endless strikes have also cast a shadow over South Africa’s ability to be a world-class producer and have shown us up as having an incredibly volatile and unstable labour force. This does nothing to instill confidence in overseas investors, especially when we are competing against the likes of China and India for those dollars.
And as if that were not enough, countless reports have told of the government’s inability to come anywhere near to acceptable levels of service delivery to the people of South Africa. The health system, educational system, sewerage systems, and water quality , you name it , all have suffered. And just when you spot a small glimpse of rational thinking, in walks ANC Youth League President Julius Malema. And that’s enough to put anyone off.
In the private sector, after being ravaged in 2009 by the global economic meltdown, companies seem to have held onto whatever cash they have for fear of the much bandied about second wave of economic troubles. I have read so many contradictory and confusing comments from so many ‘˜economists’ on this subject that I have now decided to shelve them all and turn instead to the Madam and Eve comic strip where logic, sanity and wisdom seem to prevail.
It is all this bad news stuff that has tended to dominate the national psyche this year and it is thus I say I just love the ‘˜goedspa’ of our local truck manufacturers. In-between all this drek, they have come out boldly proclaiming their faith in South Africa and its future.
Cannot live for today
Unlike our political ‘˜leaders’ , anyone seen a true ‘˜leader’ lately – truck suppliers cannot live just for today. They have to look way beyond today, deep into the future, for the investment that goes into the design, development and launch of a new truck range is massive so they have to be pretty confident that the return on that investment will be there over the long term.
Trucking is not a quick in and out sell like the car industry. To illustrate, let me ask you two questions. The first is: Why do you drive the car you do? The second is: Did a salesman sell you that car or did you know what car you wanted before you walked into the dealer showroom?
My guess is that your answer to the first question will revolve around personal and emotional preferences. That is why most companies offering car schemes allow for individual choice to be exercised across a range of models in a price bracket rather than having everyone shoved into a prescribed single model. It allows for emotional input into the purchase decision.
That’s apart from Government ministers, of course, where the options are extremely prescriptive: “Big Merc, Big Audi or Big BMW. All bells and whistles fitted and nothing under a whack of bucks please’. As for a salesman selling you your car? C’mon. I can categorically state that no salesman has ever sold me a car. I’˜ve always known what car I’ve wanted before going into a dealer to buy it.
The salesman at the dealership is merely there to take my order, fill in the paperwork and make sure I get the right colour when it is delivered. The only outside influences leading up to my car purchase decisions have been advertisements placed by car manufacturers in newspapers and magazines along with articles written on the various models in those media , and advice chats with my knowledgeable motoring journalist mates like Denis Droppa of The Star Motoring.
Oh yes – and “the wife’. Wives tend to have an influence on a lot of areas of our lives. Why didn’t someone warn us?
There might be one or two of you , but just one or two – who will say: “I chose my car because it will enable me to profit from my purchase. I chose it because I have examined and compared the lifetime cost of ownership of a number of similar models and this particular car will achieve for me the lowest possible lifetime cost over the period of intended use.’ Yeah sure! You chose it because it’s a ‘˜chick catcher’ my china.
While the above might seem to some to be simplistic, inane rambling, hang in with me. Note the words ‘˜to make me bucks’ and then the words ‘˜lifetime cost’. These two phrases are part of a trucker’s daily mantra for it is around these phrases that purchase decisions are made.
The decision to buy a particular truck model is not based on emotion. It is based on a whole lot of business decisions that will result in each different operator making bucks by providing him with a whole lot of positive inputs not least of which is the lowest lifetime cost of operating that truck. And unlike most car purchases, that lifetime can stretch over many years. It is thus truck manufactures cannot live just for today.
Live for customers
They also cannot just live for themselves as we see many of our politicians and certain businessmen do. They have to live for their customers and therefore stick close to those customers to ascertain their needs and ensure they cater to those needs in every way. If they do not do so, they will die for, unlike the political arena in South Africa where one party dominates and has therefore become totally complacent in meeting the needs of its customers, the trucking arena in South Africa is one of the most competitive in the world.
Everybody wants to sell trucks in South Africa and as a result, we have trucks from Japan, Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Sweden), America, China, India and even Brazil. In the past, the UK was also in here with the ERF and even Russia tried to get into our market but failed dismally with a chronically unsuitable and shoddy product called the Gaz.
The point is, if you fail to meet the needs of your customers, you are out. There is such a wide variety of truck models on the market from such a wide variety of truck manufacturers that you don’t easily get a second chance. And the good news for customers but bad news for manufacturers is that most of the trucks are good.
Gone are the days when we would wait years after the launch of a model from say Germany before it hit our shores. Models are arriving in South Africa almost at the same time they are launched overseas and apart from our fuel inhibiting us from being up there with the rest in terms of emissions effective engines , we are on Euro 2 in our legislation whereas Europe is moving towards Euro 6 , we are benefitting from many other technological advancements as much as are overseas markets.
Given all this, FleetWatch lifts its hat to our truck manufacturers for not only keeping our truckers up to speed with the latest models and technology from overseas but also for having the courage and vision to stamp their imprint of confidence on the future of our industry.
During the year , and particularly in the second half of the year – I attended a number of new truck launches as well as working truck demonstrations and while reporting briefly on some of them at the time, this consolidation of the new models available is intended to not only put on display the trucks but also to highlight the show of strength that has been demonstrated this year by our manufacturers and suppliers.
So let’s go trucking and let’s start with Isuzu Trucks….
For individual manufacturer launches, see the following articles under General News, November 2010:
Isuzu Trucks- Multi-tasking
Scania – You beauty you!
Volvo FMX heralds in a new era
Mitsubishi FUSO – Also a heavy contender
MAN – Of trolleys and trucks