Build a truck, race a bike
Having taken over the General Motors (GM) Kempston Road plant in Port Elizabeth (PE) last year, Isuzu Truck South Africa (ITSA) is also pedalling investment in the area by sponsoring an increasingly popular race. GAVIN MYERS hops on his bike to find out more.
Well, I can’t really remember the last time I got on a pedal-powered bike … So, to be honest, the prospect of taking part in a 357 km “mini Epic” mountain bike race – no matter how stunning the terrain – is not too high on my “things to do at my current fitness level” list. Mercifully, Isuzu Trucks was kind enough to let me watch from the sidelines instead.
Dubbed the PE to Plett mountain biking challenge, this four-day event is now in its
second year and attracted close on 100 teams. Isuzu Trucks was the title sponsor this year (and is likely to be for the next three years).
“Isuzu Truck South Africa has a long and prosperous heritage in the Eastern Cape and is always seeking innovative ways to give back to the local community of Port Elizabeth and, ultimately, to the province,” says Isuzu Truck South Africa’s chief operations officer, Craig Uren. The PE to Plett mountain biking challenge afforded us the ideal platform to support the region that is known as the home of Isuzu Trucks.”
Of course, that long, prosperous heritage stretches back to 1929! But more on that later …
The company also took the opportunity to sponsor the PE to Plett teams under the LumoHawk banner. Started by former Springbok Joel Stransky, the LumoHawk charity channelled all proceeds raised from the race (the teams also won a great deal of prize money) to assist the Diepsloot Mountain Biking Academy to build a BMX track in order to attract younger children to the club.
Stransky notes that the foundation was based on the premise of former president Nelson Mandela’s belief that education is the cornerstone for society. “The Diepsloot Mountain Biking Academy does not only focus on the sport, part of the initiative is that the children who attend must also attend extra maths and English classes after all their rides,” he adds.
The company’s involvement in the race also granted it a perfect opportunity to show off its 44 000 m2 Kempston Road assembly plant.
Following Isuzu’s majority share takeover of Isuzu Truck South Africa from GM last year, R17 million was invested to consolidate all the assembly operations of Isuzu Trucks under one roof. This was aided by GM moving to a new facility in Struandale – having been located at the Kempston Road facility for 85 years!
The result has been an increase in production, efficiency and, subsequently, a rejuvenated workforce. Production has gone up from 13 to 20 trucks a day (4 500 per year). Uren credits the consolidation of the production lines and the aggressive implementation of the Kaizen philosophy for this success. “We believe in Kaizen; it’s powerful and it works,” he says. “We have managed to decrease wasted time by increasing optimal working conditions, benefiting our employees.”
Run by Masakiyo Arai, executive for manufacturing and engineering, and Sipho Sandla, truck plant manager, the plant currently employs 110 people and adheres to ISO 9001 and ISO 14000 standards in assembling the N, F and FX series trucks.
Each week, 55 containers of truck components are received (enough to build 120 trucks). Their contents are then sent to the commodious 12 000 m2 warehousing facility adjoining the plant. (It actually has enough space for 250 containers!)
From there it’s on to the sub-assembly lines; for cab trimming and engine-gearbox marriage (among others), that border the main line. Seventeen medium and heavy chassis are prepped on another line each day, while three extra-heavy units are done on yet another.
Once all these components are ready, they meet on the main assembly line, where a complete truck rolls off every 20 minutes. It doesn’t end there, though, as rust protection is applied to the chassis and components before the vehicle passes through a final testing station. Each vehicle’s testing records are kept for over 15 years, as are its quality control reports garnered from multiple points in the assembly process.
According to Uren, for every N series (the company’s local volume seller) produced, at least 100 people are supported from an employment perspective. “As part of our brand and culture, you don’t just buy a truck from us … we like to work as a team with our suppliers, customers and everyone connected to the economy of a truck,” he says.
“If we can grow the market and put more trucks into the economy, we’ll employ more people. We need to put cost-effective vehicles into the market that generate volume and make a difference in the economy,” he adds.
With this attitude and the provisions made for increased volume from the Kempston Road plant, it’s clear that Isuzu Truck South Africa is not only intent on giving back to its home community, but to the country at large.
Maybe a national cycling challenge is in order?