Do operators really care?

We all understand the need to make a profit. But a profit at all costs? That doesn’t seem morally right…

Good mileage and price are the two single biggest factors influencing tyre purchases by commercial operators during these tough economic times. But what about road safety? It appears as if they don’t give a hoot.

This much has emerged from careful analysis of research conducted prior to the announcement of the FOCUS on Excellence Awards winners. Sponsored by WesBank, this annual competition rewards excellence within the transport industry.

The finalists in the Best Tyre category in the FOCUS on Excellence Awards were Bridgestone, Dunlop, Firestone, Goodyear and Michelin; and the award went to Bridgestone for the second consecutive year.

Prior to the announcement of the finalists, our research team from Scott Byers conducts thousands upon thousands of interviews. A whopping 61 553 questions were posed to transport operators last year, for instance.

In previous years, the research was limited to establishing which brands and/or companies were considered best. However, for the first time, we decided to probe further. We decided to investigate preference and, hence, buying patterns. Why does a company choose one tyre over another, for instance?

Alas, I found the results quite disheartening. Good mileage was cited as the number one priority when choosing a tyre brand. Some 50.83% of respondents said it was the most important factor. The second most important factor also came as no surprise: for 22.51% of the respondents, it was price. And I can understand that; tyres are a huge expense, so operators need to get a lot of rubber bang for their buck.

Surprisingly though, only 5.12% of respondents cited cost per kilometre (cpk) as their most important factor. Brand loyalty followed just behind.

And road safety? Fewer than half a percent of respondents said that they took road safety into account when making their tyre choices.

Maybe I’m naïve, but it saddens me that road safety doesn’t seem to play any role at all in an operator’s choice of tyre brand. We all know that tyres are vitally important when it comes to making our roads safer (or more dangerous for that matter). The tyre manufacturers are working hard to get this message across as well, yet operators are quick to ignore such factors when times are tough.

Liana Shaw, editor of Treads magazine, which caters exclusively to the tyre industry, agrees. “These findings are interesting in that they are a reflection of the times,” she comments. “Mileage and price used to rate third or fourth in terms of which brand to buy; but the recession is clearly hitting home, with consumers ever more concerned about price and, most of all, maximising their investment.”

On a more positive front, I was pleased to see mileage beating price. Some respondents even stressed that they would happily pay more for the better mileage some tyre brands offer. Can you imagine the chaos on our roads if price was the number one factor?

Transport operators may not care about road safety… but our government does! I kid you not. That was pretty much the message that we received on 24 February, when we spotted a “media alert” that the Department of Transport (DoT) would host a Road Safety Summit “in order to deliberate on the unacceptable number of road deaths in our country”. (Which begs the question: what is an acceptable number? I would say that even one is too many…)

According to the media advisory, the summit was scheduled to take place on 26 and 27 February. The DoT expected “hundreds of stakeholders from all over the country” to attend. We were surprised to hear this, especially since the media was only notified of the function two days before the event, and then only those members who actually took the time and effort to log onto the DoT website.

“Together, we must all do much more to reduce the economic and emotional devastation caused by road crashes and road deaths. We therefore call on vehicle manufacturers, public and private donors, non-governmental organisations, the religious sector, victims of road crashes, families of those killed and injured in road crashes, experts and in fact every South African to partner with Government in working towards safer roads and vehicles and greater investment in preventing road traffic injuries. The millions of people who use our roads every day deserve safer roads,” Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele noted.

Nice words… although I’m not sure what they actually mean. The families of the dead must partner with Government? How?

Let’s hope that the DoT follows through with some action. It’s so easy to talk. It will take guts, determination and lots of hard work to stop all the carnage.

As this issue of FOCUS went to the printers, we were in the final throes of planning for our annual Edutrans Golf Day. Edutrans is a career guide that aims to alleviate the skills shortage in our industry. I think it’s the most brilliant concept (I can say that because it wasn’t my idea!); Edutrans is sorely needed out there.

Just in case you’re not aware of this initiative, Edutrans will explain the ins and outs of all the various careers available to school leavers in the “wheels” game. We don’t want bright young kids to consider a career in IT; we want them to join our industry – as a car or truck salesman, a car or truck technician, a financing guru, a vehicle insurance advisor, a motoring or transport journalist… whatever! We want our industry to win the war for talent.

Hino has already come on board and is a key sponsor of this important project. We salute the company for its vision and thank the Hino team for their support. The additional sponsors will be announced shortly. Watch this space…

Our annual Christmas in July function will take place in Johannesburg on Thursday, 29 July. This fun event has become a real hit with the transport industry – and we look forward to seeing you all there.

In keeping with our focus on skills, the Christmas in July function will benefit Edutrans. So come along, have fun… and contribute to a worthy cause all at once!

We published the quarterly commercial vehicle sales figures last month, alongside Frank Beeton’s market review. Since then, we have received a number of calls and emails, requesting that we publish the annual sales figures. These statistics appear on page six of this issue of FOCUS.

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