Hooked on Hino

Dr Casper Kruger, vice-president of Hino in South Africa, joined the company in 2009 – just as Toyota SA Trucks was being consigned to the annals of history.

From the academic world to the home of Hino. That’s the story of Dr Casper Kruger. CHARLEEN CLARKE discovers that this amazingly humble man has some great plans for the Hino brand.

Marketing in action. That was what Casper Kruger, vice-president of Hino in South Africa, wanted to experience when he took the decision to leave the academic profession 15 years ago. “In the academic environment, you never practise what you preach. I felt the need to practise marketing in a real environment,” he recalls.

Kruger had studied at the University of the Free State, obtained his doctorate in business economics at the University of Johannesburg, and lectured in marketing management at UNISA for five years, when he took the decision to enter the wheels game. “When I did my master’s degree I focused on the motor industry – that sparked an interest in this sector. I realised that there was a close connection between theoretical marketing principles and the execution thereof in the motor industry,” he explains.

So, on December 1, 1996, Kruger joined Toyota as a corporate researcher, although he didn’t remain within this position for long. “I moved into numerous other departments within the company and I reported to many wonderful people, who have been responsible for my growth. Toyota has always attracted strong leaders, and I had the opportunity to work with many of them. They played a pivotal role in my development,” he relates.

At the end of April 2007, he left Toyota to join Ford, where he was ultimately general manager and responsible for sales and marketing of the blue oval brand within South Africa.

In typical Kruger fashion (the man is an optimist who always sees the glass half full), he says that the two years that he spent with Ford were good. “I was exposed to a different culture, another way of thinking, a new approach …”

But when he returned to Toyota in early 2009 and was offered his current position, he jumped at the opportunity.

Having said this, he was under no illusions that the job would be challenging. After all, he was considered a “dinky toy” man. As such, the question had to be asked: would the operators take him seriously? “Of course I considered this,” Kruger says with a big smile. “But I did not feel out of place for a number of reasons. Firstly, some of my predecessors had had the same background – and they had been respected by operators. Secondly, I knew that I was surrounded by an outstanding team of trucking experts; I was not in it alone.”

As such, he reveals that he was “delighted to return to the Toyota fold”. And, of course, he could not have chosen a better time to head up Hino. “I joined just as Toyota SA Trucks was being consigned to the annals of history and we were launching the self-standing Hino South Africa,” he relates.

“It was a great time to join the company; it was a whole new beginning for the brand. We wanted to be considered as a true truck brand – not a car company with a truck division, or a company with a dinky toy attitude. We wanted to ensure that we could satisfy the needs, wants and requirements of the truck operator,” he stresses.

From left: Dr Casper Kruger, vice-president of Hino SA; Calvyn Hamman, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Toyota SA Motors; Yoshio Shirai, president of Hino Motors Ltd; Dr Johan van Zyl, CEO and president of Toyota SA Motors; and Takashi Sakai, executive vice-president and chief co-ordinating executive, Toyota SA Motors. And, according to Kruger, the new entity’s journey has been a wonderful experience. “The transition has been even easier than we originally believed – we were slightly concerned about losing well known and loved brands such as Dyna. We did not want to lose any momentum. But the transition was very smooth,” he reveals.

He’s similarly upbeat about his personal experiences within Hino. “I love the fact that it is a hands-on business and I deal with so many different facets. I don’t only look after sales and marketing, but also after-sales and the dealer network … everything. That is what excites me; the diversity of the position,” he tells FOCUS.

It is clear that Kruger is passionate about his products and his customers. “I really enjoy interacting with the operators. They are knowledgeable and experienced … they know their businesses very well. It is also such a privilege to meet the many entrepreneurs in this industry. There are so many wonderful success stories relating to trucking in this country,” he notes.

Of course, one of those success stories pertains to the success of his brand, which is still the market leader in the medium commercial segment and number two in medium-heavies.

However this success story has not been without its challenges. “This year has been extremely difficult, partly due to the tsunami in Japan which saw us desperately short of stock. However, we have created efficiencies in pipeline management in order to maximise sales – and we have performed better than expected as a result. Unfortunately, we could not fully capitalise on the market growth because we simply did not have the stock at times – and that is frustrating.”

That fact notwithstanding, Kruger says the growth of the commercial vehicle market has delighted him. “The market growth is astounding; we are looking at 26 500 units this year! It is just amazing.”

Looking to 2012, he is determined to take advantage of the strong market, although he is not chasing volumes but rather customer loyalty. “We want to be known as offering unparalleled uptime to customers – and we must remain number one in terms of customer satisfaction. We have some work to do on the parts side. But, when it comes to sales and service, we are consistently number one and I’m very proud of that,” says Kruger.

He also wants to make greater inroads into the demanding extra-heavy sector. “I believe that the brand can achieve even more – especially in the extra-heavy commercial vehicle market. This is the most competitive segment, but it is the place to be. In order to build on our presence as a serious contender in the truck market you must be a main player in this market. That’s where the real manne compete,” he notes with a grin.

And Hino is determined to compete with those manne. “In order to achieve this, we need to gain the trust of the long-haul operators. There is no question about the product integrity and quality – that is a given,” Kruger points out.

Indeed, Hino is already making inroads into this sector. “Our 700 Series is becoming more and more competitive now that we have added the ZF 16-speed ASTRONIC gearbox to our entire truck tractor range The initial response to our AMT models has been very heartening and we are pleased that we can now offer this feature, as our roads become more and more congested and two-pedal control is seen as the way to go.

“Furthermore, we are entering some new fleets that we have not sold to before. That will pave the way towards creating confidence. We have sold to Unitrans and Imperial Logistics this year (in addition to Barloworld Logistics which has been a Hino 700 supporter for many years) – those are two highly prestigious customers that are now investing in our extra-heavy trucks for the first time,” he reveals.

In order to bolster its chances of success in this market, Hino will extend its extra-heavy duty range during the next few years. “We want to compete in all segments of the extra-heavy sector,” says Kruger.

Next year is clearly going to be a big one, for Kruger and the Hino brand. The company will launch the Hino 300 Series and it will celebrate 40 years of Hino in the country (since 1972 it has delivered more than 40 000 Hino trucks, more than
80 000 Dynas and nearly 20 000 Toyota DA Trucks).

The Hino success story is clearly far from over …

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