MAN on a mission
Having established three ranges of trucks for sub-Saharan Africa’s construction, mining and long distance haulage needs – and a fourth one to come – UDO RYPSTRA reports that MAN Truck & Bus (SA) is on another mission: to roll out a vehicle support network in sub-Saharan Africa that is as good as the dealer support network it has in South Africa.
Mission impossible? “I know it’s going to be very, very difficult to achieve, but we want something better than vehicle breakdown services run by an organisation that – in some cases – is a fleet operator with an agency, who tends to look after its own needs first. What we want to establish is a network of branches on the continent, which can provide a full back-up service, complete with their own stock of spare parts. Call it a vision, if you like, but we are going to do our best to achieve it anyway.”
These are the words of Johan Cloete, management board member truck sales of MAN Truck & Bus (SA), a man who is not a dreamer, but one who, as a truck salesman and product manager, has more than 30 years of experience of Africa’s harsh, four-seasons-a-day trucking conditions. One who knows what is needed to make a truck go a long way.
I remember how Cloete, cowboy hat and all, helped launch the Freightliner in the Namib desert more than ten years ago (9 March 1996) and, in an exclusive interview recently, we reminisced about how, even after preliminary testing in local and simulated conditions, new European and American trucks picked up cooling, electronic and mechanical problems not long after their, often spectacular, local launch.
South Africa has diverse topography, extreme weather conditions, poor fuel quality and shifting demographics; conditions that can be found elsewhere in the world. But it has more than that: what appears to be unique to this region is the “heavy mineral dust” that can play havoc with air filtration and fuel injection systems. There have been reports that this fine dust has even been picked up at high altitude by Boeings flying over Namibia.
“That dust can bring a truck to a standstill. And yet, that same dust gives us the most beautiful reddish sunsets in the world,” Cloete observes.
Back to ground level. Having retired from Daimler, Cloete is now in charge of MAN truck sales for Africa and Middle East operations, and he speaks with great optimism about the opportunities there are to sell the new TGS WW truck range – made specifically for these African conditions – to the rest of the sub-continent.
But he is also quite open and frank about the obstacles in the way, a major one being the long distances of up to 2 000 km that cross-border truckers have to travel, without a breakdown service in sight. That’s where the vision and the mission come in. According to Cloete, there are many MAN negotiations concluded already and also ongoing negotiations in countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Kenya and Mozambique (where it has just sold 200 buses over the past two years). So watch this space.
More extensive cross-border back-up and support will bode well not only for the TGS series, but also for the German-designed but Brazilian-made Volkswagen Constellation series, and the CLA construction vehicles made in India.
I suggested that the MAN network could even be an extension of, or merge with, the distribution network for the new truck brand that MAN Nutzfahrzeuge and Sinotruk of China are planning to design for Africa and other developing countries. Cloete, however, is not ready to talk about that yet. So, for the time being, let’s leave that possibility hanging in the air, along with the dust…