Man with a plan
Fresh from the success of 2013, Craig Uren, chief operating officer of Isuzu Truck South Africa (ITSA), is approaching the new year with matter-of-fact optimism – which is typical of this captain of industry. CHARLEEN CLARKE reports.
I love Craig Uren’s style. He shoots from the hip. He doesn’t beat around the bush. And, while I am sprouting out cheesy expressions, he is also a man with a plan.
Last year’s plan was optimistic – a whopping 4 000 units. Industry tongues were wagging when the company achieved this plan … with some mischievous commentators saying that this was thanks to creative invoicing (Uren discounts these rumours with disdain).
Of course, 2013 is only part of a bigger picture. “Isuzu is now the top-selling cab over truck brand in the country,” reveals Uren with pride. “The plan was to get to this point in 10 years; we have got there in seven years.”
And this year? “We are going to grow. You want to know by how much? Lots,” says Uren, with one of his characteristically wry smiles.
That’s the specific (not!) projection for ITSA. What about the rest of the industry? As the accompanying table shows, Uren is expecting about 32 500 truck sales this year. “Anything between 30 000 to 35 000 units is justifiable,” he notes. “Of course, there are no specific events to drive the market. But the same applied to 2013. I believe that the industry is driving the market.”
Uren notes that the medium commercial vehicle (MCV) market “came back into play last year”. He believes that this trend will continue. “I think that mediums will grow some more in 2014, as a result of the buying down trend in the general distribution and transport market,” Uren reveals.
He doesn’t see too much changing when it comes to extra-heavies in 2014. “There are some crazy deals happening in the extra-heavy market and we all know that those deals come back to haunt you,” he warns.
Uren believes that the market in 2013 was driven by supply. “The customers got what was built and what was available,” he notes. This year, on the other hand, will be a year of promises. “There is no doubt that 2014 will be remembered for a lot of promises – and not a lot of promise. What do you do in an election year? You promise the world. Will all these promises come to fruition? I have yet to see a political party that delivers on a fraction of its promises …” he notes with yet another wry smile.
Speaking of politicians, Uren comments, “We have some very clever politicians who want to ban trucks and reduce speed limits. Hopefully the talk stays talk. Otherwise we will get to the banana republic stage.”
Yet another challenging factor is the exchange rate, which Uren views unemotionally. “Will the rand/dollar hit R11? Of course it will. So we have to plan around that and deal with it,” he notes. (At the time of the interview, the rand was hovering at around R10,90.)
The exchange rate will impact on truck pricing (although the Japanese yen has not been as strong as some other currencies). “Demand is being driven by cost. Everyone is under pressure in terms of margins. Old trucks cost money. But we are not selling cheaper trucks. We are selling more expensive trucks that give better returns and more cost savings. That is the success of our brand in this country,” notes Uren.
A further challenge is road safety. “The problem is that the root causes of the accidents are not being addressed. The solutions lie in discipline, policing and putting the basic standards back into place. We need to stop killing people on the roads! But who killed all the people in December? It was not the trucks. It was the taxis and pedestrian deaths,” he points out.
Unreliable bodybuilders are another cause for concern. But, in typical Uren fashion, he has a plan. “You determine the future. You bank the history. Our bodybuilders in this country are lazy and slack and they don’t deliver on their promises. So we will probably buy our own bodybuilder this year,” he reveals.
He has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to more affordable trucks and the extra-heavy market. “We are getting more involved in Africa and we have a plan when it comes to competing with the cheaper trucks. But, as usual, we will be different.”
And extra-heavies? “We will attack the bottom end of this market – I have a plan,” Uren shares.
As I said at the outset, Uren is very definitely a man with a plan. More than one, in fact.