Isuzu’s CEO & MD reflects on his first year at the helm

Isuzu Motors South Africa’s CEO and MD, Billy Tom joined the company in the heart of level 5 lockdown just over a year ago. Now, he reflects on the successes of the past 12 months despite the challenging circumstances which the automotive sector experienced during this time. He also provides insight into the company’s future plans.

It goes without saying that my first year at the Isuzu Motors South Africa (IMSAf) helm has not been under ideal circumstances. Aside from pure sales which obviously slowed substantially in 2020, the industries Isuzu services have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic. That said, I’m pleased with the company’s resilience over the period and the Isuzu business is proud to share some successes it has enjoyed in such a tough climate.

As a predominately commercial brand, Isuzu plays a major role in the logistics industry and the road to economic recovery is driven largely by the sales, maintenance and managed downtime of commercial vehicles. We are competing in an extremely competitive market; therefore, we ensure that our products meet customer requirements and that our distribution channels and service centres are fully equipped with adequate skills.

Isuzu trucks remained the best-selling commercial vehicles in the medium and heavy commercial sectors in South Africa – a position which the company has held in these segments for seven and eight years respectively.

I’m also particularly impressed with the sales performance of Isuzu light commercial vehicles over the last year. The D-MAX managed to maintain strong sales throughout the year with 12 724 units sold in 2020, compared to 16 156 units sold in 2019. However, despite this decline in sales volume the D-MAX gained close to 1% market share compared to the previous year.

Plans for the launch of the next generation bakkie in South Africa are well underway. Our plant is on track for the production of the vehicle and our engineers are vigorously testing the units to ensure that we continue to build vehicles that meet local conditions and ultimately consumer demand. Our legendary bakkies are known for durability, reliability and their capability. These characteristics will remain in the DNA of the next generation, and we’re anxious to reveal more details about them in due course.

Isuzu’s short to medium term focus is to establish sustainability of Isuzu operations in South Africa. We have made good strides in transforming the business and are working closely with our dealers to ensure their businesses remain relevant in this fast-changing world. Last year IMSAf attained Level 1 on the broad-based black economic empowerment scorecard, which represents the highest achievement by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the country. We are committed to transformation and believe that an inclusive economy is the foundation to economic prosperity for all citizens.

The South African Automotive Masterplan (SAAM) 2035, which provides guidelines to South African-based OEMs for future global competitiveness, will create an enabling environment to manufacturers. We are committed to the objectives set out in this plan and have already put plans in place to fast-track our performance in line with the requirements.

SAAM objectives include 60% local content, industry transformation and employment growth. Isuzu supports the need to increase levels of localisation which will grow the OEM supplier base. To this end, we are working closely with the supply chain teams to accelerate localisation opportunities.

With regard to employment, I am extremely proud to say that no jobs were lost due to the pandemic. Internships and graduate-in-training programmes continued at the company throughout 2020 and 2021 and, in addition, the company has, for a second year, recruited youth through our successful Youth Employment Services (YES) programme.

Almost 40% of the first intake of YES candidates at Isuzu found meaningful employment following their participation in the programme. We appointed 19 of last year’s candidates into our organisation this year. Transformation will be a key licence to do business, and at Isuzu we are committed to inclusive participation in the economy.

It will also be important for the local automotive sector to adapt to the technical requirements the fourth industrial revolution dictates. The automotive industry is evolving at a rapid rate, so it’s vital that today’s schooling and training programmes evolve with it. We need to ensure a seamless transition into the future, where completely new skillsets will be required.

Isuzu is involved with several initiatives to stimulate, develop and nurture youths with creative and interesting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics projects so that tomorrow’s automotive careers can be prepared for today. The company has made donations to primary schools towards mathematics tuition, supports the Nelson Mandela University’s Chair in mechatronics, and has unveiled multiple media partnership programmes for supporting school learners in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, to name a few.

The key to preventing disruption as we adapt to technological shifts will be to seek relevant upskilling opportunities and investing in both staff and infrastructure to remain with our customers for the long run.