Only a few days into being in the hot seat at Isuzu, we speak to the Japanese marque's new local CEO and MD, Billy Tom.
We recently reported on the appointment of Billy Tom (50) as the new CEO and MD of Isuzu, a brand which has been re-energised since "going it alone" following the departure of General Motors. Tom seems perfectly suited to the job, with not only previous experience with General Motors itself but also in the banking and FMCG sectors, education in the Eastern Cape (Rhodes University) and a passion for farming, all of which will stand him in good stead with a brand such as Isuzu.
Business in a post-COVID19 world
Perhaps predictably, Tom's first days in the office will be focused on getting business going again in a very different consumer landscape. "A lot has changed," he says, "the motor industry will never be the same again. Social distancing, for example, is here to stay, but beyond that, we need to figure out how consumer demands have changed, and consequently how we should change our business."
"A good example is our online presence," he explains. "People are still kicking tyres, but they're doing it on the Internet, so we have to ensure that our platforms and systems are as user-friendly as possible. Our customers are our reason for existence and we need to always ensure that we put their needs first.”
In the ongoing Cars.co.za Ownership Satisfaction Survey, conducted in partnership with Lightstone, it recently emerged that Isuzu's salespeople were the highest rated in the industry (2019). This is a particularly surprising and strong performance, given that in the past, when Isuzu was distributed through General Motors dealerships, the GM network was typically rated poorly. This follows on the brand's surprise second-place finish in the prestigious Brand of the Year category at the 2019/2020 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Powered by WesBank. We asked Tom how the brand's dealerships have managed to improve so much in a relatively short space of time.
"It's all about focus. In the past, the salespeople sold a suite of products, of which Isuzu was but one, but now they are brand specialists. They live and breathe Isuzu and whether they're selling you a bakkie, an SUV or a truck, they know the product, which in addition to being a by-product of being specialists, is also the result of a significant investment in training."
Isuzu currently has 79 dealerships and growing the network is not a priority at the moment. "Dealership sustainability is key," says Tom.
Newly added automatic derivatives of Isuzu's D-Max 250 Double-Cab could perfectly fit changing customer trends.
"Consumers are big on relationships. Brands tend to get transactional very quickly, but we need to invest more time in understanding our customers. In the coming months and years, consumers will be very careful with their money. People are going to shop for value. We may also see the recreational side picking up, because people may want to venture out on their own and require vehicles that fit that lifestyle."
Isuzu's m-UX was recently upgraded and could be one of the brand's products to benefit from the predicted trend, but Tom believes that the new automatic D-Max double-cabs, which are offered at a very attractive price point, could benefit most.
The new D-Max
Just over six months ago Isuzu Motors of Japan confirmed that it will be investing R1.2 billion into the next-generation D-Max bakkie programme in South Africa, while an additional total local content value of R2.8 billion will be generated through the lifecycle of the programme. Tom says that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, plans are still on track for a local launch date during the second half of 2021.