Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your experience in the automotive industry?
I’ve been working in the automotive industry, particularly in commercial vehicles for more than 20 years with Volvo Group. I started with product development and engine development, and then dealt with powertrain strategic purchasing. I was responsible for powertrain business strategy for the Volvo group. And now, I am leading the UD Sales in the MEENA region, covering Middle East, East and North Africa. I was involved in the evolution that happened in this industry with continuous improvements with trucks that are more reliable, more powerful, more safe, and cleaner in terms of exhaust emissions. I saw also the transformation journey starting in this area with new technologies emerging in the industry with Automation, Electrification and Connectivity.
Please tell us about the range of vehicles you have. Are all your models available in the Middle East market?
Now with UD Trucks (previously known as Nissan Diesel), we have a wide range of products. Japan is very advanced in term of emissions legislation, weight and safety, and we decided early that we need two sets of offers; one for the Japanese and very advanced markets and one for emerging markets to have the best fit for each market. For emerging markets such as south East Asia, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, we offer products and services that are tailor made for the tough environment and usage in these markets. We renew our complete range for these markets and we launched them in the last two years in the region; they are smart and modern and in the same time we kept the UD DNA: Reliable and simple trucks.
Which are your most popular models and why?
In the Middle East, we offer products covering all applications of Heavy and Medium duty segments:
Quester covers all applications of Heavy duty segment above 18T, and the Croner covers the medium duty segment from 10T to 18T. We offer wide ranges of specs to cover distribution, regional and long haul, light and heavy construction. The latest specs we added are the 6x4R 40T and 8x4R 46T are very well appreciated in the region.
All our models are very successful, however we felt we can still do better in the tractors segment in markets that used to be fully dominated by European brands. That is the reason we introduced in April this year the New Quester equipped with Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) and many additional features for comfort and weight improvements to penetrate that segment. The new Quester is a successful hybrid of a Japanese and European truck.
How is the marketing for commercial vehicles different from that for passenger cars?
The marketing for the passenger cars is more directed toward the mass as the target audience is much larger and diverse. Its purchase can sometimes be very impulsive, emotional, and can be a symbol of status or expression of one’s self. However, a truck is a business tool and usually its purchase is based on rational facts. To market a truck, you need to give the customer rational facts and figures on how your product will support his/her business. Within the truck business, the marketing strategy leans more, but is not limited to, direct marketing. It is all about understanding the client’s specific needs. The client needs to experience our product and he/she needs to be sure that it will add value to his/her business.
Please tell us more about your target audience. What is the key factor that compels customers to buy trucks from your company?
When it comes to the target audience, you can say that we cater for all segments from construction to waste management, long haul or city distribution from single trucks owners, to big multinationals, or government entities.
UD is a respected brand in the region representing our Japanese heritage and values such as going the extra mile for our customers. We belong to the Volvo Group, a very solid commercial group where we are befitting from the group’s experience of synergies in many areas. This is translated in the products, service and mind-set we offer to our customers.
How is the market here different from the markets you have dealt with before like Sweden?
The European market is very mature. Here, the volatility and uncertainty is very high, especially in the last couple of years. This calls for a high level of flexibly, agility and entrepreneurship mind-set. A lot of opportunities exist here to optimize logistics costs and inefficiency. This can be done by working closely with our customers to have a better understating of their business and applications, and having a main objective of helping customers make profit by using all tools that we have to optimize operational costs. This set up is more advanced in Europe. However, I see it coming here step by step, and within UD, we are having many successful stories in that sense.
What is common everywhere is that truck business is built on people: by building trustful, respectful relationships with your customers and partners and by supporting your customer by providing the right products, service and extra support their needs, these are recipes to succeed together. From technology aspect, Europe, Japan and US moved in a gradual way for implementing advanced technologies starting with step by step emission improvements while technologies matured. The adoption of these technologies in our markets here will come surely after, but much faster and with some shortcuts. Connectivity is one example; we sold already in the region many UD trucks that are fully connected.
You have worked on the technical side as well in procurement before taking on your current role. How have the skills developed in these stints helped you helm UD Trucks in this market?
Working in different areas helps build a holistic picture by looking into the big picture, not only from pure sales point of view but also product, features, and supply chain as suppliers for car-truck makers play a significant role. It becomes easier to build consistent and comprehensive strategy and story. Coming from a different background helps also through diversity; to challenge the habits, be more creative and bring benchmarks from other experiences. This turns out to be very well-appreciated by our own employees, partners and customers.
Dubai serves as a hub for re-export to other countries in the Middle East and in Africa. What importance does this aspect have from a marketing perspective?
This was the case for everyone including UD business. But since we created this hub, we decided to stop this transactional-trading approach because it is not very healthy for the end customer. We did the opposite, by developing and coaching our partners in other countries to be closer to their customers to better serve them. We focus in Dubai more on UAE customers. And for other markets, we do it with local importers. Our approach is definitely to be closer to our customers through local importers.
Whom do you consider as your main competitors in this market and what differentiates UD Trucks from these companies?
As a Japanese brand, we compete obviously in the medium duty and some heavy duty segments where Japanese brands used to be present, and we also compete with other Japanese manufactures.
Being part of Volvo Group, a big international group, and using its technologies, suppliers and manufacturing footprint, gives us an additional competitive edge compared to others. Thanks to that, we also compete in the heavy duty segment with other European brands, as we offer specs that are similarly offered by European manufactures, such as Automated Manual Transmission, hub reduction, spacious and comfortable cab, and powerful modern Volvo Group engines.
Has the slump in the passenger car market affected the commercial segment as well? What strategy has UD Trucks adopted to increase sales during this period?
The market was and is very challenging. We succeeded to improve our market share in the majority of markets by being closer to our customers and partners, and by providing them with a competitive set of products and services. We are also clear that we are serious in the region and we are committed to grow and support our customers. Our customers and partners noticed how active we are and how every year, we bring new models and specs to the region to cover all customers’ needs.
You handle sales in many countries across this region? Which is the most important market and why?
All markets are important and we value the importance of each UD customer regardless of the size of his fleet or his country. The dynamics are different from country to country depending on the geopolitical and economic situation. We have high ambition in ALL GCC countries and are building an aggressive plan for Saudi market.
One of the key factors when it comes to commercial vehicles is downtime as it can have a significant effect on productivity. How has UD Trucks ensured that downtime is minimal for customers?
A truck represents a huge investment for our customers and it’s an asset that should generate profit. Every hour the truck is not on the road is a loss for the customer and a failure for us. We keep regular follow ups through our dealers on all fleets and vehicles and ensure that in the case of any truck that is down, we provide needed support to put it back on the road as soon as possible. In such cases, fixing customers problems is the first priority. Our trucks are also equipped with telematics, where the customer can track his trucks at anytime, anywhere, and follow their performance. We also do preventive maintenance and service planning which helps us to detect any problem before it happens.
Another main issue is the availability of good service and spare parts. What are the benefits that customers of UD Trucks get when it comes to these aspects?
You are right. Regardless of the features of the truck, parts availability was, is, and will remain in the top basic musts for our industry. From UD’s side, we have in Jebal Ali one of the most advanced parts warehouses of Volvo Group in the world. We provide UD parts to our local dealers in a very fast and very efficient way to ensure quick deliveries to customers in the region. We work also continuously to increase our network through the region to have parts available as close as possible to customer.
What are the key challenges faced by the commercial vehicle industry in this region?
Volatility and uncertainty, remains the main challenge to predict and plan. Customers will focus more and more on total cost of ownership and we see the trend in many segments already.
Fuel price may continue to increase, meaning that fuel consumption will be a key purchase criteria like in Europe. This will benefit UD as we are equipped with very modern driveline efficiency of logistic margins.
Logistic efficiency and more pressure on margins in every point in the value chain. This would put more pressure on prices and customers will continue to be very demanding on reliability and durability but probably less on features they don’t need.
Where do you see potential for additional growth when it comes to the Middle East market?
In all markets, there is tremendous potential for growth. Different cities are not all at the same level, but a lot remains for infrastructure. Cities are getting bigger and bigger following the urbanization trends that we see everywhere in the world, meaning that more goods transportation is needed. E-commerce is growing here as well, meaning that city distribution will continue growing. All countries have noble inspiration with 2025-2030 vison for more prosperity. Commercial vehicles is a key vector that enables prosperity and is needed to transport goods and prepare future infrastructure.
What are your views on the short-term and long-term outlook for the commercial vehicle industry in the region?
KSA will be one key market to pull the growth up but also with positive effect on other neighbouring countries. The low level in the two last years should be the bottom and market should improve especially in regards to the new projects that are in the pipeline.
If there is just one single thing about UD Trucks that you would like our readers to remember, what would that be?
I would say two,
UD’s family spirit with our employees, with our partners, and with our customers
We go the extra mile for our customers.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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