Isuzu Truck (UK) is celebrating its eleventh anniversary with the opening of a new, purpose-built headquarters and technical centre.
Covering almost 1,765m2 (19,000ft2), the £3m site in Hatfield, Herts, is almost twice the size of the firm's old head office in Thundridge, a few miles away. Floor space is split 60:40 in favour of training activities.
The move should make it easier for the independently owned importer to handle the extra business set to be generated by a major extension to its portfolio — it will soon be marketing F Series trucks with gross weights ranging from 10 to 18 tonnes — and with rising sales of its existing models.
Wary of releasing registration figures until now, managing director Nikki King says that in the eight months to the end of August sales of the company's NKR 3.5-tonner totalled 620, a 101.3 per cent improvement on the 308 notched up during the same period in 2006.
Registrations of the NPR, available at 5.0, 6.0 and 6.2 tonnes reached 177, a 200 per cent rise on the 59 achieved during January to August 2006. Sales of its NQR 7.5-tonner declined by 17.6 per cent, however, from 625 to 515, in a 7.5 tonne market that slumped by over 30 per cent.
Healthy registrations to date must in part be attributed to Isuzu Truck's proactive approach to customer care. Operators are contacted once every three months to ensure they're happy with their vehicles during the latter's warranty period — fleet buyers continue to be contacted even when their Isuzus are out of warranty — and every customer is given King's home phone number should they wish to raise an issue with her. “I've only ever had eight customers use it though,” says King.
“Eighty-five per cent of our 52 employees are customer facing and staff turnover has totalled just two per cent in 11 years,” she continues. “In fact we've got a waiting list of people who want to join us.”
Subject to a management buy-out three years ago, Isuzu Truck (UK) is not neglecting its network. It boasts 60 outlets nationwide — 36 handle sales, service and parts while 24 act as authorised repairers — and is busy beefing up coverage.
Recent recruits include Beeches Garage (1983) in Stoke-on-Trent, Paynes in Hinckley, Leicestershire, and A & R Vehicle Services in Wednesbury, West Midlands.
“We could do with increasing our coverage in the North East, in Leeds and possibly Sheffield, in the Gloucester area and in the Oxford/Aylesbury area too,” says marketing director, Keith Child.
Isuzu outlets will increasingly be operating on a different basis from hitherto. Until now they've been classed as agents with all invoicing of customers for sales of vehicles handled from the importer's head office and the agents earning commission on each sale. In future they will work as conventional dealers with agent status applying solely to F Series sales.
Next year the importer aims to expand the training offered to technicians, sales people, sales managers, service managers and people who need a greater knowledge of IT. It intends to set up the Isuzu Academy at the end of 2008 in a bid further to improve the qualifications and overall standard of dealer staff.
As well as rising vehicle sales, dealers should enjoy growing workshop throughput. There are 12,000 Isuzu trucks on the road in Britain, 7,000 of which are still covered by their warranty.
Isuzu is providing the technicians who look after them with an armoury of so-called 'soft' skills as well as the ability to service and repair vehicles, diagnose faults and work safely on a truck that's broken down at the roadside. They include teaching them how to deal with, sometimes overwrought, customers sympathetically and tactfully, and without losing their temper; even though they might be sorely tempted to do so.
“We've never sacked a dealer yet over his sales performance, but we have sacked dealers because we weren't happy with their approach to customer care,” Child says. “In fact there have been occasions when we've got rid of dealers who exceeded their sales targets but whose customer care levels didn't match our requirements.”
“We've grown a brand based on customer service,” adds King.
While it's the heavier models in the line-up that are generating the most excitement at present, Isuzu is not neglecting its lighter products, says Child.
“A crew-cab version of the 3.5-tonner is likely to debut in 2008, although it won't be at the British Commercial Vehicle Show next April,” he says. Longer-term, the smaller Isuzus could end up receiving a cab styled in a similar way to the one fitted to the F Series to give the entire range a seamless family look.
How about Isuzus powered by alternative fuel technologies? It's an area Isuzu is working on and one that's likely to be given a fillip by Toyota's decision last autumn to acquire a 5.9 per cent stake in the manufacturer. Toyota is of course responsible for the highly successful Prius hybrid car.
Talking about emissions, it is worth noting that Isuzu will continue to use EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) technology when the Euro 5 exhaust emission regulations come into force in a couple of years time. It will not be resorting to the SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology employed by some manufacturers, which involves dosing the vehicle with a mixture of urea and water, commonly referred to as AdBlue.
Its first Euro 5-compliant models are likely to appear in spring 2008 in advance of the legislation.
Isuzu Truck may not be one of the main players in the UK, but its success cannot be denied and just goes to show that huge sales volumes are not the be all and end all of profitability.