Steve Banner has been talking to Kenyon Neads, brand manager for Isuzu (UK).
Part of IM Group, Isuzu (UK) imports and distributes the Rodeo pick-up, the sole model in its line-up at present. How many Rodeos did you sell in 2007?
We sold 1,941.We should sell around 2,150 this year.
Built in Thailand, as things stand all the Rodeos sold in Britain are four-wheel drive double cabs. Is it right that you're adding a single cab 4x2 to the line-up?
The new single-cab 4x2s have literally just come off the boat. We're introducing this new model as a consequence of the inquiries a number of our dealers have had from customers and we're sure that it will sell if we can offer it at the right price. That's not to say that there isn't a demand for a single cab 4x4 and that's something we'll be exploring in the future. We may possibly introduce one in 2009.
How much will the 4x2 single cab be?
A smidgeon under £10,000 plus VAT. It's powered by the same 136hp 2.5-litre common rail diesel that's used in other Rodeos and will come with central locking, electric windows, a radio/single CD player with MP3 capability and a 2.5 tonne towing capacity. So far as fuel economy is concerned we're talking 38.2mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions at 196g/km.
Who will buy it?
People such as scaffolders, fencing contractors and farmers. I know there's a view that farmers will always want a 4x4 but they also like a keen price.
How many do you think you'll sell annually?
We reckon we'll sell 100 this year and hopefully increase that to between 150 and 250 in 2009.
At the other end of the scale, are you about to launch a 164hp 3.0-litre common rail diesel automatic Rodeo Denver Max LE double cab?
Yes. It's got cruise control as well as a new four-speed auto 'box and we'll be selling it at £20,999 plus VAT. Continuing our strategy of replacing the 2.5-litre Max LEs with 3.0-litres, we'll be launching a 3.0-litre Max LE with a manual 'box and cruise control almost immediately afterwards at £19,999, the same price as the current Max LE. We have no plans at the moment to offer the 3.0-litre engine in Denver or Denver Max.
Up until now customers who wanted a bit more power have been offered a 2.5-litre boosted to 167hp by a Prodrive power pack. Has your association with Prodive come to an end?
Yes, for the moment.
How many 3.0-litre Max LEs do you expect to sell?
I reckon we'll sell between 300 to 400 this year rising to between 600 and 700 in 2009. With a hardtop as standard, a leather interior, sat nav and a Pioneer touch screen DVD player, the existing LE has already been a real success story for us — demand has regularly outstripped supply — and that's something we intend to build on.
Will the new Rodeos and other models in the range be on display at the British International Motor Show? (ExCel, London, 23 July - 3 August)?
Yes. We'll have five vehicles on the stand.
Are the credit crunch and the general mood of economic gloom prompting buyers to opt for cheaper Rodeos with more basic specifications?
If there is any change then it's imperceptible. The volumes we do of each derivative remain fairly consistent. That said, customers are taking a little bit longer to make up their minds before they buy.
Double cab pick-ups are of course treated as light commercials so far as the benefit-in-kind (bik) tax liability for drivers who get private use of their company vehicles is concerned. That used to give double cabs a huge personal tax advantage over company cars, but that advantage has lessened in recent times thanks to changes in the tax rules. Has that harmed the fortunes of double cabs?
I think there has been a slight erosion but to be frank it's difficult to tell. I believe the biggest danger here is represented, not so much by the changes, but the way in which they are perceived by customers. What we're doing therefore is attempting to educate our dealers — by that I mean sales executives and sales managers as well as dealer principals — so that if they're asked the question they can easily illustrate the current bik differences between one of our pick-ups and the equivalent SUV. Despite the changes, there are still significant personal tax advantages for a company vehicle driver who chooses the former rather than the latter.
The self-employed are not affected by this tax change. What percentage of Rodeo sales are made to them?
Between 85 and 90 per cent of all Rodeos are sold to business people and about 70 per cent of them are self-employed.
Earlier this year safety organisation Euro NCAP was quite critical of the safety levels of certain pick-up models, Rodeo included. How have you reacted to those concerns?
There were some issues raised over airbag deployment timing, but the vehicle that Euro NCAP tested was a low specification double cab that we don't sell in Britain and had a single airbag. All the Rodeos sold here have double airbags. What's more, the vehicle tested had an airbag deployment module that is different to the one fitted to the Rodeos we bring in. A handful of customers came into dealerships and asked about the significance of the test results so far as the UK was concerned and we were quick to provide an explanation. I don't think that Euro NCAP's findings have caused us to lose sales.
Hapless owners of double cab pick-ups with CO2 emissions in excess of 225g/km were due to be clobbered by a £25 charge if they entered the London congestion tax zone, but it looks as though new mayor, Boris Johnson, is minded to scrap this disgraceful attempt at highway robbery. Surely that must be a change you will welcome?
Yes. Rodeo's 2.5-litre engine is significantly under the 225g/km barrier and the 3.0-litre with a manual gearbox is at 222g/km. However, the 3.0-litre with an automatic gearbox is at 237g/km.
Many pick-up owners tow heavy trailers and may therefore have to have a digital tachograph fitted to their vehicle and be subject to the Drivers' Hours rules. They may even have to obtain a heavy-truck-type Operator's Licence. How are you assisting them?
We're training dealers so that they understand the situation and can provide customers with the necessary information. You may be aware that when digital tachographs were first introduced in 2006 Rodeo was the only pick-up that could take them at the time because in those days ours was the only one engineered to accept the sender unit.
How many dealers have you got?
Eighty-two, and we're bringing more on board. We've attracted a dozen so far this year and I think we'll have a total of between 90 and 95 by the end of December. We could do with more dealers in the South East — bear in mind that it's where around 35 per cent of all purpose-built pick-ups are sold — and we'd like to strengthen our representation in and around Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool as well. A lot of our dealerships sell Subaru cars too (IM Group is also the Subaru importer, SB) but we've got five or six commercial vehicle dealers who represent, for example, Isuzu Truck (not handled by IM Group but by a separate import business, SB), Iveco and LDV. One thing we do is actively encourage them to sell used pick-ups — not just our own, but other makes as well — because we want them to promote themselves as one-stop pick-up specialists; and the ones that are doing so are enjoying a great deal of success.
Many thanks to Isuzu dealership Carstins of Balsall Common, West Midlands, for providing a venue for photography.