To say 2013 was a big year for isuzu Truck UK would be something of an understatement. Having operated as an independent company since 2004 following a management buyout from Lex, instigated by then MD Nikki King, its original parent, isuzu Motors Japan, bought back iTUK in its entirety in March 2013, having previously held a 15% interest in the firm. in one fell swoop iTUK went from being an independently run distributor with a £30m turnover to part of a massive corporate operation with a £12bn turnover and £1bn profit margin.

Having built up the business to a position of strength over 17 years from 1996, King is a legendary figure within iTUK, but in October last year she relinquished the day- to-day running of the company to became honorary chairman, handing over the reins to pete Murphy, whom she herself brought into the fold from lex Transfleet as a fleet sales executive in 1998.

Murphy worked his way up to become iTUK’s sales boss and his new appointment has been endorsed by the Japanese parent company’s board of 23 executives – so no pressure then.

But if Murphy is feeling the heat he seemed to be remarkably relaxed and confident when What Van? met him at iTUK’s HQ last month.

He obviously feels at home within ITUK’s community and comfortable with being entrusted to maintain what King has described as its “very special culture”.

Murphy has the philosophy that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“As a salesman it always seemed Transfleet [where he previously worked] wanted to reinvent itself every year, as if the company was terrified it wouldn’t be perceived as being dynamic,” he

explains. “Whereas when I came to isuzu it was ‘we have a strategy, we have an idea and we have a vision’. Other than the odd tweak, unless you’ve got it absolutely horribly wrong, why would you want to do a 180° about-face and go off in a completely different direction?”

Not surprisingly, Murphy is not one for making overnight changes without having first gauged the state of the market. He reckons the UK is a good barometer.

“If a product works in the UK it will work in the rest of Europe,” he says.

He also claims the firm’s biggest strength is its attention to customer care and service.

“The acid test is how you back up your service to fleets,” he says.

ITUK’s one product in the 3.5-tonne category is the Grafter chassis cab, which is most commonly bodied as a dropside or tipper. With its tough C-frame chassis and payloads of up to 1380kg, Murphy says the Grafter appeals particularly to builders and landscapers. He claims it is slightly narrower than its main competitor, the Nissan NT400 Cabstar (the single-rear-wheel tipper has a body width of 1780mm), which enables it to reach inaccessible sites more easily.

He adds that the Grafter’s gross train weight of seven tonnes is also best-in-class. “It can tow mini- diggers better, so attracts plant company customers,” says Murphy.

Murphy describes Grafters as being “tough, like Tonka toys”, but, just in case, they all come with three-year unlimited mileage chassis warranties.

Isuzu has recently launched a Euro5 B+ 120hp 3.0-litre engine in the Grafter, which is street-legal until 2016, while a Euro6 150hp version can now be pre-ordered from Japan.

Murphy says complying to type- approval laws has affected the dealers in iTUK’s retail network (38 sales/service plus 19 service-only sites) who use small bodybuilders requiring individual Vehicle approval for niche conversions. There are around 20 test centres nationwide and, apart from the driver and fuel costs of getting the vehicle there, the test costs £199 plus £40 for a re-test if it fails. iVa paperwork and payment must be sent to VOSa in Swansea, a time consuming process.

Murphy acknowledges Nissan has far wider coverage due to its passenger car network, but says all iTUK’s dealerships provide specialist truck service. Some offer 24-hour opening, others offer late shifts, but all offer a Saturday service, he says. The firm also runs a training centre for its technicians at its Hatfield HQ.

Murphy admits ITUK is a niche player, with around a 1% share
of the UK 3.5-tonne chassis cab market, and that its core customers took a big hit in the recession. “people are not going to get their gardens landscaped if they’re worried about their income,” he explains. But he reckons things are looking up, with growth in areas such as the home improvement market, and he forecasts selling 200 Grafters this year.

“There’s more confidence in the economy and this is filtering through to business,” he concludes.