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Customer satisfaction key to Isuzu success

Track record: Isuzu Ute shared second place with Subaru in a recent Roy Morgan Research customer satisfaction survey.

Happy customers, durability help Isuzu face off newer rivals and keep sales growing

31 Mar 2016

ISUZU Ute Australia (IUA) attributes its solid upward sales trajectory – averaging 35 per cent year-on-year growth since its first full year of operation in 2009 – to the reliability reputation of its products and the brand’s keen focus on customer service.

Last year, combined Isuzu D-Max ute sales of 14,640 units overtook the Mazda BT-50 (13,500) and Nissan Navara (13,897). And despite having just two model lines, IUA sold more vehicles in this country than fellow Japanese brand Suzuki, which had 10 models on sale across numerous segments in the same period.

IUA assistant general manager of marketing and public relations Dave Harding told GoAuto the Isuzu brand’s reputation for reliability was a major factor helping the company to continue stealing sales from competitors in a market full of new or substantially updated products.

“There's a level of trust that a customer puts in us when they sign their purchase contract (and) we work extremely hard to ensure that trust isn't broken at all levels of our business,” said Mr Harding.

“That's reflected not only in our internal customer satisfaction research but by external sources as well.”

One of these sources is the recent Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards, which placed IUA joint second after winner Lexus in its Car Manufacturer of the Year accolade. IUA also received Roy Morgan’s Car Manufacturer of the Month for August and September 2015.

Mr Harding described the recognition by Roy Morgan Research as “a huge boon for the whole Isuzu Ute team because we all work extremely hard to ensure the service and experience of our customers is always a positive one”.

“To be recognised above and alongside more established brands is a real credit to our products and the people behind them.”

GoAuto spoke with a number of Isuzu customers on a recent trip to Moreton Island in Queensland run by IUA’s I-Venture Club – which organises beginner-friendly off-road experiences – all spoke highly of their vehicles and the brand.

Interestingly, considering the Roy Morgan result, a number were former Subaru owners who required more cargo space, towing capacity or off-road ability.

One couple from North Lakes in Queensland said they “could never go back” to another brand having enjoyed their Isuzu experience, while a man from Brisbane who bought a D-Max after having one as a work ute said he could not be happier with the way in which a servicing error that resulted in an oil leak was efficiently rectified – including offering to professionally clean his driveway to remove the oil stains.

A pair of colleagues from an engineering company that converts utes to six-wheelers for additional load-carrying and towing capacity said they preferred using D-Max donor vehicles due to their tough chassis and unstressed, efficient engines that didn’t turn into bowser-busters under additional load.

The converters’ second choice was the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 due to good chassis strength, but said fuel consumption while towing and electronics not taking kindly to modifications counted against those models.

So far this year IUA can no longer claim to be topping Nissan and Mazda in the ute sales race, with 2100 D-Maxes sold compared with 3098 Navaras and 2324 BT-50s – the former benefiting from the arrival of tradie-focussed leaf spring-equipped versions last November and the latter receiving a facelift in September.

The light commercial 4x4 segment has also picked up with 14.3 per cent growth to the end of February, against D-Max 4x4 sales up 6.6 per cent.

Although the D-Max has benefited from a number of running changes since its July 2012 launch, it is a comparatively old model facing increasingly tough competition from other all-new or significantly updated rivals, such as the Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux that variously offer more advanced technology and on-road refinement.

Mr Harding remained optimistic that IUA will surpass its “healthy” 2016 growth forecast, but agreed this year will be challenging and said that the year’s target is “a little more conservative than usual”.

“The status quo doesn't exist here and we're always working harder and smarter to ensure that every year we take it up another level,” he added.

A facelifted D-Max with new grille, headlights, front bumper and bonnet styling along with redesigned alloy wheels, tail-lights and tailgate plus upgraded instruments and a new touchscreen system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity was unveiled last November at the Thailand Motor Expo in Bangkok.

The D-Max update was headlined by a new 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine that replaces the 2.5-litre unit used in markets outside Australia, while the familiar and more powerful 3.0-litre unit deployed here is carried over.

Similar updates were applied to the facelifted MU-X unveiled at the Bangkok Motor Show earlier this month. However Mr Harding declined to comment on future product plans or timing.

In late 2013 IUA revealed its Japanese head office had handed down a 10 per cent market share target for the D-Max in 2016, which it is currently achieving in 4x2 but not 4x4 variants.

Mr Harding said the company was confident it can continue to grow market share and had “started the year off positively considering the challenges in relation to the new competitor product”.

The late-2013 addition of the MU-X SUV in contributed to a 64.4 per cent sales leap in 2014 and it continues to sell well, outselling the newer Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner so far this year and comprehensively trouncing the related Holden Colorado 7 almost two sales to one. It even gives the Hyundai Santa Fe a run for its money in the large SUV segment.

Mr Harding said IUA is “extremely pleased” with how the MU-X is selling. “I think from the outset it brought to the market a very strong value-proposition that wasn't really available at the time.”

He added that the unique 4x2 MU-X has been selling well in higher equipment grades and “really well received by customers who might want to tow a big boat or van and know they won't go off-road”.

It is a similar story for the 4x2 D-Max, which has been more of a recent success story with growth of more than 90 per cent both last year and year-to-date, plus new variants added last November.

Mr Harding attributed this to both sharp pricing and rejuvenated fleet sales – including to Queensland Police – while pointing out that “customers don't want to have to endure a diluted powerplant just because they don't need a 4x4 drivetrain”.

On the subject of fleet sales, Mr Harding said fleet customers had the same basic requirements as private and ABN buyers in that they wanted vehicles that are fit for purpose and reliable.

“Plant downtime is a productivity killer. If your tools aren't working or up to the job, you aren't making money,” he said.

“It goes back to being able to trust the brand and products you are investing in and not being let down. Having a fleet team that understands the needs of – and works closely with – our customers, I think is the core to our improved fleet success.”

IUA currently has 129 dealerships around Australia, with between five and 10 new outlets expected to be added this year.

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