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Isuzu gearing up to maximise D-Max success

Take it to the Max: The new-generation D-Max is selling well and attracting a younger audience, which Isuzu Ute Australia plans to capitalise on with a tougher marketing push.

Busy 2013 planned as Isuzu Ute Australia celebrates record D-Max sales in November

3 Dec 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI in BANGKOK

ISUZU Ute Australia is preparing to build on this year’s successful launch of its new-generation D-Max one-tonner with plans to strengthen marketing and raise the brand’s profile through sponsorships and off-road drive days.

The company is also considering the introduction of capped-price servicing, is pushing to expand the dealer network with more service centres for remote areas, and working to address the vehicle’s disappointing four-star ANCAP safety rating.

IUA is celebrating a record month, reporting 800 sales of the D-Max in November to beat its previous best of 741 units in August, pushing year-to-date sales up by a quarter on the same period in 2011.

A monthly sales rate of 800 units would put the company on track to hit its target of between 9000 and 10,000 units next year.

As reported in October, the anticipated arrival next year of the MU-7 – a seven-seat SUV based on the D-Max – will double Isuzu’s product offering in Australia and potentially offset any downturn in the fleet-driven ute market.

IUA deputy managing director Takeshi ‘Kasa’ Kasahara told GoAuto the increased number of D-Max variants – including the popular ‘suicide-door’ space cab – and the wider availability of a better, more fuel-efficient automatic transmission in the new model have helped increase its appeal.

“It depends on the whole economy, especially mining and natural resources, so between 9000 and 10,000 units next year is not an impossible target,” he said.

 center imageFrom top: IUA deputy managing director Takeshi Kasahara Isuzu D-Max ENCAP crash testing Isuzu 4x4 training facility in Pattaya, Thailand.

IUA aims to eventually take a 15-20 per cent share of the Australian one-tonner market, which would mean up to 20,000 annual sales – close to the level of the Nissan Navara and a significant increase from its current 6.8 per cent share of the 4x4 ute market.

However, Mr Kasahara admitted supply from the stretched Thai production facility (see separate story) could become a factor.

“In Thailand they have a 90,000-unit back order so (while) we are aiming at 10,000 units next year, maybe capacity will be our headache,” he said.

Supply of some D-Max variants has already come under pressure in Australia with the unexpected popularity of certain variants and increased interest among younger buyers.

IUA senior public relations manager Dave Harding said the company is “making deliberate inroads to that younger demographic through some of our marketing activities”.

“It is a better-looking car than the previous model, more attractive to that demographic,” said Mr Harding.

“While some of (the younger potential buyers) might not be able to afford a D-Max now, we are trying to garner that aspiration for a couple of years’ time when they can afford it”.

Mr Harding said advertising campaigns that more strongly convey a tough image for the D-Max are part of the plan, along with a bigger sponsorship push. Existing sponsorships include the Showtime FMX motorcycle stunt team and the Movember men’s charity.

Off-road drive days are also under consideration, with the Beaudesert 4x4 facility near IUA’s Brisbane base mooted as a potential location.

Isuzu has its own 4x4 training facility in Pattaya, Thailand, where around 20,000 customers are hosted each year to discover the capabilities of their vehicle and learn how to tackle various off-road situations.

Mr Kasahara said IUA is seriously looking at joining the growing number of brands offering capped-price servicing, which he said is preferred by some fleet customers, national fleets and government customers.

Extra servicing outlets for mining customers in remote locations are also on the agenda, especially in northern Queensland, the north of Western Australia and the north of South Australia.

“We are gradually increasing the number of dealerships,” said Mr Kasahara. “Our short-term target is about 100 dealers by the end of next year (plus) special service centres for customer satisfaction.”

A vital factor for gaining fleet business is obtaining a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating because large mining operators such as BHP Billiton are mandating the top safety score.

Fleets are increasingly placing the onus on manufacturers to produce safe vehicles rather than rely on costly aftermarket modifications such as roll-cages, which can ironically increase the risk of a roll-over because the weight of the cage raises the centre of gravity.

Mr Harding said work is underway to increase the ANCAP score, but is more complex than simply fitting the dual-stage seatbelt pre-tensioners it lacks compared with five-star rated variants of the Holden Colorado that was co-developed with the D-Max.

Apparently the vehicle cannot have pre-tensioners in combination with side airbags, which the Colorado does not have, but Mr Harding ruled out decreasing the airbag count just to increase the on-paper safety rating.

“That would be a backward step,” he said. “If anything, we would add airbags, like knee bags, rather than take any away.”

Isuzu Motors International Operations managing director Shinsuke Minami predicted a five-star ANCAP rating would enable the D-Max to exceed 10,000 annual sales in Australia, and said he expected a modified version to achieve the top score next year.

He said he expected Ford and Holden to “have an advantage” due to their Ranger and Colorado utes being awarded five stars, leading to increased market share against the seemingly unstoppable Toyota HiLux, which is yet to attain a five-star rating.

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