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Isuzu sets its sights on 20,000 sales

Title fight: The MU-X continues to be a strong seller for Isuzu Ute Australia, but it will get some tough competition this year in the form of the Ford Everst.

A more youthful marketing approach, increased dealer numbers to push Isuzu sales

Isuzu logo27 Mar 2015

ISUZU Ute Australia is kicking off this year with lofty sales targets of 20,000 units and aims of a 10 per cent chunk of its segment share, as it rebrands itself as more youthful offering.

Having exceeded its sales expectations last year, Isuzu is aiming for a 20 per cent growth in 2015, despite renewed competition in the SUV and light-commercial vehicle segments, primarily from Toyota and Ford, and is confident given its 55.5 per cent sales increase in the first two months of this year.

IUA managing director and CEO Yasuhiro Takeuchi said the Japanese company was increasing the number and quality of its dealer network, which is expected to grow by 10 per cent this year.

"Generally, we are paying attention regarding the network,” he said. “We started with a number of dealers similar to the truck dealers, now we have 120 outlets and we are selling around 17,000 - we still have dealers asking to take on the Isuzu franchise."The brand image has also been given a makeover with its tagline moving away from the "Spirit of Truck" link to its heavy-duty past.

The new, more youthful brand awareness campaign, underpinned by Australian band Kingswood's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Go your Own Way," aims to inject more emotion into the Isuzu image.

 center imageLeft: Isuzu Ute Australia managing director and CEO Yasuhiro Takeuchi.The new campaign has come as a result of a marketing budget more than twice that of two years ago, encompassing sponsorship and the I-Venture owners club.

IUA assistant general manager marketing and PR Dave Harding said the rebranding is all about encouraging younger buyers to look at Isuzu when choosing their next car.

"There's a shift to try to cultivate a younger buyer,” he said. “Traditionally between 2008 and 2010 the majority of our owners were in the grey nomad caravan-towing market.""But they buy one car so we have to sell them to their kids and grandkids as well to continue that growth, we have to stay front of mind with the full model change that others have coming.” Its volume growth has come in part from tripling its dealer numbers since 2008, as well as competing in growing market segments that cover almost half the Australian new-vehicle market.

"In the first five years we averaged 29 per cent growth, which was quite significant, and with MU-X that jumped to 63 per cent growth for 16,674 for the year that puts us at number 17 on the sales list.

"We're looking at 20,000 units this year. When you look at previous figures it's achievable and we're confident of that," Mr Harding said.

If the company meets its target for 2015 that would be a four-fold increase in sales since 2008, which would be made easier with the addition of a medium SUV and additional drivetrain choices across its range.

But suggestions of those options is greeted with smiling silence. Mr Takeuchi was also coy about what expansion might be employed within the existing MU-X and D-Max ranges, but said he is confident the two-pronged attack can hit its targets.

"The lowest growth rate since we started was 22 per cent. We said 20 per cent growth this year, considering some other competitors launching new models, but still we think that is conservative and achievable," he said.

He said the challenge lay ahead for the brand to improve its product and not just compete with a discounted price.

"Price is one of the weapons but that's not the main one, we don't want to make our brand a cheap one, we would like to make our brand a bit different from the others," he saidLeading the 2015 charge for the Japanese LCV brand is the seven-seater MU-X, as well as its staple D-Max utility.

The MU-X recorded 4625 sales last year, outpacing a number of rivals in the sub-$70,000 large SUV sgement including the Kia Sorento (2608), Jeep Wrangler (2900), Mazda CX-9 (3344) and the mechanically related Holden Colorado 7 (1508).

This year, the MU-X faces a charge of opposition, led by Ford's Australian designed and developed Ranger-based Everest SUV, while Mitsubishi's Challenger replacement – spied by GoAuto snappers earlier this month – is also not far off.

In 2014, 12,049 examples of the D-Max found homes in Australia, representing a 19.4 per cent increase over 2013, with the Thai-built ute even managing to crack the top-ten best-selling vehicles in December with 1775 units shifted.

The D-Max will feel the heat in 2015, with new-gen versions of popular utes including the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton and Toyota HiLux, as well as the facelifted Ford Ranger, all expected by the end of the year.

While not dismissing the renewed opposition in the segment, Mr Harding said the company's products were proven.

"We have knocked off some of the established brands in some months, they are waning on the back of the old product but we know the new stuff is coming, that will turn things around for them, no doubt, but that's our challenge to continue to keep our sales growing," he said.

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