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Isuzu Ute targets decade of double-digit growth

Ute muster: Last year Isuzu Ute sales hit 23,377 units, an 11 per cent increase over 2015’s result, with strong results from its D-Max and MU-X models.

Execs see plenty of sales upside in updated Isuzu D-Max ute and MU-X SUV range in Oz

10 Feb 2017

ISUZU Ute Australia (IUA) believes the D-Max utility can eventually overtake its Holden Colorado cousin in the sales race after coming close to toppling the Nissan Navara in 2016.

Having averaged 30 per cent year-on-year sales growth since launching in Australia as a standalone brand in 2008, IUA executives believe they can grow another 10 per cent this year and are hopeful of celebrating a decade of double-digit success in 2018.

Total IUA sales for 2016 were up 11 per cent on 23,377 units, making Australia Isuzu’s biggest global export market for combined light commercial and SUV sales.

Speaking at the facelifted D-Max ute and updated MU-X SUV launch in Queensland this week, IUA managing director and CEO Yasuhiro Takeuchi joked that 11 per cent growth was the company’s “worst record” since it began.

“Our previous worst record was 22 per cent and now we have new models, we believe we can continue to grow and even achieve double-digit growth,” he said.

“My dream is that for 10 years we continue to grow in double digits.”

The D-Max placed sixth overall in the combined 4x2 and 4x4 ute segment with 16,359 sold, eclipsing the Mazda BT-50 by 1855 units and coming just 396 shy of matching the much newer Nissan Navara.

Nissan is a competitor Isuzu hopes to overtake this year, despite the 20.9 per cent sales slide in January due to stock shortages leading up to the launch of updated D-Max and MU-X ranges.

IUA assistant general manager for sales Ben Jaeger told journalists the company had even higher goals beyond re-establishing its lead over the Navara, a model it outsold in 2015.

“Realistically in coming years, we want to move further ahead,” he said. “And we believe we can take (Holden) Colorado at some stage.”

Isuzu also did exceptionally well in the 4x2 ute segment with 50.9 per cent growth to 5038 units, earning an 11.5 per cent market share for third spot in the sales charts just 1016 units behind the Ford Ranger – and IUA top brass regard catching the big Ford 4x2 as “not an impossibility”.

The company is also grabbing a healthy slice of the fleet sales pie, the D-Max is the third most popular ute after the HiLux and Ranger with a 13 per cent share of the national fleet market in 2016 and 14 per cent of the government fleet.

Mr Jaeger told GoAuto the brand’s reputation for dependability and aftercare among private and ABN customers was reflected in the fleet market, where the company is enjoying significant “organic, word of mouth” growth.

“Because they’ve had a really good run with the product, they are talking to other industries,” he said, adding that IUA has expanded its fleet team to help build further momentum in this part of the market.

Good news also came from the large SUV segment, where the MU-X took sixth place with 7018 sales last year, 816 units behind the Hyundai Santa Fe and outselling its closest ute-based SUV competitor, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, which occupied ninth place with 6238.

Meanwhile the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner and Holden Colorado occupied the bottom of the table, each having sold around half as many units as the MU-X, which Mr Jaeger attributed to Isuzu’s strength over those competitors in being able to focus all its marketing efforts onto just two model lines.

He said the MU-X was expected to achieve fifth place in the large SUV sales charts by the end of this year, and that the model was so far only scratching the surface of its fleet potential.

He had recently seen a few local rental franchises start taking on the model, while government organisations were also beginning to recognise the SUV as a genuine alternative to the Toyota LandCruiser Prado.

“We’re pretty excited about that opportunity, we just have to work hard and turn it into sales,” he said.

To prepare for having 100,000 vehicles in Australia’s car parc, IUA is redoubling its already successful customer satisfaction and aftersales efforts to ensure repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Having placed joint second after Lexus in the 2015 Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards car manufacturer category, IUA is expected to do the same in the 2016 award as it won outright in January, October and November last year.

IUA assistant general manager of marketing and public relations Dave Harding said the company employed just two full-time dedicated customer service staff because the level of complaints to head office from its more than 90,000 customers was so low.

“Yes they are busy, but I don’t know of any other manufacturer in Australia that can handle 90,000 cars with just two people,” he said.

“We do the job correctly at the dealership, we look after them post-sale and the product does what they want it to.”

Mr Jaeger, a former Mazda employee, told GoAuto he thought the dealerships were able to provide this high level of customer support due to the majority of them being small and owner-operated.

“They are quite engaged with the brand, which is really surprising because we know where we sit, we are still a multi-franchise type arrangement but seeing the growth, living the story and getting great customer feedback,” he said.

“Our sales people really enjoy selling the product because it won’t come back with a disappointed owner over the quality of it.”

Mr Jaeger was conscious of balancing the growth of IUA’s 120-dealership sales and service network against the risk of spreading throughput too thinly.

He agreed the challenge to maintain growth will become tougher in the face of stronger, newer competition but was optimistic about the location of new metropolitan dealerships in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.

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