Bill Fulton has a smile on his face, he’s back in Australia after taking up the position of MD for NC2 – Cat Trucks Australia and he is enthusiastic about running a truck business and promoting the brand.
“I love this truck market, love working with customers and dealers because it really is a great truck market,” Bill tells. “Australia is a very unique place, it is highly competitive, complex, has world class competitors, top customers and has unique conditions in terms of load, ambient and what we put trucks through.
“I was very impressed the last time I had the pleasure of living here and I am very much looking forward to getting stuck back into it. The product we have here, from an NC2 standpoint, is different to that offered in the US. It was launched in three places: South Africa, Brazil and Australia; and in South Africa it was a little different because we had an existing International brand business with dealerships, parts and service and assembly of the cabover product.
“The real task there was to integrate the local business into NC2, refine business and distribution, and grow the brand, something we concentrated on for the past two years. In Brazil and Australia it was a very different challenge, there was no existing business so it was a matter of launching a brand new product with no systems and no processes in place.
“We had to get the right team on board, we had to get our dealers ready to move from truck engine sales and support into whole truck sales and support, we had to develop and bring the right products in a short period of time, a bit like moving a thousand pieces on a chess board and getting them ready to move out of the gate at the same time,” Bill says.
“It was an enormous challenge but I am very happy about the way the team and dealers have responded and the way customers have given us feedback on the product, the fact is it performs well, is fuel efficient, reliability has been very good, and visibility and driver comfort has been well accepted. It is early days no question, but all of the feedback we have received has been very positive.
“Now the challenge is to get more product into the hands of more customers and this is how we build our knowledge base. We have our readiness and capability right but the acid test is putting it in the hands of customers, getting it out there on the road and seeing what we can do to meet customer needs,” Bill points out.
He says that as each day passes, the intelligence gained is put into the product and ways to better support the customer, and he is not shy to say the company’s customers make their living on the back of the trucks going to the market.
“Their business will be more or less successful because of the product we provide them and the support we put behind it, so it is a huge commitment for customers to try any new product, we understand that,” Bill says.
“The sales process can take anywhere between three or twelve months, and sometimes longer for a customer to really get to a point of comfort and decide to give the product a try. We are having more and more success, the customer has to feel right about the product and the way we support it, so our challenge is to build that momentum.
“People will sit back and watch our performance and as they see more on the road they will pick up the phone and ring operators to see how their Cat trucks are going. As we get more out there, momentum gains and once it starts picking up speed it becomes easier to steer and handle and the trucks gain a reputation of their own,” Bill smiles.
“When we announced Cat was leaving the on-highway engine business, all of the OEMs we provided engines to were making a shift to providing fewer engines from independent suppliers like us. They wanted to provide engines from their own stables which was a natural progression because they had more control over the product and more aftermarket parts opportunity.
“In the North American market in 1996 Mack was the first to move and then Volvo followed a year or two later and Freightliner bought Detroit Diesel and introduced the MBE engine. Navistar, our partner, had always had a 9 litre engine and then introduced a 12 litre, but our world was shrinking around us and our OEM customers only really wanted to use us where they had to or where they had a product gap. For us the cost to stay on that stage was massive because of the emissions development, so unfortunately it was not a good long term business model, but because of the 40 years experience we have had in this business and the relationships we had established, we wanted to stay in this space and so it became important for us to be a whole of truck provider and we had to figure out how we could do that.
“At the time we announced we would exit the on-highway engine business we announced simultaneously our desire to enter the whole of truck business with Navistar. There was still a lot of work ahead of us to reach agreement between the two companies and that took about 15 months. We couldn’t really say too much and that was hard for customers here in Australia because they were one emissions generation behind.
“It was hard for a lot people and hard for us, but a new chapter is a new day and our strong desire is to offer customers not only the Cat engine they have come to rely on but offer them a great truck with Cat support around them,” he indicates.
Bill says the view from here is where the rubber meets the road and getting trucks into the hands of customers and receiving feedback is a vital component of improving and better serving those in road transport.
The Cat team is made up of people who have been in road transport for many years, highly experienced, well respected and extremely well versed in customer requirements and expectations.
“You have got to have good products with great support but what welds that together is the people. At Caterpillar and NC2 we have a lot of heritage providing world class products and meeting the needs of our customers with parts and support capabilities,” Bill says.
“We are, with intelligence, weaving the right truck expertise into our team and bringing the best customer value at the same time. We have the right truck smart people in the business and it is a new truck space in a highly competitive market. We have to earn business and we have to convince customers we have the best value for their needs and that takes time, but if you do it right it continues to gather momentum and increase our sales rate. You have to stay close to customers and learn how to do things better,” he says.
Development is well underway on new engine variants for Cat trucks including a 13 and 15 litre to slot neatly into different applications, and while there is little he can reveal on the current state of play, the new engines are under test in this country.
“One thing I can tell you is the 15 litre engine will be available with no new hardware, all it needs is a diesel particulate filter and a software upgrade. It will be available in mid to late 2012 and the 13 litre will debut probably in February,” Bill tells.
He is as keen to get to work as he is to move back to Australia but his children are completing the school year in the US, so commuting will be a way of life until the New Year when the entire family will relocate back to Melbourne.
“We love this country and my wife Ann and the children are really looking forward to coming back, they enjoyed their last stay here. The people and the country are great and that is what makes it a real pleasure, both personally and professionally,” Bill says candidly.