In an exclusive interview with Prime Mover, Gillespie highlighted how turbulent 2016 was for the light- and medium-duty truck market, while reflecting how the role of the rigid truck had changed.
Q: It’s safe to say 2016 has been yet another challenging year for the truck making community. How would you summarise it – both generally and from a Hino perspective?
A: The 2016 market was arguably the most competitive one this business has seen, particularly in the light-duty market segment, where we’re positioned with our 300 series. Demand was high in this segment and competition fierce, mainly driven by growth in the ‘last mile’ online freight area. As such, we experienced the market as being very price-sensitive, with additional margin pressures. But at the same time, there were many encouraging signs in the Australian economy – not the least the upsurge in the vital Sydney and NSW markets followed by a very buoyant Victorian market.
Q: Data from the Australian Road Transport Supplier’s Association (ARTSA) has recently shown that business activity is shifting toward the light- and medium-duty end of the market. Can you confirm that impression?
A: From a Hino perspective, we certainly saw a continued push to more rigid trucks, with a lift in the market for both light- and medium-duty models. The major trend for Hino has been the dramatic shift towards AMTs (Automated Manual Transmissions, ed.) or full automatic transmissions. In our light-duty range, we now sell over 60 per cent of vehicles with a full automatic, up from 40 per cent in 2013, and we see this trend continuing in both the medium- and light-duty segment – especially the newly- launched Hino 500 series wide-cab model.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: The lift in the freight task in heavily trafficked urban areas such as Sydney and Melbourne is certainly driving that trend as drivers and companies seek to reduce their workload and move away from manual transmissions; and we don’t see that trend going away any time soon. In fact, with the increase in freight task forecast for urban areas, it will continue to grow.
Q: Where do you the see the most innovation potential in the rigid truck segment?
A: From a product point of view, the most immediate growth potential is in the uptake of two-pedal or automatic transmissions in the fleet, but our research has shown that the real opportunities lie in the telematics field, which we serve with the Hino Traq product. Information in all areas of business is key in the 21st century, and transport is no different – and whilst data use might have been the domain of the heavy interstate users in the past, the light- and medium-duty end of the market is quickly catching up.
Q: Isuzu has been leading the Australian market for some 28 years now. What’s Hino’s strategy to challenge the industry’s juggernaut?
A: Hino has moved to a ‘total customer support’ approach across our business. Key steps taken are the installation of a new in-house Customer Care Centre staffed by dedicated and trained Hino personnel, and the launch of an all-new suite of products in the Parts and Service area. This allows Hino and our dealers to stay competitive in the marketplace and also offer our customers premium back-up support after the purchase.
Q: So, what’s in store from Hino in 2017?
A: We see 2017 being very competitive, but our dealers and the organisation are up for that challenge and we’re aiming to lift sales again in 2017. Already, our dealers are investing strongly in the brand, with two new metropolitan sites in Sydney and Brisbane launching by the second half of 2017. In February, we launched the all-new range of 500 series wide-cab model trucks, and later in 2017, we will unveil the long-awaited 300 series 4×4 model, which will allow Hino and its dealers to offer products in a segment in which we have not competed before.