Face-to-face with Scania’s Erik Bergvall

Face-to-face with Scania’s Erik Bergvall

Towards the end of 2021, Erik Bergvall was appointed managing director of Scania Southern Africa. CHARLEEN CLARKE asks him about his impressions of the South African market and his future aspirations.

Bergvall comes to South Africa with an impressive track record within Scania. Most recently, he was managing director of Scania Middle East, where he delivered strong growth in both vehicle sales and after-sales. But he says that it was his time at Scania Germany, where he was the regional director responsible for the Northwest Region, that probably equipped him best for his role in South Africa.

“I worked in Germany for six years. It is a competitive and tough market. I was very close to the customers in that country and this equipped me with a lot of experience with the Scania brand,” he adds.

Bergvall notes that while South Africa and Germany are completely disparate, we also have an important market. “South Africa is a very significant market for Scania, but in some respects it’s quite different to the German market,” he says. “In Germany, for instance, we have a workshop every 50 km. Clearly, that would not be practical or possible in South Africa, which is such a huge country. Also, in Germany, the customers came to our workshops. Here, we often go out to the customers.”

Bergvall points out that yet another big difference between the two markets is the competitor situation: “It’s incredible to see how many brands are represented here. In the UAE I came across a few of them but – quite frankly – everyone is here.”

While there are certainly clear distinctions between the two markets, there are some similarities too. “Transport operators in Germany are extremely professional and I was positively surprised to see how professional the customers are here as well. I am making an effort to meet as many of our customers as possible and my overriding impression thus far is that they are all highly professional,” he enthuses.

On another positive note, he tells FOCUS that it’s been a real pleasure joining the South African team: “I am very pleased to be here in South Africa and I am also very privileged to have the luxury of taking over such a professional organisation.”

While the organisation is indeed professional, the market hasn’t been without its challenges. “2021 was, of course, a demanding year for the company. Like many of our competitors, we had issues with the supply chain. Given this, the team did an outstanding job. We ended the year with around 2 000 truck sales, which is about a 15% market share. Given the many challenges we faced, this was an excellent result indeed,” Bergvall asserts.

While he is cognisant of the many ongoing challenges faced by the entire industry, he says sales have not been lost. “Of course, one of the key issues is the semiconductor shortage and yes, that did cause certain delays in the supply chain,” he concedes, but adds, “We dealt with this problem by staying as close to the customers as possible. It was a case of continuous and ongoing dialogue. We were determined to find solutions for them.”

Bergvall says flexibility and ongoing customer interaction are key. “Obviously, there is no single solution that fits all situations. But we were able to find solutions with the clients – and we can always find answers as long as we work closely with the customers,” he expands.

Turning to 2022, Bergvall says that some of the challenges from last year have not gone away. “As such, we had a slower start than we anticipated. Having said that, we are already seeing improvements and I believe that the worst challenges are behind us. We are upbeat about the rest of the year, and we think that we will experience positive growth. In fact, our goal is 10 to 15% growth on last year,” he reveals.

According to Bergvall, the recovery of the market this year has been faster than expected. “When the market opened up, everyone was surprised at the speed of the recovery. As such, the whole supply chain had challenges with the increase in demand which, quite frankly, was not expected. However, with this increase in demand, we definitely see improvements in sales.”

The Scania Southern Africa team is hoping for the same development in the bus and coach market. “The impact of Covid on this sector has been dire. Of course, everything stopped on the truck side – but even more so on the bus and coach side,” he notes. “Yes, we were hard hit, as indeed was every company in this sector. When it comes to the bus and coach market, our customers are still feeling the results of the pandemic. Tourism in South Africa is not back to where it was prior to the start of the pandemic and the market for buses is still relatively low. Having said that, I think the market will start to recover next year and I think in 2023 and 2024 the bus and coach market in South Africa will improve,” Bergvall predicts.

Scania Southern Africa’s future is expected to be equally upbeat. “We will be launching vehicles with higher emission standards, and we will also be participating in the electric vehicle market. More information will be made available in time,” he says.

While the company’s product portfolio will always be one of its greatest assets, Bergvall is mindful of his other secret weapon. “Our people are where it starts and ends. I believe everyone wants to be heard and be part of the development of the company and that everyone wants to be fully aware of where we are heading,” he states.

“I want to reach out to the organisation and bring as many people as possible on board for our journey that lies ahead. I will talk about the company’s direction and expectations and share this information with my colleagues,” he continues. “After all, if we don’t have the people on board, it doesn’t matter what I do in my office!”

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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