MAN flies the SA flag!

MAN flies the SA flag!

MAN Automotive has come up with an extremely novel concept: a limited edition of trucks painted in the colours of the South African flag. CHARLEEN CLARKE reveals the story behind the creation of these extraordinary vehicles

From bad to good. That’s what the SA Flag Limited Edition trucks personify, as Eren Gündüz, chief operating officer at MAN Automotive, says: “They symbolise the incredible success of the MAN brand in South Africa.”

As recently as 2016, MAN’s market share wasn’t anything to write home about. “We were sitting at a little less than 7%, and we were obviously not happy with that. Our team worked incredibly hard to change that situation and, last year, we achieved 14%,” he reveals.

Gündüz and his team decided that they wanted to show their appreciation to customers. “MAN has been in the country for a very long time – uninterrupted. Especially given the fact that we were facing a pandemic, we decided that we wanted to do something very special for South Africa. We love and appreciate the country and we wanted to show this. We decided to come up with something that would pay tribute to South Africa and its people. Our trucks are our lifeline. All our goods and commodities are moved by truck! We thought about all sorts of different ideas and came up with the SA Flag Limited Edition. The flag exemplifies the spirit of the country, after all,” he notes.

There are 12 SA Flag Limited Edition trucks, says Robbie Virgili, head of retail truck sales at MAN Automotive. “We took the six colours of the SA flag and painted two trucks in each colour. We selected the 26.480 Efficient Line, which has the best fuel consumption in the country,”
he explains.

“The trucks have been pimped up with all the bells and whistles. We fitted leather seats, bullbars, stone guards, roof bars, special floor mats and side skirts. The whole vehicle is colour coded outside. The hubs and side skirts employ the same colour.”

On the tool compartment flap of each truck, there is a South African flag and it also highlights the colour of that specific truck.

The trucks were kitted out at MAN’s new modification centre in Pietermaritzburg, which was opened just before lockdown. Gündüz explains that this centre is great news for local customers.

“When we sell a standard truck to a South African company, they often add extras. Then we have to send the trucks to various suppliers. A couple of times we experienced problems with suppliers drilling in the wrong place. The damage is irreversible. To stop this situation, we opened our own modification centre. We have our own technicians and they use MAN-approved fitment methods and tools. A full warranty is offered,” he says.

While the trucks were undergoing their metamorphosis at the modification centre, they were under the watchful eye of Hayden Wright, senior salesman at MAN’s Pinetown branch. Virgili and Gündüz are unanimous: “He managed the whole fitment process and did a fantastic job.”

Modifying the trucks was an effortless task, thanks to the skilled team of technicians. Getting MAN from 7% to 14% market share required considerably more effort. “We decided on a process of continuous improvement. It has been a huge amount of hard work. We have implemented a massive number of projects aimed at improvement. In aftersales alone, we introduced 22 projects,” reveals Gündüz.

For the MAN team, the top priority was uptime. “This has increased our customer satisfaction. Even in lockdown, our focus on uptime and customer satisfaction never waned. In fact, we started working two shifts at our workshops to support essential services customers. Whenever there was a requirement, our teams were there to support the customers. This made a big impact. When the market is difficult for customers, special support is so important. We tried to do everything possible for our customers – and this has paid dividends. Our customers will never forget this,” he contends.

Prior to lockdown, the MAN team doubled their truck stock (kit orders). “It was difficult to convince Germany to support us, but they did. We did not know if the ships would be working and whether or not the containers would arrive. We didn’t want to take any chances that could result in us disappointing customers. Yes, this was a massive investment, but it was the right thing to do,” notes Gündüz. The parts inventory was also increased by 25% before lockdown – for exactly the same reason.

He believes that good teamwork helped the company along its path of success. “When I look at 2016 versus today, we have only changed two senior managers. The right people were in the right place. We empowered and supported them. The team has done a great job. MAN has four values – team, respect, integrity and determination – and this governs every aspect of the way in which we do business,” he says.

“We respect the market, which has its own dynamics and challenges. We are determined to grow market share. We always work with integrity. Instead of giving the customers what we have, we try to listen and give them what they need. Sometimes big corporate companies forget the customer. But we put our customers at the very centre, and everything is around uptime.

“Just consider the telematics systems in Europe. They simply don’t work here. Therefore, we created a local solution that gives the customers exactly what they need. In South Africa, security concerns are paramount. Therefore, we designed our system around this need.”

The system is provided free of charge for three months with every new MAN truck purchased. “We also offer stolen vehicle recovery as standard. This is what our customers need. If the driver goes off route, alarms automatically go off. In Europe they don’t have these security concerns,” he notes.

These policies, coupled with lots of hard work, have really paid dividends. “Last year we were rated number one in truck sales. This year, I am thrilled to announce that we are number one in the market in terms of the combined results – truck sales, parts and service,” says Gündüz with a big smile. “In fact, four of our branches received 100% customer satisfaction in August.”

While truck sales, parts and service are flying, so too is the TopUsed organisation. “When the market is tough (and it is right now), used sales always grow. Plus, new vehicle prices are increasing due to the currency devaluation. The same has not happened to used. Accordingly, we knew that the business would grow. This is going to be a record year for TopUsed. We’ve never sold more than 90 used trucks in a single month. But we sold 119 in July and 92 in August. September is also looking good,” he reports.

He acknowledges that “staying at the top is more difficult than getting there. But we will work hard and come up with innovative ideas.”

One such innovative idea, of course, is the SA Flag Limited Edition concept.

“Seven have already been sold. Interestingly, bus fleets are buying them to transport cargo. This is because bus commuters often have lots of luggage when going cross-border (especially to countries such as Zimbabwe). Typically, a trailer has been towed behind the coach. But now, that’s simply inadequate. Accordingly, bus and coach operators are now going into the trucking business too,” Gündüz reveals.

Virgili adds some customers are rewarding their top drivers with a SA Flag Limited Edition truck. “We are putting a lot of money into them and, yes, they are more expensive than a regular truck. But it is a great driver incentive. Those drivers are beyond excited at the opportunity to drive one of these striking vehicles,” he says.

Customers can only purchase one truck; no more than one SA Flag Limited Edition MAN is being sold to a single fleet. “We wanted to make them as exclusive as possible,” Virgili explains.

And what if a customer approaches MAN and wants to order 100 of these incredible trucks? “We won’t take the order; there will only ever be 12 of these trucks,” he insists.

Now, the challenge is to come up with an even more innovative concept for 2021. “That’s going to be tough! But we have a great team of people at MAN. I am sure that we will come up with something,” predicts Gündüz.

Hopefully, they will. But one thing is certain: it’s going to be very hard to top a SA Flag Limited Edition truck.

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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