MAN: focusing on sustainable and profitable growth

MAN: focusing on sustainable and profitable growth

Last year was an excellent year for MAN Automotive South Africa. MD Jan Aichinger is predicting a challenging 2024 but – as he tells CHARLEEN CLARKE – he relishes this scenario. 

Aichinger took the reins of MAN Automotive on 1 May 2023. He was no stranger to South Africa, having spent many previous years in the country, but, as he says, he encountered a completely different market.

“When I arrived in South Africa in mid-2023, it was reminiscent of the used commercial vehicle market, because it was completely different to what I had experienced in the past. No other segment changes faster than used: what customers need today, they don’t necessarily need tomorrow. Prices also change dramatically,” he explains. “Hence, when I started here, I felt that on the one side I knew South Africa, but that at the same time a lot of things had changed. When I was last in South Africa, there was no loadshedding, for instance!”

During Aichinger’s previous tenure in South Africa from 2008 to 2011, American brands were popular, while the Chinese were not particularly strong. “Since then, we have seen a concentration in fleets. There are also new business sectors emerging – just one is the boom in coal transport,” he notes.

One thing that didn’t change, of course, was the competitive nature of the South African commercial vehicle market. “There is probably only one other market in the world that is so competitive, and that’s Australia. These two markets have a massive variety of manufacturers. This makes it dynamic and complex but also interesting and challenging. This is fine; I love those challenges!” says Aichinger.

Given this challenging environment, he’s very happy with the company’s accomplishments in 2023. “We performed extremely well last year – in terms of both truck and bus sales. We were thrilled to be number one in the bus market yet again, and we are particularly proud of the fact that we have done well not only in volumes, but also in terms of resilience. We are exploring new technologies globally as well as in South Africa.”

In European markets, MAN is number one in electric buses. “We were criticised for being slow in bringing technology to the market,” he concedes. “We’ve criticised ourselves internally for the same reason! But transformation over the long run is more important than short-term wins.”

Besides the growth in the market, MAN had some product highlights in 2023. “The introduction of the e-Bus was THE product highlight. So far, no other manufacturer has announced anything similar,” Aichinger elaborates. “We have seen BYD bring in some vehicles and we don’t underestimate them. We respect their core knowledge of drivetrains, but they don’t have a plant in South Africa, so we are not cooking with the same water. You cannot compare the two product offerings,” he continues.

Yet another differentiator between MAN and some new players in the market is its history. “We are fortunate in that we have a long legacy of providing excellent service, as well as product and aftermarket solutions. We are currently ranked number two in customer experience interactions (CXi) in both sales and aftersales. It is a good result but it’s not satisfactory; nothing other than number one is acceptable,” Aichinger insists.

Jan Aichinger, MD of MAN Automotive South Africa, says the focus in 2024 is on sustainable and profitable growth.

Turning to 2024, he says that the South African logistics market is under a lot of stress due to the many price increases. “Transport operators have to find a way to get their CPK down. We need to partner with them in this quest,” he stresses.

Another challenge within the market is the hunt for talent. “A lot of talented South Africans – even drivers and mechanics – are leaving the market; we are losing them to the United Kingdom and Australia. What makes us particularly proud is that we have 72 apprentices in our service network. Because of the loss of talent, we can offer all 72 people jobs,” Aichinger reveals. In order to deal with increased training requirements, the company has opened a second training centre at the Pinetown plant. MAN has applied for MERSETA accreditation for this facility.

MAN is also focusing on attracting and retaining women. “We want to employ more women in all areas of our business, including production. A diverse team is always better because people have different talents,” Aichinger says. “Women look at things in different ways. They’re better when it comes to the small details, for instance. I believe that we are too quick to put people into boxes, saying that this is a man’s job or a woman’s job. That’s not the way it should be. I’m a big fan of finding a good mixture.”

The focus this year will also be on growth – but only if it is sustainable and profitable. “In the truck market, we’re in the chasing role; sometimes this is easier than being the leader and defending that position. On the bus side, we obviously have to defend the number one position. Furthermore, we need to find the right mixture in terms of reducing complexity, yet still stay flexible when it comes to our customer needs. For instance, we could reduce our range to one model, which would make spare parts and servicing a dream. But this would not suit our customers’ needs, so we need to find the right balance,” Aichinger explains.

He doesn’t see significant growth in truck sales in South Africa in 2024, noting: “It will be above the most recent 10-year average, but it won’t peak again. However, buses should come back this year. This is obviously dependent, however, on government tenders in the big cities. Based on our market observations, the bus and coach market will grow compared to 2023, but that growth won’t necessarily be dramatic.”

Speaking of the bus sector, one of the goals for this year is to deliver the serial production electric bus. “We are ramping up and making significant investments in this regard. We are very excited about the potential of our electric bus,” Aichinger reveals.

And what of the MAN eTruck and its deployment in South Africa? “Well, when it does come here, the first use case that I see is distribution (as opposed to long-haul in Europe). Right now, the focus is on rolling it out in Europe, with the strict CO₂ emission targets that will start applying there from 2030 in mind,” he explains.

Is it safe to say that the eTruck won’t come to South Africa any time soon then? “Can I just not answer this question?” Aichinger responds with a big smile. It’s clear that, while the company’s e-mobility strategy for buses is an open secret, on the trucking front, Aichinger still wants to keep some tricks up his sleeve…

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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