Trucks you can trust to keep you moving

Trucks you can trust to keep you moving

As South Africa fights against the global downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ROWAN WATT-PRINGLE speaks to Maretha Gerber, head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks at Daimler Trucks and Buses Southern Africa (DTBSA), to find out how the company is keeping the country moving during ongoing national restrictions.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks (MBT) prides itself on producing and distributing “trucks you can trust” and Gerber says that by taking the initiative proactively alongside their dealers, MBT adjusted the business moving into lockdown, allowing them to continue to provide premium sales and aftersales support to customers. “Our primary considerations have always been to keep customers and staff safe and continue to provide essential services through our breakdown support teams,” she says.

MBT has taken the changing sales landscape in its stride. “We firmly believe in face-to-face engagement and I fully expect the industry to eventually return to this,” says Gerber. “For now, we have shifted to virtual interactions to maintain consistent engagement and ensure business continuity.”

Because of this proactive approach, MBT enjoyed a surprisingly good month in June and Gerber projects this trend to continue in July and August. She also credits this to the dealer network and sales and key accounts teams, who have worked closely with specific customers critical for essential services. “One key factor that set us apart was recognising customer needs and being able to abide by the laws to ensure they could continue providing services,” Gerber says.

Gerber believes some segments have proven more robust than others. “While the overall commercial vehicle (CV) market will probably face a 30% decline from last year, I believe the heavy-duty market will be less affected. Our customers remain committed to transactions, it’s just a matter of manoeuvring through the current landscape,” she says.

“It’s not only about the truck, but about Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): securing the right finance partner, service contract, telematics for support and the right truck to keep drivers and goods safe, while providing fuel efficiency. Now, more than ever, wise economic decisions are imperative. That might mean delaying truck replacement and focusing on aftermarket support, or it might be financially beneficial in the long run to replace vehicles now.”

Continuing to provide customer support through the supply chain has been critical. “Thanks to a good understanding with our Germany plant, we were crucially able to secure overseas supply,” she notes. “We may still encounter challenges in our East London assembly plant due to the effects of the pandemic, because our employees’ safety is paramount, but we review things daily to try to accommodate production and supply while keeping them safe. While this may have some effect on supply, it shouldn’t be significant.”

Because DTBSA owns all parts located at dealers across the country, rather than in a central warehouse, parts can be sourced and deployed quickly to ensure availability. “We also managed to fly in certain parts for critical services. A combination of proactive planning and finding solutions over and above parts supply to get vehicles back on the road allows us to keep meeting new challenges,” says Gerber.

MBT is currently focusing on the market rollout of its recent road efficiency model innovations, revolving around lower TCO, greater safety and increased uptime. One significant addition is Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC), which uses satellite data to proactively assess road topography, adjusting truck operation to minimise fuel consumption. “We anticipate incredible fuel savings of up to 5% if the system is used correctly,” says Gerber. Mercedes-Benz Uptime, meanwhile, is like having an onboard doctor for your truck: “The system assesses the vehicle proactively to diagnose and report issues before they cause a breakdown. A standing truck doesn’t make money for an operator; a moving truck does.”

The road efficiency model has already sold out until November. “Customers have seen the benefits brought to the international market and have put faith in our brand. Many new customers are inquiring about the truck, while customer feedback has been fantastic. It’s really delivering on its promises,” says Gerber.

Clearly, there are silver linings to the Covid-19 clouds and the CV industry is pivotal to ongoing efforts. “There’s a reason we say that we are here to keep the world moving,” she says. “Trucks are central to this: demand for their services will not go away, so I’m sure the market can recover relatively quickly.”

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