Since its foundation in 1935, UD Trucks has built an international reputation for its focus on practicality and the core aspects of driving and ownership – with an enviable record of durability and a ‘customer-first’ mindset that has driven expansion from its native Japan to a truly global presence. T&FME spoke to Mourad Hedna, President of UD Trucks Hub, MEENA, about the current market dynamics, the company’s performance and its all-important plans for 2021.
Mourad, in most GCC markets, you hold the No.1 or No.2 position among Japanese truck firms. What do you see as the main reasons for this success?
The first thing I should say is that regionally, we have invested substantially in building a strong brand reputation – one that’s based on the philosophy of always supporting our customers and providing workable solutions for their business needs and challenges. We have a service-first mindset and provide the right framework for pre-emptive maintenance – which plays a vital factor in helping our customers maximise their time on-road and keep their costs down.
We have invested heavily in our presence in the region and we’re here to stay – I hope customers can see that from our consistency, focus and long-term approach. We demonstrate this by providing vehicles which are equipped and modified for the needs of the MEENA market. We were actually the first brand to understand that we needed to develop products specifically for this region. This makes a major contribution in terms of the vehicles’ longevity, reliability and user safety – particularly when allied to our aftermarket support and the network of strong local partners. After fully renewing our full Heavy Duty and Medium Duty ranges, we also introduce upgrades every year, such as ESCOT and the 40T capacity.
When UD first decided to make inroads into the GCC, we undertook a major testing and research programme in Oman, which offers a classic mixture of the driving conditions so prevalent across MEENA – from desert heat (up to 52oC) to mountain cold, twisting un-made roads to long highways, and extreme gaps between service facilities, followed by additional tests in Qatar and Abu Dhabi when our products got upgraded and when we introduced new features It was only when we were certain our vehicles could handle these demanding conditions that we offered them to the market. This is the kind of mindset that our customers buy into, because they know we have their best commercial interests at heart.
Remarkably, even during the pandemic, you delivered 6% growth in the region over 2019 – and improved your market share by 30%. How do you plan to build on that success in 2021?
Achieving such good results during this difficult time is giving us and our partners more motivation to continue being more aggressive towards our growth journey and it confirms that we are on the right track. In 2021, we will not only continue to support customers in every way we can, pioneering a range of new fleet deals, but we will also continue the growth journey by penetrating new segments, too. Our aspiration is to be a key player in critical sectors such as logistics and construction.
We are also bringing a number of new specs and features to the market – you’ll be hearing a lot more about these later in the year. Throughout 2021, we will continue working with our ‘family’ mindset. One where we truly value our customers and provide them with the support they need to prosper in what has been a globally challenging climate.
Tell us your views about the trend towards ‘smart’ fleets, and factors such as telematics and its ability to deliver fuel optimisation and ‘anytime’ fleet data?
There will be a continuous focus to improve fleet efficiency, productivity and total cost of operation, and some indicators – such as cost per ton and per kms transported – will be more and more closely and continuously monitored. For example, factors such as uptime and fuel consumption are increasingly important, especially for fleets.
The reality is, that to maximise the profitability of your business, you need to be able to manage your trucks effectively by keeping them on the road for longer while reducing on-going costs. UD Telematics Services, a high-tech wireless communication system, coupled with the new UD Analytics (advanced) offering are real technological game changers. UD Analytics helps boost fleet management with advanced reporting. With the option to include fuel and driving behavior consultancy services for an in-depth look into your fleet.
So this means benefits such as: Visibility of the fleet at all times; Real time alerts for faster action; Improvements in overall safety; The ability to trace past routes; Minimising operating expenses; Fuel reports that allow insights into your fleet; andDriving behaviour reports for targeted coaching.
In fact, I am delighted that we can see already the interest and positive feedback from customers using the UD Telematics service.
What are the key features in your range for 2021? Any new model launches forthcoming?
We are planning to have new specs and features in 2021 that will be revealed shortly: these will address more customer segments and will make our medium and heavy-duty ranges one the most complete and versatile ranges on the market.
Plus, all our model range in the region will offer the choice of either automated or manual transmission in both ranges.
How do you see the market changing this year and how is UD Trucks ahead of the trend?
There will be a stronger-then-ever demand for trucks: even during the Pandemic, we see the logistics sector growing more and more, and this is only possible because of the end-to-end flexibility of truck transport and delivery. I also believe customers will continue to invest, but there will be stronger pressure on their costs and cashflow, which means that affordability is more key to success than ever.
In our view, this might mean, for example, that there won’t be so much emphasis on higher-end, luxury features. Rather, it will be important to have an offer where the basics are right and customers are supported by state-of-the-art service, so basically value for money will be more and more important.
You mention three key themes for 2021: agility and resilience; partnership mindset; and employee engagement. What training do you have here ‘on the ground’ to help you deliver these?
To be honest, it’s not only training, but a mindset of leadership and being prepared to monitor the situation and the respond as proactively as possible. This makes us more agile in the event that there need to be any changes. We also believe in continuous work with our valued partners and stakeholders, and that includes investing in simple processes to build better collaboration with our partners and ensure that, internally, we can react quickly to what happens in the market and adjust accordingly.
We also want to create a culture of trust and empowerment for employees and partners, as well as have a feel for market pulse and monitoring. Respect and trust is important for us and we are working hand in hand with our partners in a supportive manner. Likewise we focus on employee engagement which means transparent communication and a commitment to their wellbeing and health and safety.
Are you continuing the Extended Warranty arrangement in the region, which you introduced during Lockdown?
No, to be honest, with the situation today we don’t see the need – all our workshops are available and working to full capacity. Of course, if things do change in the future and we see a need then, we will take the necessary decisions to support our customers.
What features make the New Quester particularly suitable for Construction work in the region?
Well, to start with, it’s agile on any terrain. A purposely-designed with a combination of robust chassis, true heavy duty cabin with an optimised drive-line in terms of performance and durability.
Productivity is also increased, with a higher payload capacity – you’ll find a wide variety of specifications on wheelbase and axles that can help maximise payload. The Quester in particular is designed for handling heavier loads in tough conditions.
There are also benefits from better uptime, due to a longer service life. For example, the optional hub reduction rear axles increase service life in tough conditions. The engine was developed with the most modern technology, allowing longer service intervals and there is also high component durability.
The Quester is also designed to make superstructure installation very easy. The comprehensive bodybuilder instructions and power take offs for specific applications make it ideal to be adapted for all assignments and road conditions. As examples of superstructure variants, you’ll find Quester Mixer; Quester Concrete Pump; Quester Tanker; and Quester Tipper.
The 40T Quester has power, durability and operational efficiency. It’s got the new rugged 24 inch tyres and a super-strong chassis.For heavy construction work, 6×4 and 8×4 rigid configurations provide flexibility to match the truck to the job, and of top of that, the Quester is equipped with ESCOT, An Automatic- Manual transmission for easy driving, better fuel consumption and maintenance cost.