Franz Freiherr von Redwitz on why a customer-centric approach is even more essential
Customers looking to buy commercial vehicles in the GCC are spoilt for choice. With a host of major international players eager to cash in on a price-conscious market, it can be challenging for a premium brand to stay ahead of the game.
MAN Truck & Bus Middle East, however, seems to be managing just fine. The manufacturer reported a 35% sales increase in the UAE in 2014, and has already seen a 19% hike in order intake for the Middle East so far this year.
Ensuring this growth continues is one of the main tasks facing the truck and bus maker’s new managing director for the Middle East, appointed in March. Franz Freiherr von Redwitz brings 16 years of experience within the MAN Group to the new role, including working as a lobbyist for the automotive company in the German capital, and has handled a variety of International Bus and Coach sales management roles, including playing a leading role delivering 400 buses to RTA in Dubai in 2008.
Truck & Fleet ME sat down with him to get his take on the market and his plans for further boosting MAN’s growth in the region.
“I feel very honoured and I’m very happy to find a very motivated team here that gave me an almost overwhelming welcome,” he says, commenting on his appointment as MD. “I have already collected more ideas than I could write down, what we could do, where we could optimise and so on.”
In light of MAN’s strong performance in the region last year, he is optimistic about the market, even as global uncertainties like the oil price slump and weak conditions in Russia and Brazil have slowed worldwide demand for commercial vehicles.
“We were the number one importer into Russia. Russia used to be our most important export market, and if such a market breaks down, you have no chance to compensate that,” he says. The group has faced a tough year in Brazil, China, and Europe as well. “So the only stronghold market-wise is Middle East and Africa at the moment.”
The figures back it up. The brand recorded 50% growth in Qatar, 38% growth in Bahrain and 30% growth in Kuwait; its best markets in the GCC are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
MAN doesn’t intend to rest on its laurels, however, and von Redwitz plans to meet customer needs by working closely in conjunction with dealers and importers in the region. After all, a key reason for MAN’s sales growth in the UAE was its local dealer, Darwish Bin Ahmed & Sons, he points out. “What I’m aiming for is a very close relationship to our distributors in the country. My task is to be their closest business partner and their mentor, and also their advocate in the headquarters, to help them to be successful in the market.”
When asked where the manufacturer will be concentrating its efforts in 2015, von Redwitz notes that while he aims to grow both the truck and bus business, buses will be a key focus going forwards. “We have a couple of interesting tenders coming along now in Oman, in Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, but also here in the Emirates. Dubai wants to do even more environmentally friendly buses. They’re looking at alternative drive systems where we have good and strong solutions available.”
On the trucks side, MAN’s TGS range for heavy-duty applications like construction is already well-established in the region, and the bestselling vehicles for the brand. But the company is also seeing increasing demand for 2×4 tractors, von Redwitz says. “Traditionally, MAN is stronger in the heavy-duty applications, and on these standard tractors we were not leading. We are getting in the lead due to our efforts to reduce the fuel consumption of the vehicles.”
Fuel consumption, he notes, is one key way the market in the Middle East has evolved over the past few years, as customers look to minimise operational costs on vehicles. Additionally, with other firmly established European and Asian brands in the region, it can be a challenge to hold on to market share.
“We are facing more and even harder competition than we did ten years ago,” he admits, but adds that this is normal and doesn’t keep him up at night. MAN’s direct competitors in the Middle East are the same as in Europe, he points out.
“Our Asian competitors, they are playing in different segments. You don’t mount a concrete pump on a chassis that doesn’t last 15 years, because it’s too expensive to remount it to another one, so the heavy-duty applications are no question. The reliability of the European brands is especially well-known in this region. It’s just different applications, different fields. That’s how I see it with respect to our Chinese and Indian competitors.”
Moreover, customers themselves are becoming more “professional”, he adds, considering more than just initial purchase price when buying a truck or bus. Total cost of ownership, already a key driver in Europe, is gradually gaining traction in the Middle East too, though purchase price still plays a paramount role.
Another similarity to Europe is the growing need for safety features in vehicles. “Ten years ago, nobody wanted an adaptive cruise control. Today in Europe, every truck has to have an adaptive cruise control and even an electronic brake system. We see now that this demand is also coming here in this region, to avoid accidents.”
Sales of new vehicles will not be the only area of business MAN will focus on developing in the years to come. The manufacturer is looking at boosting its after-sales activities, through offering more workshops and training as well as improving parts availability. It will also look at expanding its used business, wherein customers can purchase second-hand vehicles from the MAN TopUsed facility in Jebel Ali.
Apart from used vehicles, the brand also offers refurbished spare parts under its MAN Genuine Parts ecoline range. The parts are fully reconditioned and MAN-approved, offering a better alternative for vehicles well into their life cycle that may not require new components. “We don’t need to put a brand-new gearbox into a truck that already has two million kilometres on the road and will live another 500,000. You’d rather take a refurbished one that has a far lower price.”
When a truck is brought into the workshop, an assessment is made as to whether it really needs new parts. Fitting it with refurbished parts is far cheaper, and in line with MAN’s lower-TCO strategy.
Although it remains a battle to ensure customers buy original parts, the business is doing better than ever, recording growth even through the 2008 crisis and increasing ever since. “The growth in spare parts turnover is higher than the growth in vehicle turnover, and this tells me that we’re on the right path. This tells me that more and more customers are coming to us because they are convinced that it’s better to use our oil and parts.”
While there may be plans afoot to boost after-market services alongside new vehicle sales, von Redwitz’s main goal, more important than any other strategy, is to develop an even closer relationship with MAN’s customers. Through direct interaction with end users, he hopes to learn more about customer needs and priorities when buying vehicles. “I’m going to see many, many customers. This is my personal approach. Be close to the customer, understand his needs and be his partner over the lifecycle of the vehicle.”
Market realities in the Middle East mean it is more important than ever to have a customer-centric approach, he adds. “It’s clear with the oil price dropping like this the incomes are lower, and therefore there are less funds. But if the overall market declines, then we have to be more competitive than our competitors, with better offers to our customers, and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for.”