Interviews

Bilal Al Ribi: Charting a new course

New GM of EMC’s Daimler Commercial Vehicles division discusses his plans

PHOTO: Bilal Al Ribi, the recently appointed GM of Emirates Motor Company’s Daimler Commercial Vehicles division. Credit: Supplied

Few automotive brands boast the dominance in both passenger and commercial vehicle segments that Mercedes-Benz enjoys. This is perhaps why parent company Daimler undertook a global restructuring of its passenger and commercial vehicle divisions to be able to better focus on growth in both. Following the German giant’s lead, Emirates Motor Company (EMC) – the flagship company of UAE’s Al Fahim Group and distributor of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain – announced a new operating structure, establishing separate business units for passenger and commercial vehicles.

Under the realignment, EMC Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars is now led by Kamal Rafih, and EMC Daimler Commercial Vehicles is now headed by Bilal Al Ribi, the new general manager for the division. With 23 years of experience in commercial vehicles under his belt, Al Ribi is certainly no stranger to the field.

“I started my career in diesel engines. After graduation, I started as a maintenance engineer working on trucks with various customers, mainly the military,” he says, in an interview in his office at the EMC premises in Abu Dhabi.

“Afterwards, I moved to the US, where I worked for about ten years on commercial vehicles at the owner-operator side, rather than the manufacturer. With fleet companies, I started as a service supervisor and climbed up the career ladder to regional director of maintenance.”

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He went on to join the Al Fahim Group in 2012 as general manager for Central Motors and Equipment (CME), a subsidiary of the group dealing in tyres, automotive parts, service and power tools. In May this year, he moved to the commercial vehicles division of Daimler at EMC.

Commenting on the restructuring, Al Ribi notes that the Al Fahim Group made the call in order to cope with increased demand in both segments. “We aligned our decision with Daimler’s organisational approach worldwide. Now, as a commercial organisation, we will focus on trucks, vans and buses.”

He feels honoured to have been selected for his new position, he adds. “My experience in the market with CME allowed me to better leverage my plans with commercial vehicles due to the fact that the customers are of the same nature.”

The restructuring will allow the company not just to focus more on growing the commercial vehicles business but also to better cater to fleet customers. “Our plan of action is to be close to customers, because commercial vehicles need support in the field. We have presence in a couple of the main fleets in Abu Dhabi, and we’re planning for another two to three fleets this year.”

“EMC’s mission is to offer transport solutions rather than products. Our expertise in the market enables us to better identify customer needs and to provide value-added solutions for long periods of operations.”

These solutions are going to be more in demand going forward, as the market for commercial vehicles in the UAE capital looks increasingly promising. “There is definitely growth,” he says, adding that the construction and infrastructure sectors in particular hold potential, and are set to contribute to increased demand.

However, given Abu Dhabi’s status as an oil producer, one wonders whether the market for commercial vehicles will be affected by the oil price declines of recent months.

“To tell you the truth, we did not see a direct impact. There has been minimal impact on the spare parts and service side, however,” Al Ribi says. “People are slightly reluctant to store a large stock of spare parts, although we are still witnessing high consumption. I still see projects in Abu Dhabi moving fast, and there are many in need of commercial vehicles, such as infrastructure projects for example. To enable these to materialise, you need durable, high-quality trucks.”

And in the trucks segment, EMC is more than ready to compete, he asserts, with the company’s portfolio designed to cover all needs and applications. The Atego is tailored to the medium-weight segment, and the Zetros and Unimog to special applications like oilfield operations. Meanwhile, the Axor and Mercedes-Benz’s ever-popular workhorse, the Actros, is ideal for heavy-duty applications.

The Actros in particular continues to maintain its stronghold in the heavy trucks market, and is used across the board in the construction, oil and gas, and transport and logistics sectors, to name a few.

EMC and Daimler also have new offerings in the vans segment, he says. “We have some eager plans for the rest of this year, plus the beginning of next year and the three years to come, with the introduction of new models in vans.” A new nomenclature will also be adopted. For instance, in 2016, the Viano will be called the V-Class, which will be a totally new vehicle.

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Meanwhile, the Vito and Sprinter are already popular options in the market, and he expects their success to continue into 2016. The Sprinter, covered in last month’s issue, is popular in goods transport applications, as well as the ambulance segment, and the Vito is used in taxi fleets, airport shuttle buses and for transporting VIP customers.

Additionally, EMC is looking at stepping up its offering in the bus sector, in line with the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport’s (DoT) plans for upgrading public transport in the emirate. “DoT is executing a master plan for transportation in Abu Dhabi. This will allow us to be part of these new developments, as Mercedes-Benz provides high-quality buses, from large city buses to coaches and small buses,” Al Ribi says.

“Soon, we will introduce some of the new 19+1 buses that fit the medium range to target the tourism and educational sectors where safe buses are needed.”

The the company is particularly keen on targeting the school bus sector, with vehicles that offer enhanced safety features, crucial for the segment. Features such as seat-belts all over, roll-over capabilities and side air-bags are mandatory on all Mercedes-Benz buses and should also be on school buses. “We will keep pushing for these essential features, as we believe they are vital for the safety of children. Hopefully, in 2016, we will introduce a couple of models to some of the schools in the emirate.”

The dealer is also working with the DoT to roll out new regulations regarding load and road safety for trucks. The company, along with other dealers and manufacturers, participates in monthly meetings with the department to discuss new rules to make roads in the capital safer.

“Once the new regulations have been formulated and become widespread, a completely new category of trucks will dominate the streets of Abu Dhabi, where the loads are less and safety is more promising for people on the roads,” he says.

When asked what changes he’s seeing in the market in terms of customers, Al Ribi notes that fleet owners are slowly but surely becoming more interested in better managing their fleet and optimising on operational costs.

Accordingly, EMC is adopting an even more aggressive approach to after-sales and maintenance for fleet customers. While it already boasts one of the biggest after-sales and maintenance facilities in the region, the company plans to further enhance after-market support for fleet owners and operators.

One method will be through the introduction of the first alignment machine for tractor-trailers in Abu Dhabi. “This is one of our new investments, and we are looking forward to venturing into new investment opportunities in 2016.”

The firm also touts the benefits of its cost-per-kilometre (CPK) solution for fleet owners. “Normally, on the maintenance side, we calculate all the services, warranties, spare parts and labour costs, including the average distances he travels based on the customer’s operational needs,” Al Ribi says.

“Afterwards, we draft a service contract based on the customer’s mileage. This is part of an initiative that fleet owners are trying to undertake: understanding their initial investment in capital expense, considering fuel costs as well as cost for human resources. This allows them to understand how they can fix their cost and avoid variable expenses in the months ahead.”

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Looking ahead, Al Ribi plans to adopt a more customer-focused strategy in sales, service and after-sales, to complement the Mercedes-Benz product line-up. “Commercial vehicles will always be needed, particularly with Abu Dhabi’s 2030 vision, and we will make sure we accommodate the needs of the emirate with quality products and services.”

Focus on after-sales: New wheel alignment machines

Improper wheel alignment on vehicles can cause a range of problems for drivers and fleet owners, including abnormal tyre wear and fuel consumption and increased wear and tear. As part of its preventive maintenance offering, EMC has introduced new wheel alignment systems that quickly check for correct wheel alignment. If wheel angles need to be adjusted, this can be done immediately, or a customer can reserve a later time.

“With the after-sales team’s experience in wheel alignment and adjustment of heavy vehicles, you can rest assured that your vehicle rolls straight and secure on the road. The new measuring systems are superior in speed, precision and safety,” Al Ribi says.

Planning and foresight is also key when it comes to avoiding tyre wear and excessive fuel consumption, due to incorrect wheel alignment, he adds. “By the time abnormal tyre wear is discovered, the damage is already done. Because of this, it is important to check the wheel angles of your vehicle regularly. Before carrying out a wheel alignment, it is also important to fix wear and tear on bushes and bearings to get correct measurements.”

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