Late last year, the director of Mercedes-Benz Truck and Bus in Australia, Michael May, got an unexpected phone call from Italy. And it was nothing to do with a long-lost relative trying to connect.
The global brand manager for Iveco was on the blower and wanted to put a proposition to him. The prospect of heading up a different truck brand that was widely seen as being in disarray compared to the established structure of Benz was somehow attractive, and so he engaged with the caller.
As a result, May made a decision in December to turn his back on 20 years or so with the big German and start a new challenge. He moved in behind his new desk in February.
Six weeks later, all hell broke loose, and he was locked down at home for 112 days while COVID, market paralysis, production interruptions and, as if that wasn’t enough, the decision by Navistar to quit Australia and stop making the International prime mover for right hand drive revolved around him and his new team.
Talk about out of the frying pan.
Big Rigs spoke to May recently in a free-ranging discussion about Iveco, the product range, the dealer network and the opportunity.
Iveco were obviously keen to attract someone with a solid local market knowledge, along with familiarity with dealing with a European-based manufacturer. With that kind of brief, the field was narrow, but May’s track record was a perfect fit.
Iveco needed some clear Aussie thinking about product lines, market emphasis and dealer development. After a succession of attempts at corralling the Iveco group had fallen flat, this appointment needed some urgent success. Despite the unprecedented complications, May’s playlist of tasks is starting to make a difference.
One important development is to connect directly to the dealer salespeople. Last week I was at the WA Iveco dealer, and they had just got off a conference call between May and all their sales executives.
The call was much appreciated and allowed them to air some difficulties that will need his leadership to resolve.
“I want to hear straight from the people on the ground,” May told me. “These contacts are invaluable and give me much needed insight for my internal product meetings.”
New management at the WA dealer AV Trucks has also made outstanding progress. Now with all Iveco products under the one roof, the business is targeting the widest range of market sectors.
Iveco dealers across the country seem to be coping well with the pandemic, and even the factories in Italy and Spain are remaining open. Locally, the Dandenong plant is working three instead of five days.
The Iveco model range is lighter than the line-up at his previous assignment, but he sees that as a positive.
“We’re more nimble for a start,” he said. “And now that the local organisation is linked directly to the head office in Italy and the factories in Italy and Spain, instead of via the CNH Industrial group, product identification and adaptation is far easier and rapid than before.”
He sees the biggest change recently being the transition from the trusty ACCO’s US platform, to the X-Way chassis, with all its modern technology.
Users in this sector are used to what works, and what has worked for years, and are often reluctant to move on the newer developments. But the new truck is slowly gaining acceptance, even though other brands have expanded their efforts and their penetration in this market.
Globally the shift towards alternative fuels and especially CO2 reduction is accelerating in Iveco’s core markets and will inevitably reach our shores.
The new S-Way is very popular in Europe and will no doubt eventually replace the Stralis here in Oz as well. But supply of Stralis will continue for some time yet as the local company assesses the right way – and time – to introduce its successor.
One area that has sparked his attention is the company’s off-road suite of products. He is amazed at the capability of the Daily 4×4, and feels the Trakker is largely a secret – a story rarely told. The Astra, with its – how can I be diplomatic – “unique frontal appearance,” remains an immensely capable specialist vehicle that is ready for extended service in constant off-road conditions.
Even the Eurocargo 4×4 has gained traction, particularly with recent deliveries to the Country Fire Authority in Victoria.
Hopefully, now that Victoria is opening up and the COVID emergency becomes a watch and act process from now on, Iveco’s new boss can visit the people in the trenches in person, and steer the brand closer to its potential in a highly resilient market. Watch this space.