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ISUZU Ute Australia (IUA) says it remains on pace to sell 30,000 annual units for the first time in 2020, thanks to an improved version of its award-winning aftersales program and a minor model-year update for its two models – the D-Max utility and MU-X large SUV.

As both the D-Max and the related MU-X approach the end of their current lifecycle, IUA’s phenomenal nine-year run of double-digit sales since its inception in 2008 also came to an end last year in line with the softening new-vehicle market.

It still managed growth, climbing 7.1 per cent to 27,640 units last year against a market that was down 3.0 per cent overall, but the Japanese brand is now more conservative with its volume projections.

“We obviously would’ve like to get a bit better than that; we were chasing 10 per cent growth,” IUA deputy general manager of sales Ben Jaeger said at the recent MY19 D-Max and MU-X launch in Victoria. “Overall, it’s a solid result in a market that was quite tough.”

Mr Jaeger reiterated that “the market’s become quite depressed” over the past 12 months, although most of the bleeding has come from the passenger-car segment in which IUA does not compete.

“We’re still quite buoyant and quite excited about what these (LCV and SUV) segments do hold for us,” he said. “We still feel as though we are well placed and well positioned with our brand and our products to really take advantage of these growing segments.

“Obviously, the growth of (our) product is starting to slow down. So we’re now having to investigate and bring to market new product.”

With the MY19 D-Max and MU-X now in showrooms, IUA is aiming to sell 28,500 units this year, which would represent a “modest increase” of 3.1 per cent over 2018, according to Mr Jaeger.

“I think it’s right to be very conservative in a challenging retail environment, at present, but it’s a number and it’s a mark that we really want to go after,” he said.

This target accounts for 19,000 D-Max and 9500 MU-X sales, which would equate to 2.4 and 4.5 per cent improvements over last year respectively.

The only way is up: IUA managing director Hiroyasu Sato said the company’s sales have continued to increase because buyers “are starting to acknowledge the quality of the product”.

To ensure a hot start for the MY19 range, driveaway pricing for both models is currently available, with variants listed for up to $5010 cheaper than their recommended retail price.

For reference, IUA fell 660 units short of its 2018 projection of 28,300 sales, which was split between 19,400 D-Max and 8900 MU-X units. The ute finished up on 18,550 sales, while the SUV surpassed expectations with 9090 units.

“MU-X is a product that continues to surprise and delight us,” Mr Jaeger said. “For a new nameplate, it really is starting to ramp sales and take the lead from really well-established brand plates that were already in the market.

“The really pleasing for us is that of those 9090 units (in 2018), 87 per cent of those cars were either private or ABN (sales). So, this is a vehicle that’s really, really grabbing the hearts and souls of customers who are spending their own money … to have this vehicle.

“And we’ve got big expectations with this because … there’s massive opportunity in that fleet space – and that’s something we need to explore more in 2019.

“A lot of the larger brands, especially in the D-Max space, do have large fleet clients, and if we can crack that, I guess that’s where we’re going to get some of the volume growth, as well.”

Isuzu Ute D-Max X-Runner

IUA’s volume is currently down just 1.3 per cent to the end of April, with 7538 examples sold after a solid return in April (+9.0%). D-Max 4×4 sales are now running lineball with last year (3581, +0.3%) after shifting more than 1000 units last month alone, while the lower-volume 4×2 is down 4.2 per cent on 1473 units. MU-X has found 2484 homes for the year to date, down 1.9 per cent.

“This year has been quite tough; there’s no hiding that fact,” Mr Jaeger said. “There are some genuine reasons why we haven’t seen the increase, obviously going from MY18 to MY19 transition.

“Our product mix and transitions hasn’t been as optimised as it should, with some of our reasons not actually having MU-X free stock available for the last six weeks. If we had some of the stock in some of the regions, we would’ve been better than that.”

IUA hopes to this year increase the D-Max’s segment share from 9.3 to 9.5 per cent and the MU-X’s slice from 7.9 to 8.2 per cent. They currently sit at 7.7 and 7.1 per cent respectively.

Australia is currently the number-one export market for the D-Max and MU-X, having achieved a 37.3 per cent share in 2018. Both models are manufactured in Thailand, which is considered to be their home market.

Isuzu Ute MU-X

Critically, the D-Max and MU-X have improved their already award-winning aftersales offering, now coming with a six-year/150,000km warranty, six years of roadside assistance and a seven-year/105,000km capped-price servicing program.

As reported, IUA won the Best of the Best and Car Manufacturer of the Year awards at the 2018 Annual Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards, with the latter its sixth in a row thanks to a customer satisfaction rating of 96.1 per cent.

Meanwhile, 12 locations have been added to IUA’s dealer network in the past 12 months, bringing the total to 153 – about four times the number it launched with (38) in 2008.

“That number will slightly increase, but only marginally because we’re sort of at that optimal level … to ensure there’s a sustainable and profitable dealer network,” Mr Jaeger said.

To support its dealer network, IUA has opened a second regional office, with Melbourne joining Sydney, although he indicated “we’re not looking for a physical presence at this stage” in other states. The company’s head office is in Brisbane.

By Justin Hilliard

Dealer Auction