With its best sales results for seven years, the Hino brand is hopeful of continued growth through 2016
Amidst the power and the passion associated with customers that consistently buy heavily customised trucks with North American drivelines, or highly sophisticated European makes, there exists almost a third dimension of truck buyers, those that just want a utilitarian workhorse.
Welcome to the world of the white truck, an area dominated by the Japanese manufacturers of Isuzu, Hino, Mitsubishi Fuso and UD. It’s fair to assume that in the near future this trio of choice is going to be expanded to include additional truck models from India, South Korea and perhaps Thailand, with yet more competition to come from China.
Establishing a brand reputation takes time, commitment and international resources. Customer support is much more than someone in an overseas call centre answering an email. It relies on extensive financial investment in parts stocking, service technician training, investment in dealerships and a close relationship with customers. Only when all these factors fall into place, can you consider a realistic TCO, along with a resale value at the end of the vehicle life.
With a history spanning now 51 years of truck and bus production, Hino has effectively done the hard yards, often punching above its weight as it fought to match the first thought position of its other Japanese rivals when it came to the decision-making process of a typical buyer.
There are certainly aspects of the Hino Truck business that have benefited from being associated with the all-encompassing domination of Toyota. Although it’s important to keep both divisions at arms length from interference in each others business, the truck maker has been able to include technology jumps created by the car maker, incorporating electronics and telematics that see first light in luxury cars like the Lexus range.
As Hino clocked up its first half century in Australia last year, in November it achieved its 100,000 sale in our market. This was a milestone following on from some 20 years ago when it achieved its autonomy from Toyota Australia by becoming part of Hino Motors Limited in Japan. This gave the Hino Motor Sales Australia division the separation it needed to create its own image, while benefiting from the support of other divisions such as Toyota Finance.
From a historical perspective, the Hino presence in Australia started in 1965 with the sale of six Hino RC100 buses. In 1971, the KL 300 truck model was launched, followed in 1975 by the KR 300/320 and 360 models. The LB 500/520 and 560 followed in 1978, and by 1982 the more streamlined appearance of the FD and FF made their appearance, including for the first time a fully-automatic transmission.
The heavy-truck segment was addressed for Hino by the launch of the Super Dolphin heavy-duty 6×4 in 1994, joining the “Birds of Prey” series, which, amongst other high fliers, created the Hawk, Super Hawk, Harrier, Raven, Kestrel and Super Eagle.
Hino’s light-duty truck segment in 2011 saw the introduction of the new 300 Series. The following year the 300 Series received the PowerTorque Magazine Technology and Innovation Award as the first manufacturer to offer the higher safety standards of Vehicle Stability Control, Sat/Nav and auxiliary camera displays as standard. Two years later, the addition of the high-horsepower 920 and 921 showed that performance is of major importance, a factor reflected in its excellent acceptance. Also experiencing strong sales interest is the Allison automatic equipped 500 Series long-wheelbase FE that was released last year.
In 2015, Hino Australia exceeded its 2015 sales goals with a healthy year-on-year increase of 9.6 percent. A total of 4443 trucks and buses were sold, making 2015 Hino Australia’s best year for sales and market share since the GFC in 2008.
Hino also took the honours as the fastest growing brand in market share growth among the top 10 truck manufacturers, with an increase of eight percent in 2015 compared to the previous year.
Hino Australia chairman and CEO, Steve Lotter, together with Bill Gillespie, divisional manager of brand and franchise development, met recently with PowerTorque to discuss the reasons behind the brand’s performance.
“We see the boost in sales growth as the result of implementing a new strategic business plan, focusing on supporting the dealer network and the roll-out of new initiatives aimed at improving the overall Hino customer experience,” said Steve Lotter.
“It’s fantastic to be able to report our performance in 2015 and see that Hino outpaced the competition for market share growth. We truly believe our new customer-focused business strategy has been the key to this success,” Mr Lotter said.
“By investing in programs such as Hino Advantage, we are working towards developing a business partnership that continues long after the truck is handed over,” said Bill Gillespie.
“We want to be a reliable business partner that delivers a great customer experience and a range of business advantages,” he said.
All too often the significance of truck engineering is overlooked. The availability of Hino hybrid drivetrains back in 2007 put Hino on the map as the first manufacturer to offer a hybrid truck in our market. The company today remains the largest supplier of hybrid vehicles in Australia, with strong credentials established in fleets such as Australia Post and TNT.
Although Toyota undoubtedly likes to claim responsibility for the flow-on effect of that technology from the car division, the original development of hybrid drivetrains was the result of work completed by the Hino bus division for pubic transport that was called the HIMR project back over 40 years ago.
The importance of Hino’s advancing technologies of the future continue to involve the transport industry, with the development of fuel cell buses using high-pressure hydrogen to supply two fuel cell stacks and two motors to provide the required output.
“There is nowhere in the world with such competition as Australia. Everybody is operating at full steam,” said Bill Gillespie.
“The messages we have to deliver are the key messages that we call Hino Advantage. We have a three-year programme that we started last year called the Customer Connect plan. Building the Hino Advantage is very important for us.
“The next component for Hino Advantage is with innovation support. Building the Hino badge is a customer development option. This centres on the introduction of telematics and moving to a more complete picture next year when we launch our new trucks into our range,” added Bill.
As Steve Lotter told PowerTorque, “In a market that is so challenging we are delighted to have achieved strong sales performance last year. The overall market is still down by 30 percent since the GFC, but our market share is growing.
“Selected dealerships offer mobile servicing options for our customers as well as after hours servicing alternatives.
“We are trying to expand our footprint. We could also look at closer cooperation with existing Hino truck rental fleets to ensure vehicle availability when required. Convenience for the customer is the most important focus for us.
“Our Built-to-Go, pre-bodied, ready to work truck programme for the 300 and 500 series is doing very well for us, with sales performance actually doubling last year. It’s built around the Trade Ace and the Steel Ace models with tray bodies for the 300 Series and tipper bodies for the 500 Series.
“As truck safety systems and the ease of driving become commonplace amongst the light-duty and medium-duty truck ranges, the Hino brand has a strong future ahead,” added Steve.
An example of how the provision of incentives can work in the truck industry is the ability to gain Velocity frequent flier points from Virgin Airlines when purchasing eligible Hino Genuine Parts from a local participating Hino dealer. Velocity Rewards points are redeemable for flights, accommodation, complete holiday packages, car hire and hundreds of other products on offer at the Velocity Rewards store.
A wide range of Hino Genuine Parts are eligible for rewards points, from body panels to engine components and accessories. Further advantages for repairers purchasing Hino Genuine Parts include a 12-month/100,000 km warranty.