Its all about peo­ple

What do ro­bot trucks and self-driv­ing cars her­ald for ve­hi­cle deal­er­ships?

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN

IN the United States, Europe and China, car builders and sell­ers are pre­par­ing them­selves for a fu­ture in which fewer cars will be work­ing harder, thanks to apps like Uber, which make ride shar­ing easy; and ef­fi­cient driv­e­trains that make it cheaper to keep drive rather than pay for park­ing.

The peo­ple de­vel­op­ing th­ese ve­hi­cles — which range from the self-driv­ing Otto trucks from for­mer Google em­ploy­ees, to re­ally weird, foam-wrapped, one-seater trikes from China that can be stacked on their tails and float in an emer­gency — all say they can have their as­sem­bly lines ready by 2020.

Does this mean lots of rapid changes for South African car deal­ers?

No so fast, said Mike Hall-Jones, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Key Group in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg. For while the idea of own­ing a ro­bot car that can de­liver you and the kids to school and work be­fore spend­ing the day pay­ing its keep as a self-driv­ing taxi makes sense, this idea does not yet ap­peal to most South African car buy­ers.

Hall-Jones said that SA car buy­ers can be di­vided into three broad groups: the con­spic­u­ous con­sumer on one end, the per­son who just drives what dad drove be­cause it proved re­li­able on the other, and in the mid­dle the buy­ers who re­search all the op­tions, com­pare a model’s trade-in val­ues, theft sta­tis­tics and power spec­i­fi­ca­tions be­fore they de­cide.

“Th­ese are the in­formed buy­ers we deal with at Key Group. They come in for our Opels, which of­fer the most af­ford­able Ger­man tech­nol­ogy; for our Chevro­let Spark, still con­sid­ered the best-value small car in SA; and for our Isuzu bakkies and trucks, which form the back­bone of KZN’s hard­est-work­ing fleets. Deal­ing with th­ese buy­ers is a plea­sure, be­cause we share a drive to get the most value for money from our wheels, but even when we start sell­ing ro­bot bakkies, this trusted re­la­tion­ship will al­ways be — ex­cuse the pun — key,” said Hall-Jones.

To cel­e­brate the re­la­tion­ships that Key en­joys with its fleet buy­ers, the group has started co-host­ing net­work­ing break­fast with Fi­delity Security Ser­vices. Hall-Jones said Fi­delity has over 36 000 staff en­sur­ing se­cure op­er­a­tions in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zim­babwe, Swazi­land and Zam­bia.

Key Group sells the right trans­port, from fire trucks to VIP trans­port.

“Our clients sell prod­ucts or ser­vices that we all use. Net­work­ing them with the likes of Sharks cap­tain Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira proved a big suc­cess be­cause even for the far fu­ture trans­port seller, it will al­ways be about the peo­ple, not the wheels,” said Hall-Jones.

Truck sales di­rec­tor Marc Michaux agrees, and said that the ex­cit­ing devel­op­ments with self-driv­ing trucks can al­ready be im­ple­mented in rich mines in Africa. “Th­ese trucks are al­ready work­ing above and un­der­ground in Aus­tralia and South Amer­ica, but they re­quire huge out­lay and rare skills.

“Most busi­nesses in Africa op­er­ate on very thin mar­gins and for them, Isuzu trucks and bakkies will of­fer the most cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion for many decades to come,” said Michaux.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Key Group and Fi­delity co-hosted a net­work­ing break­fast for plat­inum fleet clients and Sharks rugby staff, with Key Group Pi­eter­mar­itzburg’s truck sales di­rec­tor Marc Michaux say­ing such re­la­tion­ships will con­tinue to shape fu­ture trans­port and car deal­ers far more than self-driv­ing cars or ro­bot trucks will.

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