Its all about people
What do robot trucks and self-driving cars herald for vehicle dealerships?
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.
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.