JUST as when Isuzu Philippines Corporation (IPC) looked like it was going to have another record-breaking year in terms of sales, the company even looks poised to overachieve itself beyond the target it earlier set.
For this year, IPC originally set a target of 18,000-unit sales that is already a big 28.57-percent jump over the 14,000 units sold in 2014. But under Hajime Koso, the company reset its sales target this year to 22,000 units and looks very sure in attaining that because IPC already reached 18,000-unit sales at the end of September.
“Our original target was 18,000 this year. Now, our newest target is 22,000. [Unit sales of] 18,000 was already achieved at end of September,” Koso, who was appointed president of IPC in April this year, said.
If IPC makes 22,000-unit sales this year, that would result in a 57-percent increase over the 14,000-unit sales last year. This would make IPC one of the top achievers in terms of sales increase this year in the Philippine vehicle market.
Although the dramatic sales jump can also be attributed to the introduction of the Isuzu mu-X early this year, Koso said Filipinos have a high regard for the brand ever since.
“This is my personal idea, the Filipino people are impressed about the brand because Isuzu vehicles are durable, very fuel efficient and IPC has relations with customer and is customer-oriented,” he added.
“Because passenger jeepneys are using our diesel engines, also you can see the very big trucks, used trucks from Japan, but most of these trucks are Isuzu from Japan. The Filipino people are very familiar with the Isuzu brand and it is very close to their life and job,” Koso said.
Thirty-five years with Isuzu
The current president of IPC has been working with Isuzu for the past 35 years and his more recent posting was president at Isuzu Motors Kyusyu Limited. He joined Isuzu Motor Limited’s (IML) Domestic Sales Department in 1980 after receiving a degree in Social Sciences and Applied Economics at Hosei University in Tokyo.
In 1999, Koso was appointed vice president for Logistics and Export of Isuzu Motors America, and in 2003 he became IML’s general manager for Asean Sales. He then became general manager for North and South Americas Division in 2008 before assuming the same position for China and the Asean Division in 2009. In 2010, he was assigned vice president of Isuzu Astra Motor Indonesia.
He took over from Nobuo Izumina, who led IPC to the record 14,000-unit sales mark in 2014. Izumina is now director of Isuzu Body Corporation, also an affiliate of IML.
Although his stint in the Philippines is less than a year, having been appointed only in April 27, Koso already knows the characteristics of the Filipino car buyer. He even thinks that car buyers in the Philippines and Japan have similarities.
“[Vehicle] buyers in Indonesia, they use [motor]bikes first and then after they make money and make good success in their business, they buy small passenger cars and then SUVs [sport utility vehicles],” he said.
“Everybody [in Philippines]is using jeepney for public transportation, and then make money and when they have money, then they buy the car. They have many choices. Some people choose very compact cars but some people choose BMWs and some people choose the [Isuzu] mu-X. It’s a big variety [of vehicle choices]and it’s the same as in Japan,” Koso added.
Apparently, Filipino and Japanese car buyers both ask for freebies from the dealership.
“[Filipinos] are always asking for a discount, or with options, free options. They’re [Filipino and Japanese car buyers] the same. For me, when I buy a car, my personal car, I ask dealer ‘Please give me some [freebies],’” he said with a humorous tone.
Optimistic on trucks
Although commercial vehicles or trucks make up about 20 percent of overall IPC sales, Koso sees the segment growing because truck buyers realize that it is harder to operate used trucks from Japan.
“Until now, this business [trucks]is not so big, but I am very confident this business will be growing now very quickly,” he said.
The IPC president said Japan ships about 20,000 used trucks to the Philippines every year of which 70 percent wear the Isuzu badge. Japan exporting used buses to the Philippines is no longer possible because regulations of the Land Transportation Office ban the registration of 15-year-old vehicles used for public transport.
Although used trucks from Japan are less expensive than brand-new trucks assembled in the Philippines, Koso said it is harder to operate and maintain second-hand trucks. Besides mechanical parts breaking down, among the reasons why older trucks become harder to maintain is the malfunctioning of their electric control units.
He added that used trucks breaking down also result in downtime for businesses, and some parts for used trucks are hard to find.
“And after getting into mechanical trouble, it is difficult to maintain the used trucks and buy the parts,” Koso said.
“But new trucks, of course, Isuzu, we prepare every part and every time we can deliver the part to our customers. I think truck customers in the Philippines are now changing their mindset, which is the reason [new]truck segment sales will increase,” he added.
At the moment, however, the darling in the line-up of IPC is definitely the mu-X of which the company expects to sell 11,000 units for the whole of 2015.
Valuing human resources
While IPC can boast of an impressive product line-up, it also puts value in its human resources both in its manufacturing facilities and dealers.
“I want to give good education to our employees, but not only for employees, but also for technician dealers,” Koso said.
Seven years ago, IPC donated the Isuzu-TESDA Auto Mechanic Training Center in Tacloban City, Leyte. Although it was devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, the company put efforts and funding to restore the center and operations resumed in February this year. TESDA is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
“Every six months, the center graduates 18 or 17 students and they go to Isuzu dealerships, and for other companies including Toyota and Mitsubishi,” Koso said.
IPC in cooperation with its Isuzu Global Service Center also started operations of a training center in Cavite for truck technicians.
“It is in Cavite and this is a very high-grade skills training company in the Philippines for truck technicians. First batch graduated on Monday [November 16], seven students graduated and joined the company,” Koso said.
IPC is also establishing its Human Development Center that will enhance the capabilities of its employees at its manufacturing facility and headquarters in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
Koso said the center will be different from the existing one that trains technicians.
“Of course, products are important for IPC, but people are also very important,” he added.