JOHANNESBURG - ISUZU Motors of Japan, which has had a presence in the South African and African vehicle market for the past 40 years, is set to make an assault on the special utility market (SUV) in the region.

Dominic Rimmer, the executive technical services at Isuzu Motors South Africa, said on Friday the company would be introducing the popular Isuzu mu-X SUV into the South African and sub Saharan Africa market in the second half of this year.

Michael Sacke, the chief executive and managing director of Isuzu Motors SA, said the mu-X would be introduced into the market as a fully built up imported vehicle and they were expecting annual sales of 20 000 units a year.

They were speaking at the official launch of Isuzu Motors SA into the South Africa and sub Saharan Africa market following the disinvestment from South Africa of General Motors (GM) last year and the subsequent sale of GM’s Struandale light vehicle manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth to Isuzu Motors SA for an undisclosed amount.

GM previously produced the Isuzu pickup range at the plant.

Masanori Katayama, the president and representative director of Isuzu Motors of Japan, said this was the first commercial and light commercial vehicle manufacturing operation outside of Japan in which Isuzu Motors of Japan had acquired 100 percent ownership.

Katayama said Isuzu Motors Japan was represented in 30 countries outside of Japan and successfully operated 47 manufacturing plants in these countries with joint venture partners.

“Acquiring the operations here in South Africa is a strategic move for us. Isuzu Motors South Africa has the infrastructure and capabilities to serve as a springboard for accelerating our longer term growth on this continent.

“Our decision to invest in South Africa is indicative of the commitment we have in this market and also the confidence we have in our employees, dealers, suppliers, government, business partners and our community stakeholders,” he said.

Katayama said a special word of appreciation went to the South African government, who had played a key role in enabling Isuzu Motors of Japan to start up its new operations in Port Elizabeth.

Katayama said Isuzu was making positive strides in Africa and a year ago the company acquired a 57.7 percent majority shareholding in the Kenyan truck and bus assembly operation that supplied Isuzu vehicles to East African markets and had a commanding and leading 34 percent share of the Kenyan new vehicle market. 

He said Isuzu also had a 20 percent shareholding in joint venture manufacturing operations in Egypt, where the company has been the market leader market for 10 years consecutive years.

Rimmer said the mu-X would be a new entry into the SUV segment for Isuzu since the introduction of the Trooper in 1992 and Frontier in 1998.

Rimmer said the mu-X was a bakkie derived SUV and would compete in the large SUV sector, which accounted for 4 percent of the growth of the SUV sector.

“This great product, which has been favourably received customers around the world, will extend the Isuzu product range offering and provide customers with an option to choose between the rugged and capable Isuzu pickup and sophisticated Isuzu SUV for both work and leisure,” he said.

The Isuzu mu-X will compete with the SUV sector market leader, the Toyota Fortuner.

Rimmer said the Isuzu mu-X was first introduced to the market in Thailand in 2013 but was now sold in several countries, including Thailand, Australia and Philippines, where it was the market share leader.

He said the Isuzu mu-X model lineup, specifications and pricing would be announced closer to the time of launch.

Sacke said they would be relocating their commercial vehicle operations from GM’s Kempston Road assembly plant at the end of this year to the Struandale plant.

He said Isuzu Motors did not have to make any investment in South Africa apart from the acquisition cost of the Struandale plant, adding it continued to produce the Isuzu KB range on the same assembly line used by GM.

Sacke added that the KB range was in the middle of its model cycle and the changeover to new product and the next round of investment would happen in 2021.