Albert Kirchmann has a keen sense of humour coupled with an intimate knowledge of both domestic and international markets for the Mitsubishi Fuso brand, and on his first visit to Australia pointed out that we play an increasingly important role in overall sales, taking fifth place in export markets for 2010.
“Australia is an extremely valuable and successful market for Fuso and I must acknowledge the role played by Managing Director Richard Eyre and his team in this country. Australia has been number one in Rosa sales for seven years, was number two in light-duty truck sales for 2010 and achieved the largest international order for hybrid trucks with units going to Star Track Express, so we are extremely pleased with results,” he says.
“We have big plans for Fuso in the Australian market and are increasing the model line-up to give us a more competitive edge. The new Canter has been released and significantly upgraded and while in 2010 two models were offered in the 4.5 tonne category, now there are 18 available including narrow, wide and crew cabs, a tipper model, two engines, manual or AMT transmissions, two wheelbases and an all-wheel-drive. In the 6.5 tonne category there are now eight models available.”
The increased demand for auto transmissions now sees the Fuso Duonic transmission offered in Canter, an Allison Automatic available in Fighter trucks for vocational and distribution applications, and at the heavy end of the market automated transmissions with technology shared from Mercedes-Benz technology are used.
We will soon see prime mover and tipper and dog Super Great models available in the expanded Fuso range. The trucks will offer 455hp and the prime mover will be rated at 60 tonne GCM and B-double capable, with an automated transmission and high roof and alloy wheel options available, while the rigid for tipper and dog will offer air rear suspension with LSD of mechanical rear end. An automated transmission will also be on offer.
“We feel on the product side we have really done our homework and this is never ending. Last year we had 25 product launches and this year there will be 20. In April last year we launched the new Super Great in Japan with a new engine introduced in the new Actros as well, and the updated Canter Eco Hybrid in August along with the new generation Canter in November, followed by the first international launch in the US in March this year and in Australia in May – so we are constantly addressing our markets,” he says.
“We are bringing new vehicles quickly to global markets and the Super Great will be released first in Australia, a truck in the Fuso line-up to be a serious contender in the heavy-duty segment. It will not initially be available as a prime mover but that release will follow shortly after.
“High levels of shared technology in safety, fuel efficiency and emissions control are shared throughout the Daimler truck portfolio and this is designed to give the customer the best available. This brings us a good advantage. We have the most fuel efficient trucks and the safest.
“Fuso is a truck brand based in Japan but its biggest market is not that country, there are 153 markets supplied and Japan is number two after Indonesia. The global truck and bus market is expanding for Fuso and we are meeting all needs very successfully,” he remarks.
The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan had a massive impact on production for Fuso with the immediate effect being production stopped. While the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facilities at Kawasaki were undamaged, the Kitsuregawa proving ground and dealerships in affected areas suffered badly.
“For me personally it was an experience I hope to see only once in my lifetime, it was unbelievable, following the earthquake there was little sound, no cars and no people crying. As people left buildings they were talking but in shock and when it came to them getting home it was a matter of walking as there was no public transport. My assistant left the building and took 24 hours to get home, it was actually quicker to walk than travel any other way,” Albert shakes his head.
“We realised of our 800 suppliers, 10 per cent were in the category of badly affected or highly questionable. We relocated some suppliers to other places and concentrated on getting back into business. Remarkably by the end of June we had 100 per cent of production capacity reached, but it was a difficult task. Power supply was a major obstacle and to meet our obligations we changed working hours and with earlier finish times to reduce demand on power grids during peak times,” Albert says.
“The operation was down for two and a half months and we started again in May and the team reached a monthly production of 16,000 trucks by the end of June which is an incredible result. We normally produce around 12,500 trucks each month and this has been exceeded. We had 1400 people restoring the plant and they worked together to return to full production. It was only two months after the event that we recommenced production and now we are exceeding figures prior to the earthquake.
“We are ahead of our competitors and I must say it is all due to the efforts of my team of people. I must thank the markets for their understanding. Customers have been conscious of our problems and prepared to wait for us to return to pre-quake numbers, now it is full speed ahead, time for catch up.
“But the first thing you have to do in such a situation is look after your people. Luckily not one of our people lost their lives in the event, not one, luckily everybody took the initiative after the earthquake and before the tsunami to go to higher ground.
“It was a deeply moving experience and I must say thank you to my Japanese colleagues for helping us through the event. Now we are saying things are back to normal and back on track, we are Fuso,” Albert says with conviction.
Albert says everybody learned a lot from the event and now the team is stronger and forging ahead. The company formed new strategies in late 2010 to increase growth, cost effectiveness, streamline manufacturing operations and reduce fixed costs, and is moving into 2011 with strength to attain results.