The Japanese perspective

M: How does UD Trucks fit within the Volvo Group today?
PJ: We acquired what was formerly Nissan Diesel which is now known as UD Trucks 11 years ago. The company had been in a loss mode for eight consecutive years when we bought it. The decision was made to run the company in a more integrated manner so we organise it flat where everything is under the same roof such as the management team, head of engineering, head of manufacturing and they report to our chairman who is also in Japan. There is limited interaction with the rest of the Volvo Group and by doing that we have recreated a sense of belonging. Since we have done this the profits of UD trucks has grown remarkably and we are able to invest in the next generation and own our own destiny.

PM: Do you share technology other than the basic drivelines?
PJ: If we reflect on how Volvo Group is organised, especially in the field of technology, all our product development is driven by what we call CAST – Common Architecture Shared Technology. I see it as a big Lego game and as a brand you pick whatever you want and you use it in the way you want. We have our own powertrain engineers in Japan and our own way of developing things and we fine-tune it our way which can be different across the other Volvo Group brands.

It’s a good way to maximise your investment in terms of research and development because it’s beneficial across the brands and then you leverage the essence of the individual brand. Because French people do things different from the Japanese so do the Americans and the Swedes. And then you’re getting closer to your customer expectation. With this system there could be the tendency to say one size fits all yet it is impossible because we are in business-to-business and our customers have different operations in relation to hours per day, kilometres and climate. We need to take that into consideration to be successful.

PM: So you do feel part of the Volvo Group family?
PJ: It’s in our DNA – we’re Japanese (despite me being French) and belong to a Swedish group. Sweden is a small country and there are more people living in Tokyo than Sweden. Diversity is critical and highly valued in the Volvo Group. The four brands need different aspects and points of view. If you try to impose too much then you limit their abilities. You can’t force a brand to do something against their DNA such as forcing Japan to focus less on quality because it costs too much. That’s not who we are.

The Nordic countries are small but super successful in international business because from the beginning their home market was very small. So they had to look outside for markets whether it be for cars, furniture or phones.

PM: The new Quon already seems to be making an impact on the Australian market. What else can we look forward to?
PJ: At the end of this year we will launch the eight-litre engine in Japan which will allow us to have a lower power rating to attack different segments in Japan. We are working on plans for overseas markets and of course Australia will be part of those plans. When it will happen and how it will happen is a question of time and effort.

PM: UD Trucks recently launched the Vision 2030 program. What’s that about?
PJ: It’s an innovation road map that takes inspiration from Fujin and Raijin, the Japanese gods of wind and thunder. In terms of automation wind symbolises the power of movement and thunder symbolises the power of energy.

Japan has a plan called Society 5.0. In the big data scheme of things they want information to be massively available and to flow freely. To give a bit of context Japan is the only country today that is launching platooning across competitive brands. In Europe there is platooning but only with individual brands. With trucks and cars they take the assumption that a customer doesn’t have only one brand, they have different brands and they need to be able to run the brand in terms of automation or platooning without any problem.

The first demonstration was run in March this year across the four Japanese players and there will be more and more initiatives to make sure that in the coming years we have a complete platooning solution available. The logic is to enable the customer to choose and it will work in any case regardless of the brands.

PM: Japan is synonymous with technology. Is it becoming a leader in the commercial vehicle space?
PJ: There have been a lot of announcements in America, China and Europe but Japan has been very quiet because it’s the culture of humility but it doesn’t mean they are not working on it. I can guarantee you that there is a lot happening but like everything in Japan it’s only when it’s proven that it will be communicated.
With the development for the Olympic Games, we know for sure that Japan for 2020 wants to show a way, the same that it did in 1964, so they are moving ahead.

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