Demand for commercial vehicles in the Middle East has grown considerably over the years, catching the attention of truck manufacturers throughout the world. In particular, a number of Japanese companies have successfully capitalised on the regional boom, with heavyweights such as Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota reporting on massive sales growth in 2007.
Perhaps a dark horse in the race for market leadership is fellow Japanese manufacturer Hino, which has taken on the titans from its home country to secure a 14% share of the medium duty trucks segment in the United Arab Emirates, together with 11% of the segment for heavy duty trucks.
Surprising, its regional presence has only lacked in the market for light duty trucks, which is currently the fastest growing segment in the truck market. However, through the launch of Hino's 300 series in the Middle East, the company is hoping to dramatically resolve this situation over the next year.
"The Middle East is considered a very attractive market for the automobile industry. The demand for commercial vehicles in incredibly strong at the moment, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman," asserts Masakazu Ichikawa, senior managing director of Hino Motors.
"Of course, we've had a presence in the region for some time now, although we're hoping to become more active in the near future. The response towards our 300 series has already been favourable from the local market, which is very encouraging," he adds.
Hino's enthusiasm for the Middle East market has been fuelled by the results of a recent study, conducted in association with Al-Futtaim Motors, its exclusive dealer in the United Arab Emirates. According to the research, the market for light duty trucks in the country has doubled in size between 2004 and 2006, with further growth being forecasted in the next five years.
"This growth has clearly been driven by the overall strength of the economy, together with the expansion of the service and distribution sectors," says Ichikawa.
"Companies dealing in logistics, hospitality and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) are ideal customers for the 300 series. All of these sectors are booming here at the moment, so I think the launch of these vehicles has been perfectly timed.
Company Profile: Hino Motors
Hino Motors was established in 1942 and has since been developing, manufacturing and marketing a diverse portfolio of trucks and buses throughout the world.
The company has evidently benefited from the international growth of the automobile industry, with its international sales peaking at a respectable 100,000 trucks and buses in 2006.
However, despite the global success of its operations, the Japanese manufacturer has implemented a strategic development plan to reinforce its future position in the commercial vehicle sector.
Through the development strategy, Hino is developing its product range and increasing its presence in core markets throughout the world, including Thailand, Indonesia and Australia.
In addition, the company is targeting a number of emerging markets for commercial vehicles, particularly in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
"Our global sales have doubled in the past six years, which is a great achievement for the company. However, the potential for even greater levels of growth should not be ignored for the future," says Masakazu Ichikawa, senior managing director of Hino Motors.
"We're planning to increase our international production to roughly 150,000 units by 2015, which will cater to the healthy market forecasts for the coming years."
Hino has highlighted the safety features of the 300 series as a defining element in its commercial appeal. The vehicles have been equipped with anti-skid breaks, which are designed to prevent accidents on the road. In addition, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) has been installed to increase safety when a limited amount of weight is placed over the rear wheels - for example, when the truck is empty or carrying a light load.
The 300 series also benefits from one the strongest frames in its class, using the same 6mm thickness high-strength steels that is normally reserved for medium duty trucks. This is used to increase the vehicle's resistance to twisting and bending stress on rough roads, which are common in parts of the Middle East.
"We conducted a lot of market research whilst designing the 300 series. It's important to understand the demands of your customers, because the final product should meet their requirements, if not exceed them," says Ichikawa. "We worked very hard to ensure these vehicles are amongst the best designed, best manufactured and best finished light duty trucks in the market. I believe we have succeeded in our endeavours.
Hino has created its own engineering concept for the design of its commercial vehicles, titled the QDR (quality, durability and reliability) model. As part of this concept, the company is committed to extensive testing and evaluation programmes for each of its vehicles before the actual market release.
"We believe the guiding principles of the QDR model will assist Hino in delivering breakthrough innovations to the global truck market," says Ichikawa. "These principles have been crucial in the development of the 300 series. It basically means we cannot afford to market a substandard product that could harm our reputation amongst customers.
Following the introduction of the 300 series, Hino is now planning to analyse the market response towards the vehicles, before commencing its next launch in the Middle East.
"Since this is the first time we have launched a light duty truck in the region, we are keen to receive feedback from the market. The initial reaction has already been positive and we will continue to promote the vehicle accordingly. For example, we are currently targeting the logistics industry and other sectors through a direct marketing campaign," concludes Ichikawa.
"As of now, I believe Hino is the only brand in this market to offer the complete range of commercial vehicles, from 6.5 tonne delivery vehicles to 100 tonne trucks. Our future releases will depend on market requirements, although we plan to continue research in the Middle East to increase our knowledge of the local customer's requirements.
Info box: Hino 300 Series
• The new 300 series from Hino supersedes the company's Dutro range of light duty trucks.
• There are 19 variants within the series, which encompasses a combination of standard cab models (powered by the new 4.0 litre 103kW engine) and wide cab models (powered by the same capacity engine generating 114kW of power).
• The engines used in the 300 series are capable of producing power at 10% less engine speed than the Dutro range.
• All models in the series are fitted with power steering and a front stabiliser bar to provide additional sure-footedness during cornering.
• A new ‘exhaust gas recirculation' system is included to meet strict US04 and ADR 80/01 emissions standards.
• All 19 models have ABS anti-skid brakes and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), a new feature for 300 series.
• The vehicles have air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and tilt and telescopic steering column adjustment.
• Other standard equipment includes passenger side sun visor, fluorescent cabin lamp, pull-up type power window switches, overhead console, centre seat console, door pocket, centre dash console (wide cab), utility pocket, pen stand with hook, and card holder.