Pretoria - Generally the average South African thinks of trucks as something they need to pass as quickly as possible in order to get on with their journey.
There’s a quote that says that if you’re eating it, drinking it or driving it, you have a truck to thank. That’s how they should be seen, a vital part of the country’s supply chain.
And it’s people like Erik Bergvall, the new Managing Director at Scania South Africa that have the important task of keeping the wheels rolling.
The Swedish native arrived in the country in April 2022 and is looking after South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique as well as private partners in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Scania is a turnkey partner that is involved from the start of the process that includes purchasing, servicing and financing.
A majority of the trucks are financed by Scania Finance and Insurance with Scania providing one customer interface with a solid back office in retail and customer service.
Bergvall spent six years in the German retail network as dealer manager and regional director working closely with the German customer base from small single owners to big international fleets
“It was an extremely operational as well as commercial role which gave me valuable experience which I have taken with me in my other roles, operating close to the customer," he said.
“South Africa has a captive retail network with around 95 percent going through our own workshops and dealers. I’m here to support the team to develop our retail business and to create value for our customers."
Being posted to South Africa is one of Bergvall’s career highlights.
“I’m really looking forward to my role here, especially because we’re looking at a sustainability agenda to become more green.
“We have 800 employees in the region and I’m looking forward to bringing everyone on board to support our objectives and our journey.”
When it comes to sustainability electric vehicles form an integral part of the future and there are already electric trucks driving around in Europe.
“We have started to sell electric trucks in Europe but locally we don’t yet have the infrastructure but in a couple of months we will be able to share something interesting when it comes to electrification.
“It will take a bit longer here to make the move, but we’re looking at hybrids as a more realistic option.
“Through Naamsa there are discussions with the Government with regard to electrification and it’s high on our agenda to be more environmentally friendly but we can’t do it ourselves there’s a whole network of players that need to be brought into the fold for all the cards to fall into place,” Bergvall says.
With so many trucks on the road there’s obviously a lot of emissions.
“Certainly electrification would go a long way to cut that but there are things that we can do now. Our trucks are very fuel efficient and with focused servicing, driver training and better fuel usage we can start the process right away.”
Trucking in South Africa has had a tough time with regards to hijackings, theft and trucks being set alight, while this is out of the hands of the manufacturers, Bergvall believes they have to be part of the solution.
“We’ve seen it with our service teams on the road that get harassed. We want to provide a safe environment for our technicians and also provide good service to our customers. I would like to see a solution to the situation and we’re part of the Naamsa security committee that meets regularly and then reports to the government’s security cluster.
“The Road Freight Association is also addressing this with the Department of Transport.”
Like the rest of the motoring industry Scania has also been affected by the semiconductor shortage.
“Despite that, the team here has performed exceptionally well. We sold about 2000 trucks last year which equates to about 15 percent of the market. If we didn’t have the supply challenges we would have done even better because customers have had to wait.
“We’re seeing an improvement in the supply chain which means our delivery time will also improve.
“Supporting our customers during the Covid crises was important for us. In some cases customers would drive their vehicles longer or we would enter into a rental agreement.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also thrown things in turmoil and while Bergvall says it hasn’t had a direct impact on the South African operation the financial outcome hasn’t yet manifested itself.
“Obviously our business in Russia and Ukraine have been impacted immensely. In South Africa there hasn’t been a direct impact but we’ll have to see how the markets react to the inflation.
“From a supply perspective though we haven’t been affected. It’s more the human tragedy in the Ukraine and the effect it has on our business there.”
With little or no rail infrastructure left, almost all goods are transported by road and as a result the road infrastructure is slowly being destroyed. Bergvall believes they need to be part of the solution.
“We are doing our part to be responsible by providing solutions such as driver training for instance. Many of our vehicles are on contract so it’s in Scania’s interest to address issues such as overloading therefore with digitalisation and improved fleet management systems we can mitigate these matters.”
Scania’s main factories are located in Sweden, Brazil, the Netherlands and France.
“We also have Regional Production Centres (RPC) around the world including South Africa where we import knockdown kits and also use local parts to assemble them at our assembly plant (RPC) here in Johannesburg.”
Bergvall says that one of their strengths is a loyal customer base.
“This is good for repeat business, but we also need to focus on bringing in new owners. Our customers trust us, the reputation we have, the reliability of our services and operating environment make us unique.”
Bergvall would like to leave a lasting legacy in Southern Africa.
“I want to put a lot of focus on leadership together with the team and will spend time and energy pointing out the direction of the company. It is important that everyone is on board with what Scania is doing and also want to contribute to the development thereof.
“We Have a very clear sustainability agenda as a company and I want to accelerate that journey not only through our trucks with fuel efficiency, servicing and electrification. It includes our own operation and the first steps have been taken when it comes to solar energy.
“Since we have almost 95 percent of our business through retail business, we have a lot of facilities around the country. I want to make them more energy efficient.
“We are working at integrating all our commercial activities in one place offering the vehicles together with the servicing component as well as financial services. I strongly believe that our customers want to focus their attention on their businesses while having a reliable partner like Scania to support them.”