I can forgive anyone who is confused with the corporate nomenclature of one of Germany’s leading conglomerates that’s most closely associated with the three-pointed star of its blue chip brand, Mercedes-Benz.
For years, the “holding” company was known as Daimler-Benz after the two founding luminaries, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz.
Then came the predictably ill-fated marriage to Chrysler which meant a change of name to DaimlerChrysler.
When that union uncoupled, Daimler was created and that’s the name behind the newly-announced Regional Commercial Vehicle Centre which incorporates no less than nine countries from the southern African region.
As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, the regrettable decline in rail services has placed huge importance on road transport, especially in terms of commercial goods movements, not to mention the movement of people.
This situation is far from desirable as the movement of goods and people is not always optimally effected by road transport but that’s the status quo and it’s not unique to Zimbabwe.
It’s in recognition of this fact that Daimler has created the aforementioned Regional Centre Southern Africa which is clearly intended to improve road transport efficiencies while providing dealers with better all-round support from one location which is much closer to the action.
The presence of Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Daimler trucks and buses, speaks volumes about the importance the company attaches to helping spur growth across regions that may have lacked focused support in the past.
The specific countries incorporated into the Regional Centre which falls under the auspices of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.
All will report to the regional HQ based in Pretoria where the strings will be pulled by Kobus (an appropriate name, I suggest) van Zyl, Executive Director: Daimler Trucks and Buses, Southern Africa.
This southern African venture is the third of six such centres being opened globally by Daimler who include the following name plates in their extensive range of trucks, buses and vans: Mercedes-Benz, FUSO, Freightliner and Western Star.
The range of vehicles on offer, especially those adorned with the three-pointed star, is huge and covers everything from heavy movers to urban panel vans.
Importantly, and in an effort to tailor services to suit the needs of a region that is presently more financially constrained than most, van Zyl indicated that the provision of pre-owned vehicles would definitely be on the agenda but that the new “deal” would not preclude regional dealers from sourcing pre-owned stock from traditional suppliers.
When asked about dealers’ ability to service increasingly sophisticated vehicles, van Zyl stated that dealerships are all equipped with the necessary diagnostic equipment operated by trained staff and that direct, on-line links to the manufacturer were in-situ in order to assist with technical queries.
Further the Regional Centre will assist with sales, after-sales, marketing, client service and parts from a location (Pretoria) that’s physically much closer to the action than Stuttgart, the previous point of contact for most regional operators.
Daimler sees southern Africa as an opportunity area for commercial vehicles, forecasting positive economic growth of around 3,75 percent in 2016 notwithstanding what they describe as a “tough economic cycle.”
MBSA and its parent company, Daimler AG, are “confident that the Regional Centre Southern Africa is poised to provide excellence and ultimately a competitive advantage to its growing number of southern African-based customers through superior products and custom value chain offerings.”
For Zimbabwe-based customers, the point of contact will be Zimoco, a company with more than six decades of operational experience in Zimbabwe.
Indeed, Zimoco has dedicated facilities in-situ for commercial vehicles, and that includes buses, at its Douglas Road, Harare, premises and is therefore fully equipped to supply and maintain all the brands making up the Daimler commercial vehicle portfolio.
With all the speed advantages now provided by the Regional Centre, repairs and vehicle downtime should not be an issue.
The presentation of the new regional network was conducted at Swartkops race track to the west of Pretoria, a venue which initially puzzled me until I realised that MBSA has a dedicated base at that location to assist with driver training.
Senior staff from the Daimler regional dealer network rubbed shoulders with company executives from Germany and from MBSA, not to mention a posse of journalists drawn from SA and the region and all were to be given an opportunity to sample first hand just what it’s like to drive a modern commercial vehicle.
The venue was a soaked skid pan alongside the aforementioned race track where a number of vehicles were lined up for testing.
I have to admit to being a closet lover of big Merc trucks, particularly because I’ve always rather liked their styling (yes, really) marked out by that massive three-pointed staff mounted amidships in the traditional horizontal grille.
As a consequence, I was first to get behind the wheel of a gargantuan Mercedes Actros (horse only) which required the negotiation of at least half a dozen steps to gain access to a surprisingly comfy “bucket” seat looking out over a well-equipped, almost car-like dashboard.
An instructor calmly issued a few brief instructions related to the whereabouts of key control items, not least the miniscule shift lever that controls a devilishly clever auto transmission, and gave the “go” command.
From my very lofty perch, I could look out with disdain at lesser mortals on ground level and bask in the easy driving environment provided by the auto box, the powered brakes with ABS and quite the lowest-effort power steering system I’ve ever encountered.
With the rev counter hovering in a green band around 1 800rpm, the big Merc didn’t lack for muscle and it certainly could stop as my deliberate activation of the ABS braking system proved.
Without the burden of a huge load behind, this Merc was a cinch to drive as were the two (much smaller) Fuso vans I got my hands on, all of which tells you that modern technology has certainly found its way into commercial vehicles. Gone are the days of clouds of diesel smoke and grinding gears.
Commercial vehicles and buses may not be the glamour boys of wheeled transport but they’re an essential part of keeping the economy on the right track, especially in an African environment.
It’s therefore encouraging to see a company of Daimler’s immense stature having the courage and foresight to invest along with its dealer network, in providing a bigger and more pro-active support network for those who earn a livelihood from hauling goods or passengers around the southern reaches of the continent.
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