The D-Max continues from strength to strength with its third limited edition contender
The rise in prominence, in Australia, of Isuzu Ute has been interesting to say the least, since its first D-Max went on sale at the back end of 2008. All the industry pundits proclaimed that the very idea of a company selling just one product was a flawed business case and that failure of the programme was assured.
How was a company like Isuzu, which made its utes in Thailand, in a factory owned and operated by Mitsubishi Corporation, going to compete against Holden, with the Rodeo, and other makes such as Mazda, Ford, Mitsubishi and Nissan?
Into the equation, in early 2008, came Hitoshi Kono, then appointed as founding Managing Director of Isuzu Ute Australia. Mr. Kono literally jumped into a car and drove the length and breadth of Australia, planning his distribution network and, wherever possible, meeting potential dealer principals face-to-face to discuss taking on the Isuzu Ute Australia franchise. There is also a suggestion he used part of this travel time to indulge in his favourite sport of playing golf, selecting courses across Australia as part of his journey.
By the end of that year, Isuzu Ute Australia was in business – admittedly with a relatively small number of interested selling dealers, all of whom were already selling products from other manufacturers. The sales figures for 2008 were in the region of 50 utes, and Mr. Kono openly admits that he bought half of them as company vehicles.
The ute market in 2011, for Jan/July, numbered 75,552 registrations (excluding Falcon and Commodore 4×2 units). With just three years under his belt in the job, Mr. Kono and his team at Isuzu Ute Australia have recently celebrated their 12,500th sale. The company also recorded a 28 percent rise in sales for Jan/July 2011, with 3561 registrations, and now boasts over 80 retail outlets.
In those three years, there have been changes in customer demands, and it’s fair to say that ute buyers today are choosing diesel engines as a preference – so far, in 2011, at a ratio of 76 percent diesel to 23 percent preferring a petrol alternative, and just one percent opting for LPG.
Back in 2005, the diesel preference to petrol was running on a far lower ratio, at 41 percent diesel to 57 percent petrol. So it’s an indication of good timing, or just good luck, that Isuzu Ute, with only a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel on offer, came into our market and succeeded in providing the right product at the right time.
With a well functioning company a major credit to his ability, Mr. Kono is now heading off for a new assignment in Asia, handing over the reins to Yasuhiro ‘Yasu’ Takeuchi. Aged 43 years, Mr. Takeuchi moved to Australia in late July, and since then has familiarized himself with the Australian automotive market, joining Mr. Kono to visit dealers, fleet companies and customers, as well as industry and government contacts.
“My mission is to build on the presence Kono has built up for D-MAX here, and to expand IUA with additional capability, so it can continue to provide and further enhance its excellent backup and service to our dealers and customers, as D-MAX achieves higher sales volumes in the near future,” said Yasu.
Prior to his arrival here, Mr. Takeuchi was stationed in Tokyo, in Mitsubishi Corporation’s (MC) Isuzu Business Division, as Deputy General Manager and Divisional Strategy Planning Team Leader since December 2009. There, he was heavily involved in Isuzu’s business facilities in Thailand, where the D-MAX is built, as are almost all Japanese-design utes.
Prior to that, Mr. Takeuchi held positions in Electronic Systems and Integrated Defence Systems within MC’s Aerospace Division, as supplier to the Japanese government’s defence establishment, where his specialties included aircraft, airborne equipment, and other defence-related systems. He holds a masters degree in Aeronautics, from Tokyo University’s Graduate School of Engineering, and is married with two sons.
Isuzu Ute Australia is currently marking its three years of local sales of its premium Isuzu D-MAX one-tonne ute range, with the release of a high-spec Limited Edition III 4×4 crew ute.
Produced in slightly higher, but still limited, volume than the prior two years’ LEs, the D-MAX LE III, for 2011, comes in Starry Black mica or a special pearlescent Silky White, both in automatic or manual.
Based on the highest-series and most popular D-MAX, the LS-U 4×4 crew ute, LE III comes equipped with around an additional $8,000 worth of unique features and accessories at a substantial cost saving, to achieve a recommended retail price from $45,500, plus on-road costs.
LE III is distinguished by its chrome egg-crate grille, topped by a chrome bonnet protector garnish strip and a pair of bonnet racing stripes. Lower down, is a broad front bumper over-rider in silver and chrome between fog lights, each side, set in frosted chrome bezels.
There’s custom striping high along LE III’s beltline, ‘Limited Edition III’ decals on the rear side flanks, and slim-line sporty side steps with body-colour end caps and brushed alloy step inserts with rubber grip stipples. LE III’s alloy wheels differ from LS-U, with machine-faced spokes and rims, contrasting with gloss gunmetal inner detail.
Running across the front section of the tub, is a single-hoop chrome sports bar with integrated high-mount brake light array. Inside the tub, is an under-rim tub liner with accessible tie-down hooks, while, at the rear, there are taillights with chrome guard trims and a rear reverse camera.
LE III’s premium unique feature is its Kenwood touch-screen hi-fi head unit, with Garmin® SatNav, reversing camera view, DVD, USB and iPod® /iPhone® and Bluetooth® connectivity, as well as CD/FM/AM audio with AAC/MP3/WMA compatibility, played through LE III’s six speakers. The front of the unit can be removed for security purposes and includes remote control.
Seats are fully trimmed in charcoal leather trim, with ventilation perforations in their centre panels and ‘D-MAX’ embossing on the front of the backrests. Custom carpet mats, with the front pair monogrammed, complete the special interior touches.
All LE IIIs feature standard air-conditioning, ABS with EBD, dual airbags, power fold-in door mirrors with turn indicators, factory cruise, projector headlights, remote entry, electric windows with one-touch driver’s glass down/up, dual-bin padded centre console, electro-luminescent instrument display, rear LSD, lockable tailgate, chrome rear step bumper, and an alloy spare wheel.
Being solely 4×4, LE III benefits the D-MAX’s 4×4 package of a three-tonnes maximum tow capacity, high-ride suspension, high 225 mm ground clearance, ultra-low low-range crawler first gear with anti-stall, heavy steel plate guards for the sump, transfer case and the front of the fuel tank, plus steel shielding for the rest of the fuel tank underside.
There’s also wide track 16”x7” wheels with 245/70 All-Terrain tyres framed by wheel arch flares, plus push-button dash controls for 2WD/4WD/low range selection, and shift-on-the-fly up to 100 km/h between 2WD and 4WD High.