Daimler’s truck brands increased their presence in 2015.
Daimler’s truck brands increased their presence in 2015.

GERMAN motor company Daimler has made SA the regional base for its new global truck and bus strategy — a decision expected to bring significant business to Mercedes-Benz SA (MBSA) and eventually new investment to its East London assembly plant.

MBSA’s Daimler Trucks and Buses arm was already responsible for the local market and for Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. Daimler’s global board member for trucks and buses, Wolfgang Bernhard, said on Thursday these countries had been joined by Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

Until now, the newcomers had been serviced mainly from Germany, but also from Japan, where one of Daimler’s brands, Fuso, is based. Mr Bernhard said the new Southern Africa region would allow Daimler and all its brands — which include Freightliner, Western Star and Mercedes-Benz — to respond faster to customer needs. Instead of foreign executives making decisions from thousands of kilometres away, "people running the business should read the same newspapers and understand the same problems as customers", he said.

Daimler has created two other African regions in Kenya and Dubai.

Kobus van Zyl, previously head of the South African truck business, is in charge of the expanded region.

He said sales in many African countries were dominated by used vehicles and, in the short term, Daimler might rely on these for much of its business.

Mr Bernhard said well-maintained vehicles coming to the end of lease agreements in SA, Europe and the US could be sold in Africa with new maintenance warranties.

Longer term, said Mr van Zyl, the aim was to sell more new vehicles. Some would be sourced from overseas but there was also scope for MBSA to build more. East London — where the company also manufactures C-Class cars — had sufficient capacity in its truck and bus plant for immediate demand but that would change.

Mr Bernhard said the plant could build new variants of existing product lines, with different African markets in mind. He said Daimler’s regional strategy would help take advantage of projected strong economic growth in many African countries.

In the short term, it will also help MBSA counter the effects of a weak South African market, where new-vehicle sales are expected to decline again this year, for the third year in a row.