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  • IN FACT. FUSO EUROPE AND THE CANTER IN DETAIL.

    IN FACT. FUSO EUROPE AND THE CANTER IN DETAIL.

WITH FUSO EUROPE, THE BRAND AND THE CANTER GOT A NEW SALES ORGANISATION IN GERMANY ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO AS PART OF DAIMLER TRUCKS. ERK ROENNEFARTH, NOW HEAD OF MARKETING & PRODUCT MANAGEMENT EUROPE, HAS BEEN WITH THE COMPANY SINCE THEN – AND KNOWS A THING OR TWO ABOUT EXOTICS, PIONEERING WORK AND CANTER LOVE.

Erk, you were part of the Daimler project team that launched the FUSO Canter here in 2002 …

ERK: „Oh, actually, the Canter had been around in Europe for a while. As the ‘Mitsubishi Canter’ and in southern European countries like Portugal, where it had been built since 1980, it was a popular and well-selling vehicle. It was also available in Germany, if people knew about it. But that was still a problem at the time.“

How did FUSO become a Daimler brand in the first place?

ERK: „Mitsubishi Motors spun off its Truck & Bus business into a separate company in the early 2000s. The then Daimler-Chrysler AG took over shares in it and these included, among other things, the distribution rights for FUSO in selected European markets. This is how the Canter finally came to the Mercedes-Benz dealers.“

THE CANTER ROUNDS OFF THE PRODUCT PORTFOLIO.

Did it make sense to include an “exotic” vehicle in the range?

ERK: „Daimler didn’t really have anything to offer in this segment until then. So the Canter basically came at just the right time. It rounded off the product portfolio downwards into the light truck class and fitted in wonderfully between the Atego and Sprinter. It has always been a specialist for city logistics.“

So everyone here was waiting for the Canter?

ERK: „Exactly! They just didn’t know it yet! (laughs) Well, we did have to go through a bit of an adjustment period with him.“

In what way?

ERK: „The team at that time – we were only five people, you have to imagine – set up a distribution structure for the Canter in the classic way. With everything that goes with it. Market research, pricing analyses, competitor comparisons and product acceptance tests. We wanted to find out how best to position the Canter. This already resulted in requirements from potential customers, which we had to play back to Japan in order to ‚Europeanise‘ the product a little more, I’ll call it now.“

Then everyone here was waiting for the Canter?
ERK: „Exactly! They just didn't know it yet!“
Erk Roennefarth, Head of Marketing & Product Management Europe

A NEW TARGET GROUP AND NATURAL RESENTMENTS.

Didn’t that create competition within your own sales?

ERK: „No. That was one of the first points we were able to clarify thanks to the extensive market research. Mercedes-Benz customers did not buy a Canter at that time and vice versa. Sounds a bit absurd, when we wanted to offer the Canter exactly where Mercedes-Benz existed, I know.“

Yes, you have to explain that.

ERK: „Customers who needed a light truck along the lines of the Canter simply didn’t go to a Mercedes dealer until then. Maybe you could have sold them an Atego, but they probably wouldn’t have been really happy with that. As a manufacturer, you don’t profit from that, on the contrary. Now, however, with the Canter, the salesmen were able to offer another product that fits this target group exactly and thus win them over. Even if not everyone realised that right away.“

Is that a nice way of describing a bumpy start?

ERK: „I originally come from product management for the Sprinter and know our people: Mercedes-Benz salespeople live the star. That’s just the way it is. The resentment of suddenly having to promote this supposed ‘rice bowl’ was naturally there. I had to convince some of my colleagues. In the meantime, it’s a completely different matter, I think.“

ESTABLISHED ON THE MARKET AND INCREDIBLY DIVERSE.

Yes? What has changed since then?

ERK: „The Canter has firmly established itself in its market niche and has developed really well as a product. In feel, appearance, functionality and ergonomics. From the introduction of the automatic transmission, the 4×4 or the EcoHybrid, to the modern and efficient engines. To the unbelievable diversity through the tonnages, wheelbases and cab variants. Our factory bodies have been available for a number of years and we generally maintain close cooperation with all common body manufacturers. This is a wonderful construction kit that we make available to the salesmen today. It allows them to make customers very individually happy and that’s what it’s all about.“

So the Canter has really arrived in Europe now?

ERK: „Yes, I would say so. The Canter is now one of the most reliable products in the Daimler truck range, rock solid, worth its price in the best sense of the word. Customers also benefit from the quality of the large Mercedes-Benz dealer and service network. They are treated the same as buyers of an Actros or an Atego. The Canter has a high repurchase rate, which speaks for itself, doesn’t it?“

FUSO DOES NOT HAVE TO HIDE, ON THE CONTRARY.

Does that also apply to the FUSO brand?
ERK: „Basically yes, even if for me as a marketing person there is perhaps still some room for improvement as far as concrete perception is concerned.“

You think you could be better known in this country?

ERK: „Japanese modesty in all honour, but FUSO doesn’t have to hide, on the contrary. The brand accounts for more than a third of the total sales volume of Daimler Truck AG worldwide. FUSO is also home to the competence centre for alternative drive technologies, and in 2017 the eCanter was the first ever fully electric truck. No other OEM had a vehicle like it at the time.“

Sounds like a pioneering achievement …

ERK: „It is! The eCanter was the first e-truck to go into small series production and now we are at the point where we are launching it as a large series. I believe that we are making a really good offer to our special customer group at exactly the right time. They can rely on their familiar brand and at the same time on our extensive and proven expertise on the new technology for the challenges posed by the shift towards sustainable transport solutions.“

What about those customers who are not yet able to switch to electric mobility?

ERK: „We won’t leave them in the lurch either, of course, see the new Canter. The diesel still has its justification in certain applications and it is and remains the basis. We have acquired our know-how through the further development of our diesel vehicles. Everything we can, we have put on top of it. The knowledge of what our customers need comes from there. We don’t just throw that overboard. Why should we? But we transfer it into a future-oriented approach. Just as our clients use their experience to change and adapt their business. We are and will remain a reliable partner for all our customers.“

FUSO EUROPE IS AUTHENTIC AND CLOSE TO THE CUSTOMER.

Good keyword: Who is this ‚we‘ anyway?

ERK: „We, that’s currently about 40 people at FUSO Europe in the headquarters in Stuttgart. I would like to say that as a team we are really committed to the brand.“
But that’s a small team …
ERK: „Yes, but that has the advantage that all areas, product, sales, aftersales, work very closely together and exchange information directly. Everybody has a basic understanding of the whole ‘thing’ and doesn’t just know one individual screw. Our customers also benefit from this, because we are always at eye level with them. Yes, we do. Realistic, pragmatic, flexible and solution-oriented. Our company is exactly like our product. I find that very authentic.“

How does that manifest itself in concrete terms?

ERK: „We are approachable for our customers, dealers, service providers and partners. Anyone who contacts us gets an answer. That is important to us. No matter whether it’s virtual or real. For example, when a trade fair like the IAA is coming up, we not only organise our presence, but also stand there in person at the stand with our Canter and anyone can come to us. Personally, I always get a lot of motivation from something like that. Besides, we are really up for almost anything (laughs) … I was once an extra at our promotional photo shoot … dressed up as a pharaoh. “

Can you share a personal thought about the Canter?

ERK: „If you get in too swinging for the first time, you might hit your head. But once you’ve learned to appreciate it, the Canter has the potential for enduring enthusiasm, not to say great love. At least, that’s how it felt to me. In both cases.“