BY VICTOR ADAR
DT Dobie has once again put on the table fresh two new Volkswagen models, the new Volkswagen Tiguan SUV and Amarok pick up, in an effort to spur growth. It is expected that the comfort and safety features, the power and fuel efficiency of the new Volkswagens’ diesel engines will help to activate the market for once and make people buy in droves.
The Tiguan for example, has a two litre turbo charged 143 horsepower engine coupled with a seven speed automatic transmission featuring what experts call “4Motion” permanent four wheel drive. The Amarok on the other hand is equipped with a more powerful two-litre engine that delivers 180 horsepower with an eight speed automatic transmission. The two vehicles are mainly built to cope easily with off road conditions, mud and steep climbs and descents thanks to the use of 4Motion transmission that the driver can take advantage of.
Comparing second hand cars to second hand clothes, popular as mitumba, Ian Middleton, the managing director of DT Dobie said that working with people who are not well informed is partly the reason why driving up sales of new motor vehicles has been a tough affair. For him, the past five to eight years has seen a slowdown so much that the best way to push up growth in terms of numbers is to educate the masses on the advantages of a new car as compared to a second-hand one. The slow down is backed by figures from Kenya Motor Industry Association that showed that sales of new cars dipped by 20.3% to 11, 044 units last year thanks to reduced economic activities.
“We have an obligation to educate our customers,” he said. “When buying a Sh1.6 million car, how much is it worth? You will see people paying for a seven year old Polo Vivo advertised at Sh1.2 million, which doesn’t make economic sense. That’s like throwing your money away… A new one goes for Sh1.6 million. So we are trying to basically make mobility affordable.
“While a new car is more user friendly, second hand cars are more user costly. It is not reliable. It is only affordable. People should start thinking about buying new cars. A new vehicle is coming with a warranty of three years. Or, a 100,000 kilometre free service. Include service under the three years… You save in the long run.”
On safety and reliability of cars, Mr Middleton believes that old, un-road worthy vehicles that switch off in the middle of the roads are the ones that cause unnecessary traffic. Although he paints a bleak picture, still, Volkswagens have in the past been hailed as powerful machines. And looking into the future from now Usha Nagpal, who is the general sales manager for Volkswagen shares the same thought process. Speaking in detail on the features of the fresh Tiguan, a model that most Kenyans would simply refer to as a younger sister of the well known Touareg, Nagpal pointed out that business environment is changing very fast that what matters now is how the players position and differentiate their business by bringing in fresh extras. Their new designs, she said, come with impressive features that only Mercedes car owners could talk about including park distance control, kick boot to open, front and rear park sensors, and a 360 degrees camera to help drivers see all round.
Ms Nagpal adds that the area where they get advantage is the long list of safety equipment that includes anti-locking brake system, electronic brake pressure distribution and stability control, features that most car owners are keen on. Among the driver aids are an electric parking brake and for off road use the driver is helped by what she calls “hill descent assist.”
“The safety of drivers and passengers features strongly in the specifications for both models. There are three point seat belts in the front with height adjustment and belt tensioner with three key point seat belts for passengers in the rear,” Nagpal said.
Turning to the Volkswagen Amarok, a model that is expected to command a bigger pie of the double cabin vehicles segment at a time when there is a drop in car sales, she said: “the majority of pick-ups in use in Kenya have manual transmissions and the launch of the new Volkswagen Amarok has stirred the market by offering a choice of either an automatic, or manual gear change.”
The Amarok pick up is a compact car with very spacious interior. The vehicle might look big but drives just like a saloon car. It is not only comfortable and stable on the road but also very easy to manoeuvre and easy to park. You actually feel and adapt to the car in few seconds.
At the same time, the Amarok has heavy-duty suspension with robust under body protection for the front end. The cabin is protected against dust by the climatic air conditioning system.
Finance from banks
Agreeing that market is unpredictable, Middleton says that for anyone who cannot afford to buy their cars in cash, bank financing can be arranged. The bank, however, loan is not cheap, and easy to access as banks have, sort of, responded to the capping of interest rates by lending to government while sidelining individuals and tiny businesses. Despite the tough economic times, things are looking up.
“We have financing arrangement with all banks… We are not doing badly so far with Tiguan. Polo Vivo has also been a success to us,” he says hinting that the banks are still risk averse so it is still going to be hard for banks to offer loans to some people but if things get better, the market will pick up pace.