Swedish success: Volvo Trucks' chief on 2016
Lars Erik Forsbergh discusses the success of Volvo Trucks in 2015 and how he plans to build upon the brand’s momentum in the year ahead
Against the backdrop of a 10% increase in the Volvo Group’s sales across its commercial vehicle and construction equipment businesses in 2015, Lars Erik Forsbergh, president of Volvo Trucks Middle East, has every reason to be equally pleased with the regional success of Volvo’s commercial vehicles in 2015, which saw the brand capitalise on the Middle East debut of the FH, FM and FMX ranges in early 2014.
He explains: “2015 was a very good year for Volvo in the Middle East. Some countries, like Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar — they actually doubled their sales from the previous year, which is quite an achievement. In Oman we also achieved double digit growth, and in our big markets, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we have maintained our sales at a good level as well.
“Egypt used to be a small market for heavy trucks, but in the last few years has also grown very well — so 2015 was a year with good progress and good growth. That was the plan behind the launch in 2014 — to take a bigger share of the market, or, I would say, both to grow the market and grow in the market — and I would say we’ve achieved that in most of our markets.”
According to Forsbergh, while Volvo’s flagship FH tractor has been predictably successful, marked interest from the construction industry in the construction-oriented FMX truck has presented an area for growth.
“Volvo has traditionally been very strong in long haulage, and that’s where we’ll still be strong in the future, we also want to take a bigger share of the construction business,” he notes.
Forsbergh highlights the technologies introduced with the three new ranges in 2014, including the uptake of the semi-automatic I-shift transmission, which “exceeded expectations” — with 100% of the group’s trucks in the UAE and Qatar now being sold with I-shift.
Volvo Group also continues to set itself apart from many other manufacturers by distributing trucks with emissions ratings that are ahead of local regulations. While the commercial vehicle sector in the Gulf is largely unregulated with regards to emissions, and OEMs frequently sell Euro II or a combination of Euro II and Euro III vehicles into its markets, Volvo is exclusively distributing Euro III trucks.
Forsbergh continues: “We have taken a lead in the introduction of new technologies into the Middle East, while a lot of our competitors still sell yesterday’s technology into the region. We don’t see why the transporters in the region should live with the technology used in Europe 15 years ago. Our philosophy is that whatever is introduced in Europe should be available here as well.”
Beyond the technology, however, Forsbergh is keen to also emphasise the role drivers have to play in the performance of vehicles in the region, and the necessity of working towards improved driver training as an urgent priority for the industry.
He notes: “Achieving the best possible uptime and productivity is not only up to the technology in the truck; the driver also plays an important role. So, we have introduced quality-assured driver training in all our main markets, and we’ve really started to see our customers call us and ask for that to train their drivers to use all of the features and technology to optimise the truck.”
Looking at the year ahead, Forsbergh comments: “We have had four or five years of very strong growth. When we look at 2016, it appears a little bit shakier — the countries that are dependent on oil have to cut down somewhere, and we see that a lot of the big projects are extended or put on hold, subsidies have been reduced and so on.
“However, we are seeing a tendency, when the markets are down, for the customer to go for safer solutions — and there we are doing quite well. Volvo, our importers and our people are there, and the customer can trust us — so it’s a safe choice when times are tough.”