If you want to buy a regular car, there are dozens of companies out there who will be pleased to take your money. But go in search of a pick-up truck and you’ll find yourself talking to a dealer from an altogether more select bunch of makers – namely Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Ford, Mazda, VW and Isuzu.
And though VW is a startlingly recent arrival at the pick-up party, all the others have been making pick-ups for what seems like eons. So you could be forgiven for thinking not much is going to change in the next few years.
Well, maybe, but Japanese brand Isuzu – currently a modest number four in the UK pick-up best-seller list – believes it could soon be climbing up the rankings with a degree of agility not seen from the brand for some time.
There are two reasons for its new-found optimism, says Paul Tunnicliffe, the managing director of Isuzu importer International Motors. One is the imminent arrival of an all-new model to replace the ageing Rodeo range; the other is a fundamental change in the way that it sells its trucks.
All the other pick-ups are built by manufacturers who have a big range of cars plus a pick-up. Any dealer taking on the pick-up also has to take on the rest of the car range.
International Motors, which also brings in Subaru cars (and now Great Wall pick-ups) has been able to take a rather different tack in the UK. In the past it bundled the Isuzu franchise in with the Subaru one, but inevitably some Subaru dealers weren’t really interested in selling a specialist pick-up truck alongside its cars.
Three years ago, International Motors offered Subaru dealers the chance to give up their Isuzu franchises, and half of them did just that. Those dealerships were then targeted at dealers who were able to concentrate on business buyers such as farmers and builders.
In fact, the company says 37% of buyers are involved in agriculture – a much higher figure than would be the case with other pick-up brands. “Isuzus are much more likely to be sold as working vehicles,” says Mr Tunnicliffe. “In fact, 95% are sold with a towbar.”
Dealers taking on an Isuzu franchise don’t have to have a big, plush showroom, opening up a big opportunity for tractor dealers in particular to sell Isuzu trucks, too. Three John Deere and two Massey Ferguson dealers in the UK now sell the brand and many more are interested in doing so.
This policy of encouraging tractor dealers to sell the marque has been very successful, says Mr Tunnicliffe. Roughly one-third of Isuzu pick-up franchises are operated by tractor dealers, and the fact that sales and service staff are using them when they visit farms gives useful prominence to the trucks. The company is also targeting other rural businesses such as contractors, land agents and gamekeepers.
It says something about the success of this policy that the most prolific Isuzu dealer in Europe is B&B Tractors in Crickhowell, Wales, which sold 200 pick-ups in 2011.
Mr Tunnicliffe is bullish about the marque’s prospects over the next few years.
“We have 100 dealers at the moment, with another 30 wanting to join. We can put on new dealers much more easily than other makes and with the new D-Max coming in June, our five-year plan is to be number one in the UK market.”
• Founded in 1916
• Makes pick-ups, small trucks, full-size trucks and 1m diesel engines a year
• Made its first pick-up in 1972. Five generations have been made since then, with the TF selling 6m vehicles across the world
• Sells pick-ups to 100 different countries. Some 13,000 pickups were sold into Europe in 2011.
• The UK is the biggest pick-up market in Europe, with some 25,000 sold a year
• The biggest UK sellers are Mitsubishi’s L200, Toyota’s Hilux and Nissan’s Navara
• Isuzu comes 4th in the league, having recently overhauled Ford’s Ranger and Mazda’s BT50
• The second biggest pick-up market in Europe is Turkey (which was the best-seller until last year), with France coming in third place.
• Lower labour rates mean that Thailand has been a popular place for Japanese makers to manufacture pick-ups for many years
• Mitsubishi, Ford, Mazda, Isuzu, GM and Toyota all build pick-ups in Thailand
• Thailand is the biggest pick-up market in the world, with 660,000 bought in 2011. That’s 45-55% of the Thai market
• Isuzu and Toyota vie for leadership, with Toyota slightly ahead.