Isuzu Commercial Truck of America Inc. (ICTA) promoted Shaun Skinner to president, effective April 1, 2016.
Previously, he was executive vice president and general manager. Skinner replaces Hisao Sasaki, who returned to parent firm Isuzu Motors Limited in Japan.
Shortly after his promotion, Business Fleet’s sister publication, Work Truck, had an opportunity to interview Skinner at the company’s U.S. headquarters.
WT: Will your role change with the new title?
SKINNER: It is evolving, but it will change. This is less about me, and more about a change in direction for the company to get closer to the marketplace.
There are three core areas we deal with as an organization:
First, we have our customers and dealers. Our dealers are the closest point of contact to our customers. There are about 300 ICTA dealers.
Second, we have the ICTA organization.
Third, we have our parent company, which is Isuzu Motors, Ltd. (IML), the majority stakeholder in Isuzu Commercial Truck of America. IML develops the products we sell in this marketplace.
Typically, the ICTA president’s role has focused on the relationship with our parent company. The president delegated to the staff much of the responsibility to build the relationships between ICTA and its customers and dealers.
With advances in technologies, new government regulations, and the complexities of our vehicles, ICTA will need to move closer to our dealers and, by virtue of that, closer to our customers. The closer we get to our dealers and customers, the better feedback we can give to IML, our parent company, on the product needed for this market. As a result, ICTA will become more market driven and less product driven.
WT: How will you bring Isuzu Commercial Truck of America closer to your dealers and customers? What will you do differently than what you are currently doing today?
SKINNER: That’s a really good question, but it’s too early in the process to offer a definitive answer. There are a number of things behind the scenes we’re doing based on feedback from dealers and customers.
We are talking to our customers to better determine their product needs. Let me give you an example of how we’re heading in that direction: The 2018 FTR is our all-new entry in the Class 6 medium-duty truck segment, and it will go into production in the U.S. in the middle of 2017. A lot of the design work on the FTR was done at the Isuzu Technical Center of America in Plymouth, Mich.
Many of the components we’re going to use on the FTR are sourced in the U.S. and the final point of assembly will also be in the U.S. at Spartan Motors in Charlotte, Mich. This is the same plant where we assemble the gasoline-powered NPR and NPR-HD trucks. The cab is Japanese built and will come in the form of knock-down kits. A lot of the things we did for the truck are unique to this market.
WT: How do you see the U.S. market changing in the future?
SKINNER: The population in the U.S. is growing and isn’t going to be moving to the suburbs as it did historically. They’re going to be moving back to metropolitan areas, with populations of a million people or more. You are already seeing this renaissance taking place in cities, such as Philadelphia.
Our belief is we’re going to need larger delivery trucks for urban environments. The FTR truck was a byproduct of where we believe U.S. markets are going based on listening to our customers and studying the market.
WT: How else do you see your customer product needs changing?
SKINNER: Again, another good question, but a little more difficult because there are subtleties. When the price of gasoline was high, and a barrel of oil was more than $100, I would have certainly thought we would see more growth in alternative fuels.
But, to our surprise, the price of a barrel of oil dramatically dropped. The price of a gallon of gasoline went way down, and some of the developments we expected to see in alternative fuels were diminished. So, sometimes, your best logic ends up being temporarily delayed or your path is slightly corrected because of something you didn’t foresee happening. I believe there’s going to be changes. But, I don’t want to tip our hand too much as to things we’re looking at by identifying all of those changes.
Instead, I’m going to flip your question around and say the single biggest challenge we will be regulatory issues; in particular, complying with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards.
Safety and emissions are going to play a huge role in the actions we take to ensure we come to market with products that not only meet what the marketplace needs but exceed them.
I envision we’re going to see more smaller-displacement engines. The car industry is a bellwether for us, since they typically adapt to technologies pretty quickly. We have to go to smaller displacement engines from an emissions standpoint, and the car industry has already moved very quickly in that direction.
This trend is emerging because customers are demanding lower cost of ownership and lower initial acquisition cost. In addition to fuel economy, smaller displacement engines are important to meet Phase 1 of the greenhouse gas emission standards and, later, Phase 2 of the greenhouse gas emission standards we’re going to be dealing with in the 2020-2021 timeframe.
We’re going to have to find ways to make sure we get more performance out of smaller engines. The market will require it in more than one way. It will require it from customers needing lower cost of ownership, but also complying with government regulations requiring lower emissions. Again, I look to the car market because smaller engine sizes, which in the past were deemed unacceptable, are now commonplace.
When we launch the FTR, it is a Class 6 equipped with a four-cylinder engine. Freightliner also announced it’s coming out with a four cylinder. This is where the future of the marketplace is going.