Take a look at manufacturers’ ranges in the passenger car market, and the trend is clear – diversity is good and the range of choice is growing. Isuzu, however, is very much at the other end of this spectrum, with the D-Max pick-up the only passenger model that the brand offers in the UK.
The pick-up has been on sale in the UK since 2012, but this year it has been given a mid-life revision that brings some notable changes. Chief among those is another element that bucks a recent trend in the pick-up market, because the D-Max now comes with a smaller engine than its predecessor, with a 1.9-litre unit replacing the outgoing 2.5-litre. Operations director William Brown joined us for a chat about the new truck, and the brand’s plans in the UK.
Q What are the key benefits and changes brought about by this update to the Isuzu D-Max?
A We have had to comply with Euro6, the same as all of our competitors, but we looked to the future and we have an engine that is designed to take on new legislation. We are fortunate that there is no AdBlue because that is a great convenience to customers in that it’s a cost that has been eradicated.
The smaller engine is also lighter, so the D-Max drives better, feels more responsive, is quicker and handles better. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that we have an increased payload. Payloads are, on the whole, going down and we are bucking that trend so customers can load more equipment into the vehicle. It has a new gearbox, and Isuzu has tweaked the ratios to give better towing ability – the lower gears are better for pulling away with a heavy load.
Combined with bigger engines in the sector, there is a misconception that the 1.9 or a smaller displacement wouldn’t be up to the job. We know that isn’t the case, which is why we are offering a 48-hour test drive. Every dealer has a minimum of three demonstrators and they all have a tow bar fitted.
Q The D-Max message is that it is very much aimed at the more workmanlike buyer. How do you appeal to this buyer without the glamour of the leisure market to help drive marketing campaigns and entice people to the brand?
A The growth in the pick-up sector is from the lifestyle customer but we feel we would rather be single-minded in our approach, so if someone is looking for a working vehicle we should be at the top of their list. If you are looking at a lifestyle vehicle then competitors’ cars will probably be bought over ours. But prospective buyers might think that the newer cars are less fit for purpose and less workmanlike so we might pick up customers from there.
We do have the Blade [trim level] and there are a proportion of our customers that want a working vehicle that still looks good and has comforts. We have a foot in that market but it isn’t one we depend on.
Q The pick-up market is booming, what is behind this growth from an Isuzu point of view?
A The market has had growth over the years for a few reasons. It’s partly because of Benefit in Kind being attractive to pick ups, and also because they’re becoming more car-like in how they drive and perform. The demise of the Land Rover Defender has played a role, too, because some of those customers have been looking for workhorse-type vehicles. We’ve also seen new competitors, such as Fiat and VW – VW attracts a different type of custom because it is going after the lifestyle customer. There is more choice, more derivatives, more models and it is a booming sector.
Our biggest uplift was with the new model in 2012. That was a big milestone for us because the pick-up had become a lot more mainstream and it enabled us to talk to a wider range of customers. We used to talk to farmers, but now we talk to builders and lifestyle customers.
Were the first to have 3.5-tonne towing capacity. We were the first to have a five-year warranty and had class-leading mpg and CO2 at the time and it drove a lot better than the previous one.
Q Can the current pick-up BIK taxation system remain unchanged? What would happen if it were brought more in line with the car system?
A I have not heard it is going to change and no-one has mentioned anything to me. There is a genuine benefit to having a pick-up and using it as a working vehicle, and to the customers we speak to it is a benefit as a working vehicle. There might be some brands that only sell to a top-end customer that only occasionally uses it as a working vehicle. It is not something that we have factored in, the leisure buyer is not our core market so if anything was to change in the future then farmers are going to still buy pick-ups whatever happens.