Pick up the best
What the future holds for the thriving market for pickup trucks on construction sites.
SUVs and 4x4s are not the sole preserve of the construction worker, project manager or contractor. Depending on the work involved, 4x4s, in whatever guise, model or power are not always effective. Here, the role of the pickup truck on site should not be underestimated.
Far from offering stylish lines, enviable acceleration and six CD-changer capability, the pickup is a tougher, more functional vehicle, which is indispensable on a construction site. The reliability and long-service life of pickups is also essential in the unforgiving Middle East climate.
The key difference between 4x4s and pickups is that 4x4s can only really carry people. Pickups on the other hand can accommodate both passengers in the cabin, as well as materials and machinery in the open-top cargo area in the back.
Donald Leask, project development manager, Dubai Sports City (DSC), explains that in spite of these benefits, a careful assessment of the task is required in order to select the most suitable vehicle.
"When deciding upon the pickup type, we look at a number of factors. These include the likely usage capacity, the location in which it will be used, and the number of passengers that can be accommodated.
"DSC looks for rugged vehicles that are not too large in order to get in and around the site quicker and more comfortably. The main difference between a 4x4 and a pickup is that a pickup has more space to transport larger equipment."
While the operational ability of pickups may not have altered all that much over the years, it is still prudent to procure the most up-to-date models. "We currently use all the latest models that come into the market as they are usually more advanced in terms of their features, strength and safety, says Leask. "But mechanically speaking, today's pickup trucks are not that different to those of 10 years ago."
Due to the nature of the DSC project, most vehicles remain on one site and there is little need for extended journeys, with most travelling between the various building projects being carried out under the umbrella of the development. "We currently work from one site - Dubai Sports City - unlike a contractor who would move from site to site."
"As our projects are all on one site, our main concern when selecting vehicles is that they are safe for our drivers and can handle rocky terrain and sandy ground."
The differing capabilities of the pickup and 4x4 are clearly understood on the DSC site, explains Leask, with each vehicle being given specific task, depending on its strengths. "We currently have our own construction vehicles to transport heavy materials and equipment; therefore, our 4x4s are mainly used by site staff to visit or inspect, when necessary, and are used to bring smaller materials to different locations within the site."
Despite a strong reliance on these vehicles, Leask says that DSC does not employ a faithful policy of using a single brand on site, but is happy to switch suppliers in a bid to ensure costs remain reasonable.
"We do not have a specific brand that we use; instead we like to use companies that can provide us with reliable and safe vehicles at a reasonable cost."
Unsurprisingly, Dubai's frantic pace of construction has been reflected in sales of pickups. The UAE one-tonne payload pickup market in the last fiscal year (April - March) was approximately 15,000 units. According to Reza Alavi, senior manager, corporate planning, Nissan Middle East, the market grew by 35% from the previous year. She adds that three models dominate the market: Nissan Pickup, which gives the sector its name, the Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi L200. In other GCC markets, the Isuzu D-Max also plays a role.
Interestingly, Alavi says that despite being first and foremost a functional vehicle to operate and carry materials, modern demands have to be met as well. "Above all, durability, quality and reliability are important. Contractors expect pickups to be a workhorse and offer high performance, but they also expect them to be comfortable with all the required amenities, such as air conditioning and a CD player.
"The driver could spend many hours commuting between job locations, not forgetting private usage at the weekend."
These benefits are augmented by a low cost of ownership, leading to low repair requirements and the availability of spare parts at competitive prices.
Alavi adds that while the main advantage of a pickup is its payload, which is in the category of one tonne - overloading is a common problem, not just in the UAE but also the wider region - Nissan pickups also come in 4x4 versions which offer off-road capability as well. They can therefore be considered as true multipurpose vehicles suitable for commercial purposes (industrial, agriculture and construction) as well as private use on or off the road.
On the subject of new models, Alavi was tight-lipped, but did confirm that a number of new launches have been planned for this year, which will aim to widen the number of products available to the consumer with high-end needs, while at the same time satisfying commercial buyers.
But when it comes to developing new models, a strong relationship with customers is paramount. "Our relationships with our fleet customers are up-close and personal, beyond the simple commercial ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“buy and sell' aspect.
"We frequently involve them when engineering or R&D people from our headquarters in Japan visit to discuss ways of improving our current line-up or develop future products," adds Alavi. And this goes further, when customers request specific modifications on some vehicles.
According to Nissan Middle East, the sector will only continue to increase in value as demand rises in line with the overall industry. And it isn't just Nissan that is looking to capitalise, says Alavi; all major manufacturers are aware of the market and what it represents for their business.
"The pickup sector remains a very key area for all major players and its growth will continue to generate a lot of excitement. This increased competitiveness forces all the players to continuously improve their offerings in terms of both products and services.
"In this respect, unlike others, we will not follow a strategy based on simply offering cheaper products which we believe will destroy value more than it creates. We will strive to surpass customers' expectations," adds Alavi. To that end, Nissan has set up a dedicated LCV Business Unit.