Welcome to Eat Takeaway! In this series we hear from brand and marketing leaders across the world on their ambitions and challenges in the year ahead and beyond. We explore their day-to-day and what lessons they have for brand teams and marketers in the fast-changing and sometimes overwhelming worlds of brand experience and delivering for customers. Check-out our three take-aways at the end.
In this episode, Robert Costelloe, Eat Creative’s Head of Growth chats with Charlene Ede, Head of Product, Corporate Communications and Global Marketing at automotive giant Daimler Truck Asia.
Please note this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Robert Costelloe: What does your day-to-day look like?
Charlene Ede: We have two main companies under the Daimler Truck Asia umbrella - one is Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation based here in Japan. Under that company, we mainly manage the Fuso brand which sells trucks and buses in over 170 markets. Our other company is Daimler India Commercial Vehicles, and they manage the BharatBenz brand based in Chennai, India.
There are a lot of different geographies in play, so I generally start early with calls with the US teams in Portland, moving to Japan for the rest of the morning, China and India in the afternoon, and finishing the day with Europe.
For Fuso we have comprehensive brand guidelines and have teams from all over the world, Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysia, Indonesia, everywhere, asking us how to apply a certain guideline for a specific marketing material. We have to make sure the guidelines are relevant for the local market and have good flexibility.
RC: What are you most excited about in the year ahead and what are you wanting to keep an eye on?
CE: In terms of some exciting projects coming up we are launching the next generation version of our eCanter truck which will make electric mobility for light-duty commercial vehicles much more standard in the future. So that's going to be a very big project for us and will hopefully reset the Japanese market in terms of electric mobility.
In India, we just celebrated our 10th anniversary, and they had a very good year in 2022. In China, we just launched the eActros which is the heavy-duty electric truck made in China for China. So that's a big project for us over there. We have some very exciting projects coming up in America, but I can’t tell you about those yet…
RC: How is the electric vehicle (EV) market evolving here in Japan?
CE: Japan tends to reach a tipping point and then you'll see a massive change. In Japan everywhere you look you see hybrid vehicles. 15 years ago, you did not see them at all. Now the Prius is on its 5th generation but it wasn’t until the third or so that it suddenly took off and you saw them everywhere. What was different with that model was the design and the accessibility. They realised “Yes, this could work in my lifestyle, it has a benefit for me”. That's what we're hoping to see with light-duty trucks here - that, finally, it's the right time.
"Japan tends to reach a tipping point and then you'll see a massive change. In Japan everywhere you look you see hybrid vehicles. 15 years ago, you did not see them at all. Now the Prius is on its 5th generation but it wasn’t until the third or so that it suddenly took off and you saw them everywhere."
RC: What are going to be the big priorities in your industry this year and beyond?
CE: So there’s this acronym CASE which stands for Connectivity, Autonomous, Servitisation/Shared, and Electrification. These are the four big topics that the entire automobile industry is facing, whether it's commercial vehicles or passenger vehicles. The industry has been talking about CASE for over five years now. And every year you'll see a focus on a different pillar.
When Uber came in, there was a massive focus on Servitisation/Shared. It was this new player saying “You don't have to buy a car, you can share”. And then there was a huge focus on Autonomous. And this year the focus is very much on Electrification. But in 2024, Japan is introducing a new labour reform law which will limit the amount of overtime a truck driver can do. When that happens, you'll see a big focus on connectivity and autonomisation.
"In 2024, Japan is introducing a new labour reform law which will limit the amount of overtime a truck driver can do. When that happens, you'll see a big focus on connectivity and autonomisation."
RC: What are you seeing in the market in terms of prioritising a sustainability strategy?
CE: In the commercial vehicle industry, you're not dealing with the end customer. You're dealing with businesses, and by default their number one priority is the bottom line. I think it's different for passenger vehicles. You have the individual consumer who wants to make a difference in the environment, and they have a certain amount of discretionary income which they can devote to sustainability.
With a business customer, they really need to be sure that they're making an investment that's good for their business long term. As a commercial vehicle manufacturer, if you can make sure you're offering them a product that makes sense financially, they will look at sustainability. I think we've done a good job here and is why I'm hoping to see an uptick in the demand for the eCanter this year.
"With a business customer, they really need to be sure that they're making an investment that's good for their business long term."
For DTA here in Japan, our Kawasaki and Nakatsu plants are now using 100% renewable energy sources for electricity and that’s something happening for Daimler Truck around the world. If you ever have the chance to go to Chennai, our commercial vehicle plant there is a mass of solar panels as far as the eye can see. It's not just about making products that are sustainable, but also about the manufacturing and the whole supply chain which is something we’re very focused on – making the entire lifecycle more sustainable.
"It's not just about making products that are sustainable, but also about the manufacturing and the whole supply chain which is something we’re very focused on – making the entire lifecycle more sustainable."
RC: What are some of the elements of the DTA brands that differentiate them from your competitors?
CE: For Mitsubishi Fuso and Daimler Truck two of our core branding elements are heritage and globalisation. Unlike a lot of brands, we've been around for such a long time. The Fuso brand has been around for 90-years and Daimler literally invented the truck. And any place you go in the world, you’ll see a Fuso or another Daimler Truck brand. That gives customers a lot of reassurance and peace of mind.
"The Fuso brand has been around for 90-years and Daimler literally invented the truck...That gives customers a lot of reassurance and peace of mind."
So, thinking about electric vehicles, it can be a bit scary for customers because they're not familiar with the technology and it's a big investment. So, if you're a customer and you’re going to take the leap and transition to EV, you want to go with a company you can trust, not just for that initial purchase, but for the entire lifecycle is of the vehicle.
RC: What does success look like for you this year?
CE: My dream is that people no longer say it's an electric truck. They just say “Oh, look, it's an eCanter”. Like you say it’s a Kleenex instead of a tissue, it's a Hoover instead of a vacuum.
"My dream is that people no longer say it's an electric truck. They just say “Oh, look, it's an eCanter”. Like you say it’s a Kleenex instead of a tissue, it's a Hoover instead of a vacuum."
DTA is a corporate brand. I would like people to recognise it more in the market. I hope people will say “I want to work for DTA. It's a company that I can feel proud to be a part of”. The competition for talent is insane right now. With people working from home, you're not just competing with companies in a five-kilometre radius, you're now competing with companies across the world who are able to offer remote work.
Aside from our heritage and being a global company, I will say that Mitsubishi Fuso is a company where everyone, regardless of their nationality, has a genuine chance at building a career. The diversity we have is amazing. It's a truly global environment. A lot of companies say that but it's really rare to actually see it.
Consistency with flexibility: When bringing your brand to new markets, ensuring the brand has a level of consistency is critical to building longer term, global brand equity. This means providing clear guidance for local market teams. But that guidance needs to be flexible too so that local teams can adapt to the particular cultural or societal expectations. By defining what needs to always stay the same (be it logo, colour use, imagery style, or tone of voice) but providing a wide space where local teams can use their creative expression, supports good brand management and long-term brand building.
An authentic talent strategy: Many industries globally continue to see challenges and fierce competition in winning the talent they need to innovate and be competitive. An authentic brand purpose, values and employee experience that aligns with the expectations of a target talent pool, as well as considering where and how to reach these groups, will be critical to being top of mind and consideration. Brands must make sure the employee experience is considered at the same level of importance as the customer experience.
Trust drives change: Brands that have developed a deep sense of trust with customers can play a leading role in shifting customer behaviour. Led by a clear sense of purpose, brands can take a leading role in bridging the gap between intention and action – be it helping customers switch from a combustion engine to electric or making other product choices that support the health of our planet and ecosystems. For those brands in a position of trust, they have a tremendous responsibility, and opportunity, to take the real actions that will benefit society and our world, today and tomorrow.