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“We are determined to continue to expand and become a key player in the regional waste management sector”

Mourad Hedna, UD Trucks Middle East President, shares his thoughts on the state of the trucking industry, the current trends and issues, and how the company is strategising for business growth in an interview with Swaliha Shanavas.

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Business Leader
April 22 2020 Mourad Hedna
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What is the current state of the automotive sector in the region, particularly the trucking industry? 

We certainly find ourselves in unique and challenging times. UD Trucks enjoyed a positive 2019, despite the tough market conditions that existed even then. In numerous markets we registered sales growth in excess of 10 percent. Now, across the world, and like many other industries, the automotive sector is experiencing challenges in a way that it has never before done. However, there is still a need for transportation within the economy: construction trucks are needed for infrastructure projects; long and regional haul trucks are needed for goods transportation; and distribution trucks are needed in cities, for the distribution of food and water.

Waste management, a sector in which UD Trucks has enjoyed significant recent success, is a key example. Without trucks, how can we collect waste and keep cities clean? We are optimistic that the truck industry will continue growing in the long run and continue helping our societies to prosper.

Please tell us briefly about your experience in this sector. What triggered your interest in this industry?

I’ve been working in the automotive industry, and in particular with commercial vehicles, with Volvo Group for more than 20 years. I started with engine development, where I was involved with the development of the first technologies for electronically-controlled diesel injection systems, before moving to powertrain strategic purchasing, dealing with suppliers, co-developers and partners in the engine development area. After this, I was responsible for the powertrain business strategy for the Volvo Group, working with different brands in the Group. I am now head of UD Trucks Sales in the MEENA region, covering Middle East, East and North Africa.

I have been closely involved with the recent evolutions that have taken place in this industry - the continuous improvement and innovation in the industry, designed to create trucks that are more reliable, more powerful, safer and cleaner in term of exhaust emissions. I’ve also witnessed first-hand the transformative journey that our industry has taken in mature markets, with disruptive technologies and business models focused on Automation, Electrification and Connectivity.

How has your journey been so far?  

Working in different areas along my personal journey has helped me to develop a holistic understanding by looking at the bigger picture, not only from a pure sales point of view but also in terms of the product, features, and supply chain - suppliers for car and truck manufacturers have a significant role to play. It makes it easier to build a consistent and comprehensive strategy and story. Coming from a different background also helps, bringing learnings through diversity, the confidence to challenge norms, and the ability to be more creative and set new benchmarks based on other experiences. This is well appreciated by our employees, partners and customers.

What do you love most about your job and what is the most challenging aspect?

I have to say that I am very lucky to work in a fantastic group like Volvo Group where you have access to a wide range of different and diverse jobs. As an engineer, I have enjoyed working with engine testing and simulations, playing with very small scales of microns and microseconds, while developing electric and hydraulic micro components. One particularly fond memory is the time when, after introducing electronics in the nineties, we started to apply chemical solutions for our engines, working with chemical companies to develop after-treatment solutions by adding catalysts, coatings and precious metals to reduce the level of particulates and harmful nitrogen oxide emissions. Many new technologies, new factories and new companies have emerged to support to need to fulfill new emissions and green gas regulations in Europe, US and Japan. Working on strategy in the Group has allowed me to interact with different brands and different functions, and to learn how to progress against the backdrop of complex challenges and environments.

In my current role, I’m amazed by the diversity that exists here between the different countries, countries that outsiders often assume to be exactly the same. I have really enjoyed learning more about the traditions, the history and the culture of each corner of this region, which is of course very important in our business. What is common in the truck business, regardless where you are, is that it is a B2B industry, not solely based on a transactional approach but rather on close, long-term relationships requiring a high level of trust and commitment in order to be able to support our customers’ businesses over many years. I really like that and value the importance of this personal commitment.

I’m extremely proud to have witnessed the extraordinarily high levels of competence, and the exceptional sense of accountability and commitment, displayed by every UD Trucks employee in the region. They are our key asset and we need to continue to nurture this.

Which are your focus markets at present and why?

All markets are important, and we recognise the value of each market and customer regardless of the size of the fleet or country. The dynamics are different from country to country and need to take into account different geopolitical and economic situations. We have high ambitions for all GCC and East Africa markets, while in particular developing aggressive plans for Saudi Arabia and Kenya.

After a year of transition in the Kingdom, following a mutual agreement to terminate our collaboration with our previous partner, we announced Zahid Tractor as UD Trucks’ new exclusive importer and distributor. So, in 2020 we are committed to delivering strong growth and closer customer relationships.

We are also paying special attention to Kenya as we will reactivate UD Trucks in this country this year. And we are launching a new assembly facility there in collaboration with our partner CMC, part of Al Futtaim Group. Beside these two countries, we have aggressive development plans for the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

What are the key challenges faced and factors influencing the truck markets now?

It varies region to region. In mature markets, the challenges for the truck industry are a combination of ever-tougher legislation in terms of emission standards and a need for higher safety standards that require investment in more advanced and expensive technologies, as well as having to meet the needs of customers who are looking for enhanced productivity and the best investment return in the mid and long term. In our region, customers’ needs are also evolving. There is an increasing focus on uptime and total cost of ownership. Customers are prepared to move to new brands and experience new vehicles, as long as the brand delivers on reliability and they are able to trust the local distributor’s capabilities in supporting their daily operations.

One new trend that we are seeing is a requirement for more efficient logistics, which exerts pressure on margins at every point in the chain. Customers are becoming more demanding when it comes to reliability and durability, while focusing less on non-essential features. From this perspective, it is encouraging to note that this is in keeping with a key element of the UD Trucks DNA, one which was strongly reinforced during the design and development of all our new products and services: to focus on the essentials.

The main challenge that I have experienced in the region since my arrival concerns the volatility and uncertainty of the market. This can be explained by many factors and requires a high degree of agility and adaptability, and I’m proud that in the past few years our customers and partners have regularly stated how impressed they are by the journey of UD Trucks in the region, with the continuous renewal of our products and services to meet customers’ needs, by the level of engagement UD Trucks’ and our partners’ employees have shown, and by the Gemba spirit we have displayed in order to go the extra mile for our customers.

What kind of support do you provide to potential customers including key aspects such as financing and so on, also ensuring business success? 

At UD Trucks we pride ourselves on the standards of service we offer to our customers. Combined with the high quality of our product line-up, this means that our customers can be certain that they have access to the best support available. Connectivity is definitely an emerging area around the world, and we are a pioneer in promoting Telematics services. So, there are two key areas where we are able to provide our customers with particular assistance.

When it comes to fleet management and monitoring, the UD Telematics system allows customers to monitor every aspect of each truck including location, and driver and vehicle performance details such as fuel consumption, average speed and idling time. This gives customers a report that can indicate potential areas for improvement. Secondly, in terms of financial support, we have two options: either through our in-house financing or through our partners’ financing.

What are your key achievements, particularly related to the waste management sector MEENA region?   

In 2019 we launched the new heavy-duty Quester to much regional acclaim. This resulted in a number of major fleet deals in the waste management sector across the Middle East.

We delivered 108 Croners and Questers to Kuwait Municipality specifically for waste management, and in the same month Lavajet in the UAE purchased a total of 118 Croners and Quester models. With such a strong model line-up, and a strong reputation in the waste management sector, we will continue to seek to grow our presence in this sector.

With both of these fleets, we conduct regular follow-ups with our customers to collaborate with them and to learn how to improve and optimise their operational efficiencies. Both customers have been delighted with the support they are receiving from UD Trucks and our local partners. We are determined to continue to expand and become a key player in the regional waste management sector.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy spending good quality time with my family and with my kids, who I learn new things from all the time. I enjoy participating in a range of sports, which helps me to challenge myself and ensures I have a fresh, energised mind. I love travelling and continually discovering new things. I also enjoy reading and watching documentaries, especially of a geopolitical nature.