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Return of the 'Frontier': What the mu-X means for Isuzu SA

2018-05-10 19:00

Lance Branquinho

Image: Supplied

As Toyota has proved with Fortuner, ladder-frame platform SUVs are hugely popular in South Africa. The concept is charmingly simple: a double-cab bakkie platform with station wagon structure.

Many double-cab owners will admit that although they love their bakkies, there are times when they wish there was a proper load area or third row of seats, instead of bundling things (and sometimes people) under a canopy.

Return of the 'Frontier'

There is no denying the fact that canopies are a compromise, an attempt to make a double-cab bakkie into an SUV – and it doesn’t really work. Canopies rattle, they’re terrible noisy inside and their dust sealing is awful.

New SUV from Isuzu: Here's how much the mu-X costs in SA

Not the safest place to be in the case of a crash, either, which is why you’re not really supposed to have passengers under a canopy, or in the load-bay of your bakkie.

For Hilux, Ranger and Triton owners they have an option of graduating to brand SUVs from their double-cabs: Fortuner, Everest and Pajero Sport. But what if you are a committed Isuzu KB driver?

A rebadged Trailblazer?

It is deeply ironic that Isuzu, which had established the ladder-frame SUV market with its Frontier in the late 1990s, is only now reintroducing a KB-based wagon, which has been available in other righthand drive markets since 2012.

It’s called mu-X and although rivals will argue that Isuzu’s SUV is nothing but a rebadged Chevrolet Trailblazer, this is not entirely the case.

Image: Supplied

The absence of MU-X in the local market was always troubling. Isuzu has a terrifically loyal following in South Africa and the brand was denied an opportunity to graduate its bakkie customers into an Isuzu SUV due to local distribution and manufacturing agreements with General Motors South Africa, who took precedence with Chevrolet Trailblazer. With GMSA no longer a trading entity, Isuzu’s relished the opportunity to reconquer its erstwhile Frontier market share.

Platform and certain component commonalities aside, mu-X could be a better vehicle than Trailblazer ever was. It has a proper rear differential lock, sump guard and slider plates for dedicated off-road work and the engines are Isuzu 3-litre diesels, instead of General Motors 2.8s.

Image: Supplied

For Isuzu dealers the presence of MU-X is a godsend. The Japanese brand is known locally only for its bakkies and despite that being South Africa’s most robust vehicle market, SUVs are tremendously profitable too, with strong demand.

Bakkie customers often reach a maturity point with their double-cabs where the lack of lockable load bay or a third-row of seats become an issue. The opportunity to now offer those Isuzu KB customers the option of a mu-X will boost Isuzu’s sales volumes and perhaps expose the brand to a new realm of customers too.

Fortuner still dominates

But how much of the market is there is Isuzu to conquest with mu-X? Fortuner dominates, with Everest second and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport acing a peripheral player, selling in the low double-figures.

If you use Trailblazer as a calculation point, Isuzu’s initial targeting will be quite low. The Chevrolet SUV never did much more than 10% of Fortuner sales, and if we use the Toyota as a reference, MU-X should trade just beyond 100 units per month.

Image: Supplied

There is conjecture that Isuzu’s much greater brand loyalty could see it achieve higher numbers than Trailblazer ever did, without bothering either Fortuner or Everest but possibly reducing Mitsubishi Pajero Sport’s market share by quite a bit.

After nearly two decades absence in the local SUV market, Isuzu’s return is most welcome. Now if only we could have a contemporary Trooper, to complete the re-establishment of Isuzu’s SUV product portfolio.

Read more on:    isuzu  |  lance branquinho  |  south africa  |  new model

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