After a tenure of more than five years as managing director of Suzuki Auto South Africa, Kazuyuki Yamashita has returned to Japan to take up a new assignment at Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC).
Yamashita is replaced by Yukio Sato, who becomes the new managing director of Suzuki Auto SA, effective April 1.
"Of course I am sad to be leaving South Africa," Yamashita said before his departure for Japan. "While I've been at the helm of Suzuki Auto SA for the past five and a half years, my involvement with the country stretches back much further.
"In 2006, I commenced the feasibility study that would eventually lead to SMC establishing an operation in SA, and I visited the country frequently during that process."
Yamashita says the time spent in SA was both challenging and satisfying. "When SASA started trading in June 2008, the global economy was buoyant, and the growth forecasts for SA indicated a total vehicle market of 1-million units by 2012.
"But by November of that year, the credit crunch had plunged much of the First World into recession, the Japanese yen had strengthened by almost 50 percent against the SA rand, and our costs had effectively doubled. Our entire business plan had to be revised."
That Suzuki Auto SA was able to weather the storm in its infancy and is now an established player in one of the most competitive new vehicle markets in the world, says much for the tenacity of Yamashita, his management team, and the Suzuki dealer network.
"The commitment of our dealers was the key. I believe that the success of Suzuki Auto SA relies on a strong, committed dealer network. But our initial strategy to rapidly expand the dealer network to create a growing footprint for Suzuki Auto's products had to be curtailed in the face of the grave economic difficulties facing not only SA, but the rest of the world.
"Instead, we focussed on investing in and upgrading our existing dealers, and ensuring that they remained profitable, because only profitable dealers can ensure the high levels of service necessary to achieve extraordinary customer satisfaction."
Yamashita believes that the strength of the dealer network, combined with a high degree of customer satisfaction, has been at the core of Suzuki Auto's success thus far. However, the time has now come to build on that solid foundation.
"The next important step for Suzuki Auto SA is to increase its sales and its presence on the SA market. It is a vital assignment, and one that my successor, Yukio Sato, will oversee with great vigour and enthusiasm. I wish him all the best in his new position, and trust that he will be made as welcome by this country and its great people as I was."
Yamashita will be based at the SMC head office in Japan, from where he will be overseeing Suzuki's operations in Pakistan, including a large assembly plant.
Yukio Sato joins Suzuki Auto SA from SMC in Japan, where his most recent assignment was to oversee several Asian markets, including Indonesia and Vietnam, where Suzuki has large assembly plants, in order to meet the growing demand for the brand's products.
He has been with Suzuki since graduating from university, and has extensive experience that includes sales for SMC's domestic distributor in Japan, and product planning and advertising in SMC's overseas divisions.
Sato's overseas marketing experience includes countries like Australia, New-Zealand, Taiwan, Korea, India and Pakistan. Interestingly, he spent five-and-half-years in Pakistan as General Marketing Manager of Suzuki's operations there, the same market which will now be overseen by Yamashita.
"My mission is to double Suzuki Auto's sales in South Africa, the ebullient Sato says. "Yamashita and his team have built a solid foundation, and now it is my task to build on that platform."
Sato believes that introducing new products, and thus expanding the range of Suzuki models currently available in SA, is the key to growing the brand in the country. "We need to extend the model range, and then, to expand the dealer network," he explains.
"We will also need to market both Suzuki's cars, and the brand itself, more emphatically than before, especially since SA motorists tend to favour premium European marques. But, but by offering a wider range of models, and entering new segments, Suzuki Auto will not only attract more buyers, but also become an even stronger brand."