Motor industry undergoing ‘once-in-century transformation’, says Ela Motors CEO


Toyota Tsusho (PNG) Ltd, better known as Ela Motors, is Papua New Guinea’s largest vehicle retailer, with a market share of around fifty percent. Business Advantage PNG sat down with its CEO, Mitsuyoshi Okutsu, to discuss the impact of COVID-19, his new investment plans and how technology is transforming the motor industry.

Artist’s impression of the new Lae Malaita Toyota Dealership. Credit: Ela Motors

BAPNG: Business conditions have been extraordinary in the past year due to COVID-19. How has the crisis affected Ela Motors? What changes have you made to the way you do business?

Mitsuyoshi Okutsu: At the time of the first COVID wave last year, we tried as best we could to follow the government guidelines.

It was also the time to start considering our further digitalised services and strategy. We have redeveloped our website, and promoted SNS [Simple Notification Service] to communicate with customers online; we also have develop software for internal operational procedures. It is a continuous process.

We have also taken measures to prevent transmission of COVID in our staff and customers.

We have set internal guidelines for all staff and have also tried to apply the same to the public. Some of our extensive guidelines include restrictions of movement between head office and a dealership and between dealerships, and restriction of movement across any province borders in our business except for the transportation of goods.

We also have implemented the Ela Motors Sickness Protocol: stay home, call your direct manager or the Ela Motors Hot Line and go to a doctor and follow their instruction when you have flu-like symptoms.

‘The automobile industry is experiencing a once-in-a-century transformation’

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Among other things, we have also added cleaning staff to sanitise our offices, put clear film at all customer counters and doubled the number of our own staff commuter buses to keep social distance even in the buses.

We are on the third wave of COVID-19 in PNG now, and we will continuously do our best possible efforts and try to be a model for the public.

BAPNG: New vehicle sales are often used as a barometer of economic activity in PNG. How are motor vehicle sales currently and what predictions do you have for sales in 2021? How much will depend on the progress of PNG’s next resources projects?

Ela Motors

Ela Motors’ Misuyoshi Okutsu. Credit: Ela Motors

Okutsu: Last year presented a very tough economic situation in PNG with COVID-19 cases, low global demand for mineral resources and no new mineral resources development projects in the country.  However, thanks to strong government initiatives to control COVID-19 and support local communities, the automotive market in 2020 was almost the same level as the previous year.

There is some good progress of the several natural resources development projects. If we have a look at the vehicle demand at the time of the PNG LNG project about 10 years ago, it has grown to more than double from the previous time. I would like to expect such level of impact from the current major mineral resources development projects when they are in EPC and start operations.

It is more important to us, however, to prepare and assess how to offer our services to customers. Our goal is not to realise one-off sales but to have lifetime happy customers, as many as possible.

BAPNG: Ela Motors has an extensive retail and service network in PNG. Are you planning new investment?

Okutsu: We are developing the new facility, Lae Malaita Dealership [in Morobe Province], and it will be open in a few months.

Our dealership in Goroka is also under redevelopment and will launch at the end of this year or beginning of 2022.

The current dealership sites in Lae (Lae Milford Haven Dealership), Port Moresby Head Office & Badili, Mt Hagen, Port Moresby Waigani, Kavieng and Buka are also under study to be redeveloped. I hope we will make our final decision on these projects this year.

We are also studying network expansion, with new dealerships in some towns. We are committed to invest for better services for more customers for the next 50 years in PNG.

BAPNG: What global trends in the motor vehicle industry are likely to drive change in your sector in PNG?

Okutsu: It is said that the automobile industry is experiencing a once-in-a-century transformation, which is exemplified by the acronym ‘CASE’ – Connected, Autonomous/Automated, Shared and Electric.

CASE will significantly change automobile technology and function as well as business foundations of both production, sales and after service. Customers’ expectations are also growing and they expect new technology and services.

‘New technology or services sometimes are popularised in emerging countries much quicker than in developed countries because they are a solution to current issues.’

PNG is important as one of the major emerging countries of the South Pacific, and new technology or services sometimes are popularised in emerging countries much quicker than in developed countries because they are a solution to current issues – it’s a leapfrogging phenomenon. Once it happens, further development of technology and services will be accelerated.

As the authorised importer and dealer of Toyota, Hino and Yamaha, we also need to develop our capacity and capability, and to expand our value chains in order to maximise usage of new technology and services.

BAPNG: How significant is PNG to Toyota’s business? What are the benefits to Toyota of having a presence in this market?

Okutsu: Our Toyota sales in PNG are around 3,000 units a year; it is a small portion of Toyota’s world sales, to be honest.

However, PNG has a large potential with nine million people and bigger motorisation will come in the future.

More importantly, Toyota has been accepted very well by people in PNG for over 50 years, with over 50 per cent of market share.

Toyota products are accepted worldwide very well but, it is has a remarkable market share in PNG.  We should provide the best suitable products and services to PNG people in order to support their lives.

Toyota is very important for Papua New Guineans, which means PNG is very important for Toyota.

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