Managing Director of GAZ International Leonid Dolgov commented on how the global commercial vehicle market changed during the pandemic and what products Gorky Automobile Plant offered to its overseas partners to combat the virus.
- Mr. Dolgov, at what point did the coronavirus pandemic start having adverse effect on your activities? Since you are engaged in export activities, you probably felt its approach a little earlier than others.
- In early February, me and our Sales Director in Africa and the Middle East were on a business trip to a West African country. Although the worldwide pandemic was already on everyone's lips we were almost the only passengers onboard the plane having the face masks on. At that time, they were only worn by Asians, while Europeans and Africans were looking at them bewildered. One month later the time for joking was over.
The last major international exhibition, which we participated in, was the Middle East Energy Forum in Dubai in early March. There we showcased the latest products of Yaroslavl Motor Plant. Naturally, face masks were on at almost all meetings and negotiations. The Chinese were the most numerous there and I saw that people from other countries tried not to come too close to them unless they had to.
- How has the export situation changed due to the pandemic?
- Every day, I look through the reports on the spread of infection in the countries where we work in. The virus has hit absolutely all markets. We are constantly monitoring information from our distributors. In most countries, pandemic-related restrictions have been in place at least till the end of May, in some countries people are still sitting home. But we must just live through this difficult situation. As early as the end of March, we offered our customers solutions that are particularly suited for times like this.
- What kind of solutions?
- At the beginning of the pandemic, we made an "anti-virus" product offer and sent it out to our partners and customers in 47 countries worldwide. We offered a wide range of vehicles of utmost importance in the given circumstances, incl. ambulances on GAZelle Next chassis with various equipment, GAZelle Business AWD, mobile test labs, disinfection vehicles on medium-duty truck platforms with a Russian superstructure. Furthermore, we offer vehicle chassis and help our local distributors install local superstructures if this is what the end customer needs.
We are looking forward to the anti-virus set of options for buses to be developed by our United Engineering Centre. Nothing like this has ever been done in the world before. We will definitely offer it to our overseas customers.
- Is it possible to export vehicles while the borders are closed?
- The key logistics flows incl. export of vehicles and spare parts are still in place. However, the pre-sales procedure now includes some extra activities such as vehicle disinfection. During our last export to Mongolia, the local police escorted our vehicle carriers to designated isolated unloading stations somewhere in the steppe, where they were unloaded. Afterwards, the police escorted them back to the border, and they left.
- You've got a production site in Turkey. Did you have to shut it down during pandemic?
- We are continually monitoring the situation in Turkey where our employees work. They are Turkish citizens but we treat them the same way as the Russian GAZ employees. At our contract manufacturing plant in Sakarya, the same preventive measures are currently taken as those in place at our parent production site in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. We had to shut down our production in Turkey for two weeks after the number of infections had increased. We arranged for safety measures like regular disinfection of the premises and provided our employees with gloves, masks and sanitizers. Our production plant in Turkey has orders. We have resumed supplies of new assembly kits and parts from Russia.
Currently, we are on the threshold of non-price competition. We intend to increase our share though the Turkish market will definitely sag. Turkey is a very conservative market, where buyers always look back at the opinion of others - their relatives, neighbors, and colleagues. Here you need be patient and determined, and GAZ is consistently earning its good reputation.
"What can this virus teach us?"
- Even if everything develops optimistically at the beginning of the year, it can change suddenly, and you need to be able to recognize the new reality in time. You should partially abandon your old plans, have a flexible strategy and start implementing it under new circumstances.
There is the "Black Swan" theory. Probably, it is going to be supplemented with the "black virus" section - this is when reasonable expectations amid a fairly positive global background are replaced by a catastrophic scenario. GAZ has been through many crises in its history, and its people are able to get mobilized to confront challenges. We know what to do. We have implemented all standard and additional steps at this stage. We continue to work at full throttle to provide our customers in any corner of our planet with the required products.