Brand head shares prospects of new models

INSIGHT | Princess Ndlhovu leads new chapter for VW's commercial vehicles business

Brenwin Naidu Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
Ndlhovu brings decades of experience to the role.
Ndlhovu brings decades of experience to the role.
Image: Supplied

While Volkswagen Group Africa (VWGA) is a top-three player in the local passenger car space, it is sometimes easy to forget about the clout of its commercial vehicles arm.

The unit comprises products such as the Amarok pick-up, Caddy multi-purpose vehicle, iconic Transporter family and the load-hauling Crafter range.

This portfolio could also grow to include a light commercial vehicle, possibly a compact single-cab with a payload under a ton, plugging the gap left by models such as the Nissan NP200 and Chevrolet Utility. Also on the cards is the prospect of the all-electric ID.Buzz line-up, which has already undergone extensive testing for local conditions.

Previously, VWGA used to cater to the medium, heavy and extra-heavy commercial vehicles market, but these product lines were handed over to MAN, which is a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group.

We met with the head of VWGA commercial vehicles at the Sandton offices of the manufacturer this week. Princess Ndlhovu brings with her decades of motor industry experience, having previously held key posts at Mercedes-Benz, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Great Wall Motors. She has a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree in accounting. 

Although she echoed the market difficulties facing all automakers at present – declining new vehicle sales, increasing fuel prices and stubborn interest rates – the industry executive expressed a sense of positivity.

Volkswagen wants to expand reach of workhorse Amarok variants in commercial segment.
Volkswagen wants to expand reach of workhorse Amarok variants in commercial segment.
Image: Supplied

One of the triumphs touted by Ndlhovu since taking the helm, was achieving a stronger split towards sales of the workhorse variants of the Amarok range.

According to Ndlhovu, while the high-end versions of the model were historical favourites – particularly the 3.0 V6 TDI – there remained room for growth where the 2.0-litre, single-turbocharged-diesel derivatives were concerned.

“Instead of previous perceptions as an exclusive lifestyle product, the business sector is starting to see the workhorse potential of our product, balancing the previous split of 80% high-end and 20% entry-level sales,” she said.

Ndlhovu was also especially proud of the Amarok taking honours in the Double Cab category of the 2024 South African Car of the Year competition. The accolade follows the overall victory of the Ford Ranger in the 2023 installment of the event, which made history as the first pick-up to do so. In case you forgot, the two products share ingredients and are produced alongside each other in Silverton, Tshwane.

Quizzed further about the notion of a compact single-cab, Ndlhovu said the company was well aware of demands for such an offering.

“We are not sleeping on this one,” Ndlhovu said emphatically, adding that when the company provides a solution, it will be a well-tested one – rather than a vehicle rushed to market.

The brand head referenced the Brazillian Saveiro, whose successor will be named Udara. There is no confirmation yet on whether either of these nameplates will be used in Mzansi.

“We are investigating and engaging about the project on a daily basis, not just for South Africa but sub-Saharan Africa, as the gap will not remain open for long,” Ndlhovu said, providing an assurance that the product is going to be worth waiting for.

“We are not doing that with our eyes closed – we have a solution while we evaluate our business case to bring it in and manufacture it locally – our Caddy Cargo is the same payload, if not more, in terms of what the Nissan NP200 used to give.”

Tarok concept previews Saveiro successor.
Tarok concept previews Saveiro successor.
Image: Supplied

Ndlhovu started her motor industry career in 2003, having worked at an energy company for eight years prior. After seeing a small classifieds advertisement, specifying an unnamed German car company, she applied.

“Believe it or not, I started my journey as a number-cruncher, the divisional head I was managing funds for suggested I would be better placed in a sales and marketing environment and told me if I did not like it after six months – I could go back to my numbers."

She remained at Mercedes-Benz until 2015, took a break from the motor industry and took a role at consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, before returning to the sector with a position at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (now Stellantis).

After three years there, she was head-hunted by GWM, with the mission to lend her expertise in setting up the then-new Haval brand, helping develop the retail end from four dealers to over 100.

“Leaving the brand established, I came to start something new – it feels like a full circle moment returning to a German firm, with a familiar culture, all my learnings from different brands and roles will guide in shaping the direction of Volkswagen commercial vehicles.”

Ndlhovu is impassioned by delivering high levels of customer service, deriving joy in particular from repeat business – evidencing the strength of trust in the brand and overall satisfaction with what is offered.

“I hope to touch more lives, shape more fleet operations and get the best solution for our clients.”

ID.Buzz trials were held in partnership with DHL.
ID.Buzz trials were held in partnership with DHL.
Image: Supplied

Asked about challenges and setbacks on her journey in the sector, Ndlhovu said that conquering self-doubt proved crucial.

“The biggest barrier is the barrier you set by yourself, those are the giants in everyone’s life, we tend to scare ourselves, listening to the noise around us.

“Early in my years, one of the guys who taught me, said ‘Princess, the industry will reject you because they expect a white male who speaks Afrikaans’.

“So I learned the language quickly – I thought if I can’t be a white male let me at least perfect the language! Maybe I’ll be well received! But to my surprise, when I got there I was embraced for the person I was.”

In parting, she told us that her biggest lesson was that it does not matter where you come from, but where you are going.

“You can achieve absolutely anything, God will provide what you are lacking.”

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