International could make its way back to Australia


Despite offering no definitive statements, Navistar signals intent to bring the International brand back to Australia

International could make its way back to Australia
The ProStar is one of International's most popular models.

 

Is the International brand set to return to the Australian market?

This was the question on everybody’s lips during a media pow-wow at Navistar’s Lisle headquarters on the outskirts of Chicago recently.

And while it remains the burning question, and one without a definitive answer, it could also be said that International never really quite left.

Iveco’s love affair with International may have wound up in 2010 but the company still has the licensing rights to the brand until 2017.

And a Cat-branded International product was launched locally just as the last of the Iveco-manufactured Internationals rolled off the Dandenong line.

However, Cat Trucks has made slow, albeit steady, inroads into the Australian market especially outside the yellow engine heartlands of Western Australia and South Australia.

On one hand the speed of local product development has been impressive, with the growing model range showing outstanding drivability under Australian conditions.

But on the other hand is a customer base that remembers being left in the lurch by Caterpillar’s abrupt departure from the truck engine business.

It is something Navistar senior vice president and managing director Tom Clevinger acknowledges, especially when it came to the timing of the launch of the Cat truck business which came hot on the heels of Caterpillar’s withdrawal from the truck engine market.

"When we turned up with a Cat branded truck people said I don’t want anything to do with it, you left the engine business you’re on your own," Clevinger says.

But speaking of International and Australia, Clevinger says: "We do currently sell International product in Australia and New Zealand."

He is referring to the low volume distribution agreements Navistar presently has for off-highway trucks in Australia and some on-highway models in New Zealand.

"But we’re looking at opportunities on both sides," Clevinger says.

On the issue of International returning to Australia as a factory backed entity, Navistar group vice president of product development Denny Mooney is playing it cool.

"In our product planning process we haven’t made any final decision," he says.

"That doesn’t mean that we aren’t considering it or even strongly considering it. Everybody in this room understands the strong history of the International brand in Australia."

Mooney himself is no stranger to Australian shores, having had a stint out here as chairman and managing director of Holden in the mid-noughties.

Navistar executive and board member Eric Tech is also coy about being drawn on the possible return of International to Australia, but has made the stronger statements on Navistar’s intent

"We have to be sensitive to our partner (Caterpillar) and the contractual arrangements we have with them but, we’re proud of our brand and we’re proud of our brand equity in Australia," he says.

"As a part of our planning process going forward we’re going to see how we can leverage off that in your (Australian) market and how we can build on that."

Tech is keen to talk about Navistar’s global inroads in South America and China while praising the Cat truck business down under.

Clearly there are sensitivities to take into account when it comes to talking about the old NC2, the new Navistar Auspac and Navistar’s relationship with Cat.

The Cat brand also sells in North America in off-highway vocational roles so clearly there’s a lot to be mindful of.

In fact NC2, the initial joint venture between Navistar and Caterpillar (now a licencing agreement) has worked well in the US as the Cat CT660 is an off-highway vocational product.

This means existing Cat equipment customers are also buying trucks from their Cat dealer. In Australia much of the Cat dealer network has had to try and learn the on-highway truck business with varying degrees of success.

The return of an on-highway International product will give Australian customers the option of using a Cummins power plant, which given the rapid local uptake of the Cummins ISXe5 in other brands will finally give International a fleet truck for the Australian market.

And that is where the numbers lie. While no definitive statements have been made it is clear the intent to bring the International brand back to life in Australia is there.

Reading between the lines it seems that it’s more a case of "if" rather than "when" International re-emerges in Australia.

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