In Summary

  • In Kenya, the most iconic representative of the Isuzu brand is the 7-tonne truck (HDR) first introduced 40 years ago, that in miles and tonnes has probably done more than any other vehicle to carry the materials that have literally built modern Kenya.
  • Many are still active in the haulage industry today.
  • If you’ve got one with more than 1 million kilometres on the clock (and maybe even more dents in the bodywork!) let me know! 

Isuzu’s bid to buy out General Motors in Kenya is a significant moment in our motoring history – and a refreshing change! In an era when so many brands have been subsumed by conglomerates, and the difference between marques is often just a change of badge, it’s good to see a manufacturer asserting its independent identity and taking full control of its design and distribution destiny.

Isuzu is certainly big enough and global enough to do that. Founded exactly 100 years ago to build the British Wolseley car for the Far East, and renamed (after a river) in 1953 to manufacture the Rootes Group Hillman Minx and Bedford trucks, Isuzu have over the years also collaborated with Fuji (Subaru), Mitsubishi and Nissan. General Motors bought a 34 per cent share in 1971, bringing the Opel and Chev heritage to the mix in forms we know as the Isuzu Gemini (a Chevette/Kadett clone) and Isuzu Aska (Opel Ascona, one of Kenya’s first locally assembled saloons which we called the Isuzu Uhuru).

Then came the 4WD Trooper, now evolved as the Logan.   Kenyans with longer beards will also remember the bright orange Chev Luv one-tonne pick-up, one of the earliest models in our then fledgling local vehicle assembly industry (AVA, Leyland Kenya now KVM, Fiat Kenya now defunct, and GM Kenya now GMEA. It is that GMEA operation and its distributor network that Isuzu has now bid to buy and GM has agreed to sell, pending Kenya Law protocols and paperwork). While Isuzu has a diverse stable of models, there’s no doubt its reputation is built on commercial vehicles, with such prowess that other countries now build Isuzu vehicles and put their own badges on them! Some other makes also discreetly fit Isuzu engines. 

Carry materials

In Kenya, the most iconic representative of the Isuzu brand is the 7-tonne truck (HDR) first introduced 40 years ago, that in miles and tonnes has probably done more than any other vehicle to carry the materials that have literally built modern Kenya. Many are still active in the haulage industry today. If you’ve got one with more than 1 million kilometres on the clock (and maybe even more dents in the bodywork!) let me know! That model’s successors, and larger and smaller variants, are the leading truck/bus brand in this market, and dominate Kenya’s significant export sales in the Eastern Africa region. Pick-ups – through KB, TFR and now D-Max evolutions – have also played a big part in transforming Isuzu’s status in Kenya from that “other” Japanese marque to a ubiquitous brand name, and there’s now an SUV derivative called the Mu-X which could make Isuzu a contender in the passenger car market again.   The sale of GMEA is not a downturn for Kenya (GM have also just sold their European operations for Opel and Vauxhall to Peugeot Citroen); it is an indicator of Isuzu’s vote of confidence in Kenya as an investment centre, and the growth potential of the regional market.   One tinge of regret: that we have not pursued an economic policy that could have made our own vehicle assembly industry a “manufacturing” hub to drive and supply the potential they call “Africa Rising”. After all, local assembly is exactly how Isuzu got started in once agri-based Japan.

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