Before the show, we had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Naoki Akimoto who is the Executive Sales Director of Vantech Inc. which is one of the oldest players in the Japanese RV Industry and has played an important role in the past and present development of the Japanese RVing Industry.
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli and Bartek Radzimski
Photo Antonio Mazzucchelli
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you please tell us about Vantech and its history?
Naoki Akimoto: Vantech’s RVs have been taking Japanese customer on outdoor adventures for over 30 years. Our ZIL camping car has been the representative product for our company and we are very proud of this vehicle. Vantech has always maintained a company strategy of building vehicles which behave and are equipped like what you would imagine a camping car should be. In some cases, this may mean that we have lost a customer or two to our less equipped, thus cheaper, competitors; however, for those who choose Vantech, they can be sure that they get a fully equipped and functioning camping car. As far as our company history goes, we have had our up’s and down’s, however, we have always been one of the biggest manufactures in the Japanese market and have brought many innovations into the industry. We were also the first company to set up a manufacturing site abroad almost 20 years ago, our plant is in Thailand.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you tell us about your organization and the production facilities in Japan and Thailand?
Naoki Akimoto: Yes, we basically have 3 main locations in our company. Our headquarters is located near Tokyo, here we have the main offices including sales and design and the warehouse for our Parts Center. With regards to production, we have two factories, one in Thailand and one in Japan located in Yamagata Prefecture. The concept of foreign manufacture was developed by our company first when we realized that labor intensive work like the FRP or the building of furniture would be much cheaper in an LCC. For many years now, our concept has been the following; the development and design of vehicles happens in Tokyo; the Thai factory manufactures the shell and the furniture and after shipping this assembly to Japan, the mating with the base vehicle and final assembly happens in our domestic factory.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How is your dealer structure organized?
Naoki Akimoto: Vantech has dealerships in a number of cities and location around Japan. We have 4 direct dealerships in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Sapporo, plus 7 independent dealers in other key locations. The direct dealerships allow us to not only enjoy better profits on the vehicle sales, but more importantly maintain a contact and receive close feedback from the end customers. We consider this as extremely important for further improvement of our line-up.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Regarding the products, how often do you release new models?
Naoki Akimoto: This varies based on the popularity of the model, but between 3 to 5 years regarding the interior equipment and layouts. Regarding the FRP shell, we don’t update the shape of the shell so often, however, we are currently in the evaluation phase for the next timing. The main reason that we do the 3 to 5 year updates is to keep up with the interior design trends and onboard equipment.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You mentioned that your vehicles are usually well equipped? Can you elaborate on this?
Naoki Akimoto: Of course. As you will see at the show, some end customers who are entering this market are price-conscious and are attracted to vehicles no so equipped in various functions. It has been our experience that sometimes choosing such vehicles may discourage people from using them throughout the year or they upgrade some functions; some upgrade to a different vehicle. Upgrading parts afterwards is expensive and complicated for both end-user and us, plus if customer switches vehicle, we may lose them altogether; therefore, we have stuck to a different strategy. Especially on our ZIL, we have always fully equipped our vehicles. By this I mean that, for example, fridge, toilet, heating, awning, celling fan TV, etc. are standard. In recent years, due to the rising temperatures, we have also made AC with a large battery bank standard on this line-up. It is true that this has made the sticker price seem higher, however, the customers who purchase our vehicles are giving us great feedback which reaffirms our strategy.
Aboutcamp BtoB: We noticed Fiat chassis model in your line-up, can you give us more details about this?
Naoki Akimoto: We introduced to the market recently a Ducato Base vehicle with an AL-KO chassis. The model is called the V670, the 670 represents the length of the vehicle. I believe that we are the first Japanese manufacturer to try this challenge and although it was not an easy project, we are quite proud of the end result. The reaction from the market has also been positive. As you know, the Ducato and of course AL-KO have a great reputation in Europe and we know that they bring great benefits to the end customer, so we decided to challenge this technology.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you tell us which vehicle is your best seller and approximate price ranges?
Naoki Akimoto: The best seller for our company is the Zil 520. This vehicle is designed and laid out as an RV for a family, with a large loft bed above the driver/passenger seats, two bunk beds in the rear and when necessary, the living room sofa can also be converted to a bed. In most cases, the parents would sleep in the loft area, while the kids are sleeping in the back. The large storage space under the lower bunk and easy access from outside and inside is also a point liked by our customers. Lastly, as this car has seating with seatbelts for 7 persons, if the family wants to invite grandparents or vise-versa; the whole family can travel in one vehicle. In terms of pricing; for the Zil Series, the range is from ¥8M (€66K /$71K) to ¥10M. (€82k / $89K) I believe that if you compare this pricing to other manufacturers in the domestic market and include the same equipment, the pricing is competitive.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How about warranty; what kind of warranty are you offering on your vehicles?
Naoki Akimoto: Vantech is quite confident with our products and their reliability, therefore we are offering a 2 year warranty on our vehicles.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What is your long-term view on the market and your company’s strategic goals?
Naoki Akimoto: We believe that the prospects for the domestic market are quite positive and that the overall market will continue to grow in volume. Per our company, we of course intend to grow with the market and keep our position as one of the biggest manufactures in Japan. One of our long term targets is to sell not only in Japan, but also abroad in RV friendly markets. However, to achieve this at our company we still need to improve our production and quality. I would like to say that about 10 years ago we were always trying to keep up with the European developments; however, recently we feel that we are achieving a lot by themselves through our own innovations. We intend to use this innovation as a strength going forward.