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Motor Games - The Schemes and Passions of the Men and Women of the Motor Industry

Motor Games - The Schemes and Passions of the Men and Women of the Motor Industry

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Motor Games - The Schemes and Passions of the Men and Women of the Motor Industry

383 pagine
5 ore
Dec 13, 2018


He was a rising star, credited with the success of a major coup in the market, but there was a deeply hidden flaw – a shameful family secret – and when it surfaced his achievements crumbled, dissolving his fragile self-worth.

* * * * *

The context of this novel is the fiercely competitive South African light commercial vehicle market and the brilliant challenge being mounted by the usurper, Ford’s Ranger, on the decade-long dominance of the leader, the Toyota Hilux.
It is also a human drama: a story of comradeship, love and sexual attraction; of the wielding of power and corporate gamesmanship, and of the tensions in the market between rivals brands, the media, and the manufacturer and his dealers.
Dec 13, 2018

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Motor Games - The Schemes and Passions of the Men and Women of the Motor Industry - Peter Cleary


Chapter 1

David Shiloh’s secretary came into his office.

Robin has the NAAMSA figures and his first analysis, David. He asks if he can come and discuss them with you.

Did we make the record?

He didn’t say.

Ask him to come up, Joyce.

When she left the office, closing the door behind her, he stood up from behind his desk and came around it to stand at the large picture window. There was not much of a view: acres of cars standing under shade cloth, and beyond, the dusty verges of Simon Vermooten Street, a dual carriage road without distinction.

David was not seeing the view; he was anticipating the possibility of good news. Standing at the window was his habitual position when he was anticipating a visitor. He preferred to meet people coming into his office at his conference table, not behind his desk.

The view inside the office was at variance with the stark industrial landscape outside.  As much as Ford Motor Company favoured utility over fashion in their facilities, the office of the Vice-President Marketing and Service of their South African affiliate was impressive in size and appointments.

In a way the good news he was hoping for would be the culmination of two years of focused work: the boardroom fights for the funds for the product changes and increased manufacturing capacity, persuading and cajoling the bigger of the right-hand drive markets, cementing a worldwide positioning strategy.

And it had started right there in his office.


The many presentations were finished and the research and advertising practitioners had left the office. Those remaining were David and his new Marketing Planning man, Robin Anderson, fresh from a stint in product planning at Ford of Europe’s design centre in Dunton, Essex. Also present were two of Robin’s managers: Paul Stewart, the Market Research Manager, a man with an IQ off the charts but zero human skills, and Janey du Plessis, an unconventional thinker in charge of the company’s advertising efforts.

The key question is what are the Hilux’s weaknesses? David asked. Where can we find the counter strategy?

In their strengths, answered Robin.

How so?

They’re the ‘old faithful’, David, reliable but predictable. The rational choice. You cannot touch them there. Hilux dominates the Afrikaans and rural markets and is strong nearly everywhere else, but look at the demographic and geographic segments in which they are less successful: private purchases in the urban centres, particularly Joburg and Durban, and in the black market which is showing the fastest growth in double cabs for personal transport.

And look at the psychographics, said Paul.

What’s that telling you? asked David.

That those more marginal markets that Robin spoke about are more interested in style and power. They’re ready for a credible alternative, one that identifies them as more modern and with-it. If the new Ranger ticks those boxes and the positioning is right, we could challenge for leadership.

Let’s not go there yet. Put up the clinic pics again, Paul.

They watched without speaking as the various views of the vehicle were displayed on the screen. They were studio pictures, taken with a white virtual background and used for some of the internet research they had conducted. There had also been clinics with the Ranger and competitor vehicles where the target customers could see and touch.

Remind us, Paul. What did the clinic respondents say about style?

Strong positives for size – presence if you want to call it that – also clean design and the instrument panel. Almost all of the interior, really. They did not like the grille and front end design.

Agree with them. If we’re to be bold that needs to change. What else?

Purchase intention is high, 30% over the current model. Engine choices are deficient. They want more power.

So what does the product need to meet the needs of this group you say wants a credible alternative?

New front end, bigger wheels, more powerful engine.

Have we got the time for that?

Yes, sir. With imported engines. Releases for the new parts have not started, but you’ve only got a month or two to make changes. The increased capacity in manufacturing is the longest lead time.

What about Nissan and Isuzu?

We don’t see them moving far from their current shares. Nissan’s one-tonner versions are affected by the draw down to the Dacia bakkie, the NP 200. Isuzu have some strengths in certain geographical areas where customers still remember that Isuzu were the first to introduce four-by-four drive systems and diesel engines. They could probably be more dominant, but I think the tie-up with GM holds them back.

So, Paul, you think we can match Hilux volumes? That could mean up to 3 000 units, and perhaps double that for export.  We could be talking nearly 10 000 units a month. If we punt this and we’re right, we will make a name for ourselves, guys, or we’ll be looking for new jobs! Are you all on board?

Robin answered for them.

We think this new Ranger has the magic to do it, David.

Then you’d better get me a plan of action. A strategy paper for approval at next week’s Exec meeting. Try to get the Manufacturing, Product Development and Finance guys on board before the meeting, Robin. We could be in for a fight that’s worth winning.


There was a tap on the door and Joyce’s face appeared.

Robin is here, David.

You don’t need to announce my guys, Joyce. Remember?

Yes, David. Sorry.

He liked Joyce Dlamini. She was highly efficient and good with aggrieved clients. But she was over-protective.

Robin came in with a big grin on his lean face. David felt the excitement well up inside him.

So we made it?

Yup, 126 units more than them over the quarter.

It had been touch and go. Ranger sales were trailing after February and they had put in a strong sales push with their dealers. Then they found out Toyota was doing the same, a level playing field out there, except for the additional 60 or so dealers that Toyota had. Both companies realised the great PR value of taking leadership, or keeping it, in the case of Toyota.

Well done to you and your team, Robin!

And your leadership, David. There are few who would have seen the opportunity and gone for it.

Ja, well, onward soldiers. How is April panning out?

We’re under pressure for stock. The export markets are taking off and demanding more.

How much can we do?

We’re building 700 more units, and with the fewer work days the union has agreed to work additional overtime.

Any problems?

I don’t think so. We had to delay Everest pre-production to accommodate the increased pickup mix. And of course Finance is not too pleased. Everest when it comes will be a more profitable unit, and the overtime increases unit labour costs.

"That’s their job. They get kind of flustered when planning has to stand on its head.

Back to this great achievement, Robin. Have we lined up the PR guys?

Yes. I’ve given them the numbers. They’ll need a quote from you. And I’ve got the agency coming in later today with a proposed ad. We’ve had them thinking about it for a while.

Good, and we can celebrate at the weekend. Good timing, to have our budget planning at a game lodge the weekend after the victory. I’ll have Joyce think up something special for the spouses when they fly in on Saturday.


When Robin had left the office, David went back to his desk and sat there staring down the length of the opulent space that was his. He thought about his wife, Anna. They had now lived apart for a year and a half. He had no desire to change the arrangement, but recognised that he would be lonely that weekend. He would be the odd one out with the partners of his managers present. In time maybe one of his daughters could play that role when society demanded it.

Chapter 2

David enjoyed the drive down into Mpumalanga. It was always a thrill to leave the featureless grasslands of the highveld and descend towards the first valleys and mountains of the lowveld.

It was Thursday afternoon and he was taking the route through Dullstroom, Lydenburg and the Abel Erasmus tunnel to the Thornybush Game Lodge on the borders of the Kruger National Park. With him in the car was his secretary, Joyce Dlamini. Joyce was a 36-year-old married woman with a commerce degree from Wits University.

The six other members of his senior management team were in a Tourneo bus behind him. They could all have travelled in two cars, four apiece, but he preferred to never show favour for any one of the managers who reported directly to him.

The rest of his team comprised Robin Anderson who was the youngest at 32; Sid Meyerton, who was the Parts Manager, the oldest at 52; Bill Churchill, 47, the National Sales Manager; Phil Scheepers, 43, Service Manager; Junior Ndlovu, 37, Dealer Planning Manager; and Susan Wintermeyer, 33, the Administration Manager.

They were all South Africans, a strongly held belief of David’s. Although the buyers of their cars and trucks were the ultimate customers, David believed he could only meet their needs if he had satisfied dealers, dealt with by people who understood their culture.

David drove his second car, the 5-litre V8 Mustang Fastback. It was a chance to give it a run on the open road, and they were only two up. There would be some difficulties with ground clearance on the gravel roads closer to the lodge, but that was a small enough sacrifice to hear that throaty V8 roar for just under four hours, and to have such vast reserves of power.

It was one of his few indulgences.

The purpose of the trip to Thornybush was to confirm the bi-annual operating budget and to set the high-end goals for the division for the second half of the year, and flowing from those goals the targets, both operational and personal, for each of the managers.

David was giving them that night off to celebrate the Ranger success, but they would begin Friday with a one-hour work session before breakfast and then morning, afternoon and evening sessions. If needs be they would work late into Friday night. Saturday morning was to go over it all with clear heads, so there would be limited partying on Friday night. Their spouses would fly in to the Thornybush airstrip in the company’s King Air before lunch and a programme had been arranged for a game drive and a meal in the boma.

Sunday morning was the commitment session. Each manager would go over his objectives and the spouses would be encouraged to participate. This was the real reason for the expense of the lodge conference: the buy-in before their partners. There were other reasons why a bush conference worked well, including the unlocking of ideas which happened in a natural environment.


They were in the main Thornybush lodge, situated on the banks of a bushveld river, mostly a dry sand river course but with pools of water in April at the end of the rainy season. The main building had a restaurant, lounges and a bar set high above the river and that was where they congregated that evening after settling into the cottages which were spread along the outside bend of the river.

David treasured the opportunities to socialise with his management team. His was an inclusive management style which ensured transparency within the group. Nevertheless there were divisions in his team, as few as they were, differences in style and values, a logical outcome of any group in the diverse South African human context, and he saw it when he walked into the bar that evening.

Joyce was with Junior and Susan, drawn together because of youth, and race with two of them he had to admit, although he tried hard to minimise that influence, but also because their functions were of a staff nature. The other grouping was the older operational guys:  Bill, Sid and Phil, the main partners of the dealers – Sales, Parts and Service. Robin was the loner, standing at the railing on the deck adjoining the bar, looking down into the riverbed.

David had to disguise his affection for his youngest and brightest member. If he had a choice it would be Robin he would talk to that night, and their subject of choice would be the business, but he deliberately denied himself that pleasure to make himself available to all.

He walked over to the nearest group.

Everything okay in the conference room, Joyce?

Yes, David. We have one of the breakaway rooms, very pleasant and just the right size, and not too crowded once we are all together on Sunday.

Have you seen it, Susan?

Yes, and they have all the equipment we need. I’ve loaded the budget presentation. You do want to start with that, don’t you?

Yes. I’ll put up an agenda in the morning.

When are we starting? asked Susan.

Six-thirty, an hour session before breakfast. To get all our ducks in a row.

What are you drinking, David? asked Junior Ndlovu.

Well, it’s a celebration.  Shouldn’t we be drinking some decent champagne?

I’ll organise it.

And bring it on to the deck. I’d like to talk to all of you.

He walked to the second group.

The old buggers, all together.

That got a laugh and he was pleased to hear that it was a happy, spontaneous laugh, not forced in front of the boss.

I bet you guys were here first?

Bill answered. The ladies had to smarten up, David, Junior too.

It was a joke that Junior was a natty dresser, something he took in his stride, positive about his contribution to the team. After Robin he was the most innovative thinker.

They’re bringing some champagne, guys. Not your best, I know, but bear with us. It’s a celebration. We’ll join the lone ranger out there on the deck when it comes. Sorry, that sounds like a pun.

They laughed again, all good buddies. Everyone knew Robin had made the greatest contribution to the success of the Ranger.

He joined Robin, standing next to him, his elbows on the railing.

See any game?

A couple of waterbuck and a jackal sneaking around. And a while ago I heard a male lion calling, far away.

I love that sound. The sound of the bush. The lion and the fish eagle and the fiery-necked nightjar. Have you noticed how often those sounds are inserted into movies of Africa?

No, I can’t say I have.

The others joined them, Junior with two waiters bearing trays with champagne already poured into glasses.

David was offered one.

Keep the bottles nearby, Junior, we’ll need more of this good stuff.

They gathered around him.

"All of us started a journey together around two years ago, guys. Robin had just arrived from Britain and the rest of us were already a team, with the exception of Susan who joined us only last year.

"Back then we started a plan to turn the bakkie market on its head. We had the audacity to think we could sell more bakkies than Toyota, and it needed big plans, and a great vehicle.

You all had your role to play. It started with the product selection and positioning and that was Robin’s doing. Then we had to get the dealers to understand and believe the potential and their need to jack up their staff and procedures and that was your job, Junior. There was an issue with the gearbox. More an image problem really, our warranty stats showed us that. That was your job, Phil: workshop training and a quick solution process if any gearbox problems arose. And you, Bill. That sales incentive programme last month won the day for us and I know how hard your field guys worked.

He looked around, noticed the expectant looks on their faces.

You think I’m leaving you out, Sid?

I know you too well for that, David.

Well, you’re right, at least this time.

That got another laugh. Sid Meyerton always got things right, the ultimate professional in his field.

David continued:

The Ranger had to be the style leader and that meant fashioned accessories. Your guys did a great job there, Sid, and it was a masterstroke to hire that European design team for things like the wheels and the special value programmes.

He looked around again, savouring the opportunity to thank them all.

And you two ladies.

Always last, David, said Joyce.

"But not the least, as they say. The two of you were the oil to the mixture. You’ve done well to sharpen up reporting and follow-up, Susan, since you joined the team, and it’s a pleasure not to have to worry about that, nor the Finance guys dropping bombs on me in the Exec meetings. And you, Joyce, you are the communication hub for the team. I know they all bounce things off you before they come to see me. I sometimes think you are the one who is bossing this crowd.

So, let’s drink this toast:  to the team which knocked the Toyota Hilux off its pedestal. To us and the Ford Ranger.

Chapter 3

David and the game ranger they had assigned to him were 15 minutes out from the lodge on foot when they heard the aircraft, and then they saw it, banking above the trees to the south of them and then heading towards them to do a pass over the lodge.

James, the chief pilot was obviously in the left chair. The other pilot, Brian, was more practical and businesslike, and would not do a fly-by for his passengers.

David knew them well. He made good use of the aircraft for dealer visits and for the media. They had six passengers on board that day, one less than they had expected. 

Joyce had informed him that morning that her husband was ill and would not be able to make the trip. David knew it was an excuse. Joyce and her husband had a rocky marriage. It was not the first time he had made an excuse to not attend a company function. It was a source of embarrassment for her, but there was nothing David could do to help her with her problem.

The planning sessions the previous day had been excellent and had yielded some clear and challenging goals, of both an operational and personal nature. The three older, and perhaps wiser managers, had been less daring in their personal goals, the fires of ambition burning lower for them, at least for Phil Scheepers and Sid Meyerton, a bit more so for Bill Churchill who was a fiercely dogged man.

As a result of the progress the previous day the wrap-up session that Saturday morning had been routine, and over by eleven. It was then that David decided he would rather go for a bush walk, then join the others for lunch with their spouses, and had asked Joyce to arrange it. There had been a surfeit of food and drink and he needed some fresh air and exercise and would rather forgo another meal. He would join the combined party for the game drive at four that afternoon.

He thought about the characters at the back of the King Air, the five wives and one husband.

Sid Meyerton’s wife, Janice, was a delight. She was the perfect foil to her dry husband and told hilarious stories of their early courtship. She would liven the dinner table that night. Phil’s wife, Marie, was at the other end of the recreational scale, a quiet and respectful woman whom you needed to engage with one on one to get to the core of her decency and strong Christian faith, a subject that made David uneasy.

Then there was another entertainer, Bill’s second wife, Xandra, precocious and opinionated. Not everyone’s favourite, but David liked her. Bill would spend the night trying to quieten her, without success.

That brought him to the younger managers. Junior’s wife, Sheena, was a serious woman, perhaps befitting her job as a lawyer. You had to draw her out but it was always rewarding. David had never met Susan’s husband; he knew his name, Charles, and his occupation, analytical chemist, but no more. He would try to get alongside him that afternoon and evening.

The final person to consider he had deliberately left to last because she intrigued him in an uncomfortable way. He had only met Bree Anderson once, at the dealer launch of the Ranger the previous year.

They had been introduced but not had time to get to know each other as Robin was hosting a different table of dealers and their wives. Although she sat 15 metres from him she was directly opposite him one table away, and he felt her eyes on him. It was an eerie feeling, not unpleasant, having the eyes of a beautiful woman on you, but disconcerting and somehow, a little illicit, as if he had transgressed some forbidden rule or norm.

He had no understanding of why he felt that way, why the word illicit had come to him. Perhaps he would understand it better when he met her again.


Mr Shiloh.

The game ranger’s whisper brought him out of his reverie.

David found himself whispering in return.

What is it?


David felt the spike of anxiety and hardly trusted himself to speak.


Around eleven o’clock to our front. Maybe forty metres away. Just keep still.

As hard as he looked he could not see the animal.

Do you know this lion?

Yes, there are two young males. They hunt together. I’ve never seen them here before.

Where’s the other one?

That’s the problem. Look, Mr Shiloh, just follow whatever I do, and if he charges you must stand still. Whatever you do don’t run. Let me handle it. Can you do that?

I’ll try, Jason.

Okay.  We’re going to back up slowly, the way we came. Watch our periphery for the other male. We don’t want to back into his space.

There was a low deep grunt to their left, close.

Stand dead still!

The ranger, Jason, had his rifle to his shoulder pointing to where they had heard the grunt.

He’s going to come at us. Don’t move.

The second lion burst from a bush frighteningly close to them, coming fast and silent.

Jason stood his ground, tracking the animal with his rifle, David behind him.

The lion stopped suddenly, 10 metres from them, growled with fearsome volume and then crouched, right there, so close.

And then there was a stand-off, both lion and men motionless. They were breathtaking moments and then the lion rose back to its full height and slowly backed away from them.

When it’s gone a few metres back we are going to do the same. Don’t turn your back on him.

It seemed forever that they were in that open space, moving with infinite care and then the danger seemed to drain from the scene.

We’re okay now. You did well, Mr Shiloh.

Davie felt the relief.

Not half as well as you. Thank you. I don’t have any experience in these matters but I feel you handled that perfectly. I’m not sure I would have got out of there with someone else. I’m grateful, Jason.

Part of my job, sir.  And look, I know our walk is supposed to last until three, but we have to change direction. Those guys can be unpredictable. With your consent I’d rather go back towards the lodge directly. It means we’ll get back half an hour early, approaching from this side of the river directly to the cottages. Is that okay with you?

David laughed with the irony of the request.

I think I’ve had enough excitement for the rest of this year. Maybe the next decade.


They came down into the riverbed a few hundred metres downstream of the lodge and walked on the soft sand between the meandering ponds, the evidence of animals everywhere in footprints and droppings.

When they came in sight of the first cottages, Jason stopped.

I’m going to leave you here, Mr Shiloh. I need to prepare for the game drive at four, so I’m going up the bank here and then around to the lodge garages. Just carry on along the river and you’ll see where you can climb up to your own cabin.

David thanked him again, his relief and gratitude making him less formal than his normal composed stance with relative strangers.

His way down the riverbed would take him past four cottages before he came to the one he had been assigned. The designs were all the same: a verandah in front of the lounge, then the bedroom and then the open-air shower, sheltered from the sight of the neighbouring cottages but open to the river.

When he passed the last cottage before his own he heard the noise of running water and looking up he saw the figure of a naked woman showering. In the very brief time he was looking at her his mind recorded the beauty of the slim figure and the promise of her breasts and hips, and then her eyes found his and he turned his head to look away, but not before he realised she had made no attempt to cover herself.

David did not turn up to his cottage but continued on to the lodge and climbed up to the main viewing platform and then through into the bar.

He needed a drink, downed two glasses of water from the jug on the bar and then ordered a whisky and soda in a long glass and went to sit on the covered verandah. Fortunately none of his party was there. He felt he needed time on his own to absorb all that had happened to him.

In less than an hour I’ve faced death and I’ve seen life.

The observation mocked him. Death, yes, but what did he mean about life? But he knew. The cycle of life – birth, copulation and death, an old professor had told him. It wasn’t a mystery. A beautiful woman, naked and he without a partner. But an illicit observation, forbidden fruit, the woman of one of his people, someone he

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