Building the Hardbody for Africa – an interview with Eric Chauke
Eric Chauke builds NP300s. The pickup is key to Nissan’s success in Africa. As it has been throughout the 35-year-old Nissan veteran’s entire 16-year career.
Eric Chauke started at Nissan’s Rosslyn plant outside of Pretoria, South Africa, in 2003, as an operator on the chassis line fitting engines and fuel tanks on the Japanese manufacturer’s legendary light commercial vehicles, today he is the senior supervisor over a team of 200 people who man the 74 station production line which produces a Nissan Hardbody – or the smaller NP200 – every 2 ½ minutes.
He’s proud of the vehicle.
“The shape has changed over the last 16 years, the capacity of the engine too. It’s what I like, very strong and very reliable; you very rarely see them standing on the side of the road, in fact I still see 2003 models running on the road.”
Nissan Africa’s head of sales and operations, Jim Dando agrees: “the D22 (Nissan’s internal code for the Hardbody) has been around in continually evolving and upgraded generations for 25 years now.
“When a new model is introduced there are often a number of early life concerns, for some manufacturers these are addressed quite quickly on, in others they linger. In the case of a product like the Hardbody, Nissan nailed those concerns a long time ago, leaving you with a truly hard, tough and reliable vehicle that just keeps on ticking over. You talk to guys in Africa who have to travel on some of the toughest roads on the planet and they’ll tell you it just keeps on going.”
The Hardbody is the mainstay of the Japanese manufacturer’s ongoing African success story, constituting 60% of all sales, with most of the vehicles being produced in Rosslyn designed for the left-hand drive markets of Angola, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
“I’m excited when I’m driving down the road and I see a Hardbody and know that I or my team might have built that one. I’m proud too that we’re building them for export to 47 markets in Africa, but I wish we could export them worldwide,” says Eric Chauke.
The dad of two drives a Nissan Livina, but his next vehicle will be a Hardbody.
“I wanted to buy one last year but my wife and I weren’t on the same page,” he laughs. “She wanted a family car. When it’s my turn to choose I’m getting a single cab diesel because then we will have the best of both worlds, a family car for my wife and my two daughters and a bakkie for me!”
Born and bred in Pretoria, in Garankuwa just outside to be precise, Chauke’s passion has seen him rise from an operator to where he is today.
“When I started it was difficult, but I was determined to succeed, to use every opportunity that came my way. I wanted to both grow in the company and help Nissan grow, achieving its aims in South Africa and Africa.”
Identified as a key candidate for development, Chauke became a relief operator on the line and from there was sent for team leader training, coming back to work on the multi body line where he helped build the Almera, the Tiida and Fiat vehicles.
There he learnt to work with different people from different background and cultures.
“I learnt a lot from that experience,” he says. So much so, in fact, that he was appointed supervisor and then when the line was closed last January, he was made senior supervisor on the Hardbody/ NP200 line.
Now the new challenge is the world acclaimed Nissan Navara, codenamed the H60A by Nissan.
“It’s going to be exciting to build it here in Africa for Africans by Africans,” he says about the legendary LCV that is scheduled to start rolling off the lines from November next year.
“It’s going to create jobs and help us grow the market. We are all excited.”