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Panama 2015 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Irving Gonzalez, GM of Bahia Motors, on its place in the local market, dealing with competition, and improving efficiency.

Irving Gonzalez
BIOGRAPHY
For the past 15 years Irving Gonzalez has been working in the automobile business and currently serves as General Manager for Bahia Motors, S.A. He studied at the University of Science and Technology and specialized in business administration. He has also earned recognition in the Sony University of Singapore in the Making Great Leaders program.

What factors make Honda a strong player in the local market?

The technology behind our cars is the product of extensive research and development. We have a new Pilot model in the works, and the HRV, which is an entry segment vehicle below the CRV. We have not participated in that market in Panama, but are set to do so with a lower-end passenger car. The local market has increased by around 10%, underpinned by rising demand for low-end models. We have observed growth in certain segments, where for example the CRV, a compact SUV, is our best selling model. It won the SUV of the Year award from Motor Trend in the US. In Panama we represent Honda and Accura, which is our higher-end brand. The MDX is selling well, and we also market the Pilot and the Odyssey, which most of our competitors do not carry.

What is your strategy for differentiating your brand from the competition?

The plan is to develop Bahia Motors into a boutique operation. Rather than appealing to the mass market, we plan to go down the premium road. We are investing in new showrooms around the country, where the population is increasing. It is also important to improve our current showrooms, and offer new and appealing products. For example, we are changing the look and feel of our existing showrooms to ensure a memorable buying experience. This will appeal to premium customers. If the customer has a technical problem that requires extensive repair, we provide a replacement vehicle. Our cars have different amenities that are in demand, such as security, suspension, and engine technology. Honda produces private jets, and that technology is incorporated into the design of its engines. There is a lot of technology behind the wheel of a Honda, and the CVR LX is a prime example of this. We offer a premium Honda with better specs than the competitors.

How do you optimize the efficiency of your services?

Our service department is of an excellent standard. We work exclusively with Honda generated parts, and all of our technicians are certified. In order to become a Honda technician you have to be certified by Honda in the US. Prior to that certification, technicians also require online training and take various tests of competence. All of our technicians are certified to the maximum level and we have the gold starred certification from Honda Motors, which is certified in each category they go into. Human capital is always important, because Panama is a small country that in undergoing rapid economic expansion, which is trailed by its ability to provide qualified workers. Many people are migrating to Panama to cover our lack of skilled labor. This means we are always looking for skilled staff in the car industry. The segment is overextended and dealers are perpetually poaching from one another.

Can you elaborate on the company's expansion and consolidation strategy in Panama?

We are set to expand into the provinces, where we are already building new showrooms. We also have an expanding motorcycle segment with 4 wheelers and MUVs. In Panama, the Chorrera district is growing significantly, and today metro lines reach the areas in which we plan to expand.