By the numbers
IPC's production line officially began in June 26, 1996. Today, they assemble knock-down units of the Crosswind, D-Max, IPV, and N-Series and F-Series trucks with its own body shop, paint shop, assembly line, and test area. The only things they don't manufacture are the mechanical subcomponents and engines, which are shipped from Isuzu's other factories around the globe. It has a capacity of producing 12,000 units a year (or one new Isuzu every 14 minutes) and employs 498 employees. And since 2011, IPC's assembly plant has been granted ISO certification 14011: 2004, which means that whatever waste that comes out from their facility won't kill you (or any living creature for that matter).
Life on the factory floor
Plans to let us work in the assembly line quickly vanished when Isuzu thought of the possible consequences our unskilled hands would cause. Words such as ‘product recalls’ and ‘quality problems’ came to mind. *ahem* But to make us at least 'feel' what its like to be one of their proud workers, they dressed us up in their official uniform, complete with safety shoes. And because Isuzu is indeed a Japanese company, the tour began with a rather bewildering Radio Taiso Exercise for us journalists.
On the factory floor, bare metal was turned into a road-ready workhorse right before our eyes. It was quite impressive to see how they fit all the components into an empty shell, turning it into something we recognize as an automobile. We were also astonished whenever they hoisted a complete Crosswind cabin 3 meters in the air to mate it with a chassis. Basically, we saw each nut and bolt lovingly joined together to give life to a brand new Isuzu. Except for the paint booth, they let us stick our heads inside every stage of the assembly process. And the best part is that we were given the chance to get behind the wheel of one of their newly-built trucks for a quick test drive around the plant.
Everything inside Isuzu's factory is pretty much standardized and optimized down to the last second. There's even a digital scorecard that lets the workers know if the production line is on target for the day's quota. On a side note, I'd like to point out that their assembly line workforce is comprised of both skilled men and women working side-by-side.
Beyond being world-class
Quite honestly, there was nothing out of the ordinary in Isuzu's plant. It's so organized, in fact, that the entire build process would be boring unless you're a gearhead like us. And to be frank, I really don't think IPC invited us to just to observe how they build world-class pickups and trucks, but instead, to immerse ourselves in the life of one of their workers and discover the importance of this factory to provide jobs and a livelihood.
You see, around 70% of the trucks sold in the country are second-hand units from Japan. And when compared to the 300,000 units Isuzu's Thailand plant produces annually, the 12,000 yearly capacity of IPC seems so insignificant, especially on an economic scale. Combine those factors with the fact that the Philippine government is hardly giving any incentives for these local manufacturers and it's easy to see why assembling vehicles locally is not a very good business proposition. So why does Isuzu stick it out and keep their plant in the South running?
Of course, their first answer would be “to build world-class trucks, which are reliable, durable, and of high quality” - qualities needed for business fleets. Not only do they offer superior performance and safety as compared to used, imported units, but also comes with a 3-year warranty. As a testament, Isuzu's N-Series truck holds 69.4% of the market share. However, beyond that reasoning lies a more important advocacy.
Through their assembly plant in Biñan, Laguna alone, IPC creates jobs for 498 Filipino workers and a livelihood for their families. If you do the math, there could easily be 1,500 individuals who are relying on Isuzu's employees alone. The numbers could even triple or quadruple if you consider the businesses of their suppliers and the industries that interact with them. Think of the impact on the lives of these people if Isuzu would one day decide to take the easy route by closing down their facility and just import all their vehicles Completely Built Up (CBU) from Thailand.
Running a sustainable business
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not patronizing Isuzu, neither am I telling you to buy one today, but spending an entire day in Isuzu's plant dressed as one of their assembly line workers got me thinking. There are other car brands within Isuzu’s vicinity that manufacture units locally such as Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota - most of which are considering downsizing their operations in favor of importing CBU units. Though Isuzu is privileged with the same option for the same financial advantages, they chose to keep manufacturing their units locally. After all, they're not here just to build world-class trucks and make money; they're here to build lives.