Various generations of Isuzu bakkies. Picture: QUICKPIC
Various generations of Isuzu bakkies. Picture: QUICKPIC

What do former Springbok rugby captain John Smit, the first test tube baby, the Walkman and the movie Grease have in common? They were all introduced to the world in the same year that the first Isuzu bakkie went into local production in SA.

The year 1978 was significant for the brand on SA’s roads. Whether it’s hauling sheep in the Karoo or zipping between the Gauteng office towers, the Isuzu bakkie has been synonymous with the South African way of life for four decades.

The first Isuzu bakkie carrying the Isuzu badge was built at the Kempston Road plant in Port Elizabeth 40 years ago. Today, with three body styles, the bakkies continue to be contenders in the market, appropriately using the company tag line "With you, for the long run".

The first bakkie was launched at an original selling price of R3,485 for a 1.6l petrol engine version and R4,295 for a 2.0l diesel engine derivative.

Johan Vermeulen, Isuzu Motors SA executive for manufacturing and supply chain, says the bakkie has evolved to remain one of SA’s favourites.

"Over the years Isuzu vehicle assembly experienced many changes. We started production at the Kempston Road plant where we produced five generations and moved to the modern Struandale plant when we started to build the sixth generation.

The latest Isuzu KB is still built in Port Elizabeth under the Isuzu Trucks brand. Picture: QUICKPIC
The latest Isuzu KB is still built in Port Elizabeth under the Isuzu Trucks brand. Picture: QUICKPIC

"With the introduction of modern technology, automation and lean manufacturing processes into automotive manufacturing, we were able to continuously improve efficiencies and the quality of our products.

"Today, six generations later, our modern manufacturing processes and constant upskilling of labour have made Isuzu bakkies one of SA’s favourites," Vermeulen says.

A pioneer in many ways, the Isuzu bakkie was the first in the country to feature rack and pinion steering and independent front suspension. In the 1990s Isuzu was also the first to introduce double cabs into the South African market.

Other than its innovative nature, the Isuzu bakkie has many accolades in its proverbial trophy cabinet, including 15 local endurance records.

In 2010 an Isuzu bakkie set 15 speed and distance records over 72 hours at the Gerotek vehicle testing facility — with a KB300 D-Teq completing 12,243.385km at an average speed of 170.047km/h. A KB250 D-Teq achieved a new class record distance of 11,495.567km.

The sixth-generation Isuzu bakkie, which was launched in 2013, is a continuation of the long Isuzu tradition of building bakkies in the country, with more than 600,000 Isuzu bakkies built locally to date.