Acknowledging the best
Who has the best fleet dealer network? The big boys Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Peugeot must be in the running. Perhaps the German premium triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz? Then there's relative newcomers such as Kia and Hyundai who have made such headway in delivering customer satisfaction to retail customers.
The answer, according to the 2015 Experteye Awards, is SEAT. The annual awards poll the views of company car drivers with the results based on data gathered through Experteye’s forensic Touchpoint driver satisfaction survey, taken immediately after delivery of their new vehicle, or immediately after key events such as vehicle delivery, servicing, tyre or windscreen, vehicle breakdown and accidents, while the service experience is still fresh in their minds.
Experteye is an independent research company whose data is used by car manufacturers and dealers, as well as contract hire and fleet management companies, to measure and manage their service levels and those of their suppliers.
SEAT, clearly punching above its weight, emerged as the winner in this highly coveted category, based on responses from around 40,000 lease vehicle drivers canvassed in 2014. The brand was also the only non-premium marque to receive an award for excellence in fleet customer service. It's clearly doing something right against some tough competition.
To win an Experteye award you need to be at the top of your game. With no judging panel or submission process, the facts speak for themselves. Winning this award is an impressive feat for a relatively small brand with a limited but growing line-up.
So how did SEAT achieve it? The brand and its dealers have been something of a quiet success story over recent years. While sales dipped during the downturn, last year it recorded its sixth record year in a row, with registrations up 18% to 53,512 units. While its sporty aspirations make it a natural for discerning retail buyers, the brand has significantly increased its fleet penetration with year-on-year sales up 11.2%, accounting for just under 45% of total sales. Not bad for a brand that's not on everyone's radar.
Furthermore its line-up is growing. Last year saw the welcome addition of the Leon X-PERIENCE 4X4 estate and next year will see the debut of its first SUV. Indeed, the centrepiece of SEAT's Geneva Motor Show stand was the 20V20 concept model which hinted at the look and feel of a future family of SUVs. Strategically it's an important area for SEAT and its dealers as it will open up a new corporate sector and sees a further shift in emphasis away from the small cars with which it made its name.
"What we're trying to do is move our centre of gravity from small front wheel drive to medium sized SUVs," said SEAT UK director Neil Williamson.
"We have one SUV that is confirmed and that's coming next year, and we hope to have more. The SUV segment in all sizes is conservatively worth a quarter of all sales in the foreseeable future and we have to be in there. These will be incremental sales for us. All that investment in product, as part of the VW Group, is coming."
In the meantime SEAT under Williamson, who knows a thing or two about retailing to fleets as the former UK boss of the Mercedes-Benz Retail Group, is revamping the look and feel of its UK dealer showrooms in a much needed move to modernise facilities as it prepares to further grow its fleet and retail propositions.
"There’s a real sense of momentum with our brand at the moment, which we’ll be looking to capitalise on. We’ve made great strides in fleet and retail over the last couple of years and will cement our position in both in 2015."
SEAT has the dealer network and now an expanding product line-up to raise its game in SMEs and among drivers who want an alternative to the mainstream.