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Complex relationships

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The NFDA’s newly published Dealer Attitude Survey sheds light on the relationship between car manufacturers and their dealers. Motor Trader editor Curtis Hutchinson reports.

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Curtis Hutchinson

Twice a year we get to hear exactly what dealers think of the brands they represent. The National Franchised Dealers Association polls the views of main dealers from across the UK to see who’s happy with the brands they represent and who’s not. The ramifications for customers, especially businesses running cars, is significant – after all this is where they will have their vehicles serviced and repaired even if they sourced them from a fleet management company. As a fleet manager it’s handy to know what sort of relationship your local dealers have with their carmaker partners.

The Winter 2017 Dealer Attitude Survey has just been published and its findings have already been built into the metrics by which the car brands judge themselves in the UK and how they are judged by their European, Asian of US parents. It’s a big deal as no car brand can expect to achieve its unit sales and customer retention targets if it does not have its retailers on side.

The results are based on the responses from 1,704 dealers, out of a total universe of around 4,700, and feature 29 brands. Dealers are invited to rate their brands out of 10 across a myriad of questions ranging from their profitability potential and sales targets to the pressure they are under to self-register cars and, more broadly, their day to day relationships. It makes for compelling reading as there is nowhere to hide. However, the question every car brand goes straight to is: How would you rate your manufacturer overall?

There were no surprises at the top of the rankings where the top five remained unchanged since the summer survey six months ago. Mercedes-Benz topped the leader board with an almost faultless rating of 9.6, followed by Kia (9.3), Lexus (9.0), Suzuki (8.6) and BMW (8.2).
All five brands experienced increased year-on-year sales in 2016 and in the case of Kia and Suzuki are benefitting from expanded model line-ups enabling dealers to conquest new customers.

Rounding out the top 10 were sixth placed Mazda (8.0) followed by Peugeot (7.7), MINI (7.5), Ford (7.2) and Subaru (7.1). The average score across all brands was 6.1.

Mazda in particular was delighted with its position with UK managing director Jeremy Thomson, saying: “We have worked hard to build mutually-beneficial relationships with our dealer network, so it is gratifying to see that our efforts are appreciated in the NFDA survey. We will continue to listen to our dealers and, building on this positive feedback, will redouble our efforts to be an easy to do business with manufacturer.”

Meanwhile at the other end of the rankings were bottom placed Citroën retaining the position it held last summer and scoring just 3.8 points, alongside Mitsubishi (3.9), Volkswagen (3.9), Nissan (4.0), Alfa Romeo (4.5) and Fiat (4.5).

Citroën’s woes are easily explained. The brand announced a couple of years ago that it would hive off its DS badge into a standalone premium marque and last year told its 182-strong dealer network that only half of them would be selling it from June 2018. Those chosen to represent DS were selected according to size, location and customer demographics, with accredited dealers either operating standalone DS Stores or designated DS Salons within Citroën showrooms.

This has caused some ill-feeling in the network. Many dealers are irritated that they have been excluded from an incremental business opportunity which could have boosted their bottom lines; premium brands attract premium margins and can be very lucrative for retailers.

Talking about the network split Bek Hassan, Citroën and DS UK managing director said: “We are going through a transition. We have to acknowledge that. It’s really important for us to work with our dealer partners as they are the backbone of what we do. Our dealers are critical to our success, they always have been and always will be.”

Volkswagen’s troubles are well documented with dealers clearly still aggrieved by the diesel emissions scandal. It’s easy to see why as they found themselves in the firing line when it came to disgruntled customers, especially fleets, complaining about how they had been misled and then had to go through the inconvenience of recalls to correct the dodgy software programmed to register lower emissions when tested.

For Nissan it was a case of a brand growing at a rapid rate, notably on the back of the phenomenally successful Qashqai and Juke models, and not necessarily having sufficient aftersales capacity in its network to process the volume of cars coming in for service and repair jobs, especially from fleet customers.

One thing’s for certain, brands across the survey will make sure they have measures in place in time for the next Dealer Attitude Survey in the summer.

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