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Dealer closures bringing new fleet pressures, warns FleetCheck

Many businesses re having to travel further for routine servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR) as more franchise dealer operations close.

Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck

So says fleet software specialist FleetCheck as it warns of the impact on fleet downtime and says some fleets are turning to the independents to plug the gap.

Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck, said: “We’re not picking out any particular manufacturer here because it is affecting a number but this is something that appears to be happening without much discussion about how it will change provision of SMR for fleets.

“The business argument for rationalising networks is easy to understand – franchise dealers often operate on very low profit margins and these are only going to come under further pressure as cars and vans visit workshops less, especially with the expected rapid uptake of EVs and more dependence on vehicles that can diagnose their own faults.

“However, the fact remains that utilisation is a fundamental element of fleet management and having a vehicle off the road costs businesses money. The further away the franchise repair centre is, it is likely that it will take longer for servicing or repair to happen.”

This is particularly the case for van fleets, where vehicles are often used all day, every day and getting them back on the road is important.

Golding added there was a definite possibility that the ongoing loss of franchise dealers was already driving more fleets towards independent garages.

“We have no industry-wide data on this but we are certainly aware of several fleets where this is happening. If the franchise dealer network effectively vacates an area, then it opens the door for high-quality independents to take over the business.

“This is, again, much more likely to happen with van fleets than cars but it is certainly the case that for many mainstream cars, having an independent service history rather than franchise is much less of an issue than it once was.

“Additionally, there is a general perception among many of our customers that it is already difficult to book into some franchise dealers. Independents are often simply easier to deal with in that respect, as well as being typically cheaper.”

Further contributing to this is the growing practice for new manufacturers to enter the UK market without conventional franchise dealer networks.

“This is happening especially with EV manufacturers, who either have very small networks or effectively none at all, working with independent partners. It will be really interesting to see whether fleets find this satisfactory over time,” he added.

However, Golding said that it’s “difficult to argue with the advantages of geography” when it comes to dealers.

“Our view is that local provision is likely to remain important to fleets, at least for the foreseeable future,” he finished.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.