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French Connections: Mark Dickens of Renault

By / 2 years ago / Interview, Large, Medium, Small / No Comments

Behind a raft of successful product launches, Renault’s recent sales growth is just as much a sign of a streamlined process behind the scenes, as head of fleet sales and remarketing, Mark Dickens, tells Alex Grant.

Mark Dickens of Renault

Mark Dickens of Renault

There’s a renewed feeling of confidence at Renault, and with good reason. A few months from completing its all-new model range and with a focus on aftersales that customers are recognising, it’s also started this year with sales up significantly across cars and commercials.

For Mark Dickens it’s been a process of optimisation, of targeting growth sectors and not pushing volumes higher than its retail share in the various components that make up its corporate sales mix. As a sign of the change, the Kadjar, which arrived last year following an extensive and very early pre-launch programme to make it familiar and get it positioned on choice lists, has become its biggest product in fleet.

But not exactly as expected: “We’re seeing 80% conquest [with Kadjar] and, where we set out believing Qashqai was our number one competitor, that hasn’t been the case,” he explains. “That brings challenges; being a conquest brand you have to find that business, have the structure to support it and be able to keep on delivering it. It’s all very well acquiring a fleet but it’s got to be sustainable.”

That’s meant growing the corporate sales team – conquest sales are being helped by three business development managers, matched to three agents at its central hub, all of whom were appointed at the end of last year to seek opportunities with large fleets. Familiarisation has played a huge role too; Kadjar expanded the demo fleet by 70 vehicles, to a total of 300, and they’re still too busy to be retired. The all-new Koleos SUV, another new segment, and the Scenic family will also be well represented as they refresh the line-up in the coming months.

Residuals are hugely important, of course, and one of the areas that’s come under focus recently is improving the process for electric vehicles as used stock comes back to market. Renault is appointing a dedicated used EV team, trained to help sell these vehicles to the right customers and avoid RV-damaging discounting. It’s a new addition to a part of the business which Dickens says has been fascinating and at times unpredictable – particularly related to the continued popularity of leased batteries among fleets, but also with the growth of car clubs.

“We started off trying to sell EVs to people who buy petrol or diesel cars and vans, but our core sector is in car sharing and car clubs,” he explains. “We partner with a number of different companies in that their growth over the last two years is huge.

“In the UK there’s a huge movement towards that and from a fleet perspective around 80% of our ZOE volume goes to [car sharing and car clubs]. When you’re trying to convince people to move from an ICE car to an EV they naturally have a fear of range, it’s a fear of the unknown. With a car sharing club you’re taking away that fear. I can see that growth being huge over the next few years.”

But vans are equally important in the UK, Dickens explains. After a record 2015, Renault recorded a 20.3% year-on-year increase in the first half of 2016 – to 13,435 units – and there’s no sign of that slowing down. Within that, conversions were up 80% in a market up around 30%, he says, and dealers can now use a computer system to configure vehicles based on customer requirements. Something that’s helped with the service being offered.

“To be successful in [conversions] you have to have such a wide product offering that you’re touching lots of different avenues, and some of those we’re bringing in under our own manufacturing agreements. So rather than having a convoluted conversation with customers you’re offering a one-stop solution, which has been behind a lot of growth in the conversion sales.

“The last thing you want is to walk into the dealership with a request for a specific LCV version with a tail lift that carries a number of palettes and the guy in front of you is scratching his head and saying he needs to call someone. At that point the deal is lost.”

It’s a component of a more formalised fleet dealer offering. Renault’s business-focused Pro+ network now spans 79 sites, defined by a set of standards and sharing information via a newly formed Business Club, and the aim is to grow that significantly: “Where we have had the challenge up to now has been to bring everybody up to speed quickly with fleet knowledge and expertise and professionalism in the dealerships,” Dickens says.

“Pro+ today is half the size of where we’re going to. We set out a stall early last year, a three-tier system. They are trained, they’ve got car and van specialists, on fleet, on local businesses and key accounts in a Pro+ business centre, but everyone else was a mishmash. So we were saying if you’ve got a local fleet opportunity of 150 units or more per year, you must have a dedicated local fleet sales executive, and everyone else must have someone nominated,” he says.

“We’re trying to have a level of expertise across the network, because actually where the growth will come from is the non Pro+ dealers. So, as user-chooser fleets have become more diverse, they could be more localised. If you’re a user-chooser then you’re attracted by retail marketing but you want to do business with your local dealer, which isn’t necessarily our fleet specialist centre.”

It’s not only the Pro+ offering that’s growing. Volumes are such that the network as a whole needs to expand to meet demand. Renault has signed up 13 new dealers this year, it added 19 last year, and most of those are taking it into territory where it’s had no representation for some time.

“The key to going forwards is the growth of the dealerships, because the growth in volume is great but you can only put so much of that down the same pipe. Last year we grew the network and this year we have to grow the network to keep building on the success,” he says. “So, when you piece it together there’s lots of bits in the jigsaw that contribute to growth.”

Renault’s reasons to be cheerful…

21.0% Renault car sales increase in H1 2016 (44,570 units) despite run-out of Scenic and Megane.

8% SMR cost reduction for Megane, compared to its predecessor, according to cap-hpi.

Koleos Positioned above Kadjar, the upmarket Koleos will launch in the UK next year.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.