Getting to know you
The new car registration figures for the first six months of the year highlighted some interesting trends impacting fleets and their choice of vehicles.
While Ford's trusty Fiesta continues to dominate the registration figures (60,000 sales to date against Vauxhall's second-placed Corsa at 47,000 and the Focus in third at 44,000 units), there's a distinct upmarket move elsewhere in the top 10 list with BMW's 3 Series currently placed seventh and the C-Class at number 10. The Ford Mondeo, the erstwhile family car favourite, is nowhere to be seen in the top 10.
Significantly, growing demand for diesel continues to see these cars creep ahead of petrol this year, despite the improvements made by carmakers in reducing the latter's C02 levels while improving their fuel consumption.
One area not performing strongly is the business market – fleets running less than 25 cars. Registrations in this sector over the course of 2012 have dropped 17.5%. This falling demand would have been noted by car manufacturers some months ago, with many working behind the scenes to prop up this side of their business.
Volkswagen, one of the UK's bigger fleet players, recently moved to shore up its local fleet business by launching a more focused leasing initiative aimed at enabling its dealers to service the specific funding needs of local business customers.
This prompted me to see what smaller brands were doing to retain that important, but often overlooked, local link between dealers and car manufacturers.
I first chatted to Steve Robertson, head of fleet and business sales at SEAT. The brand might share parentage with its Volkswagen stable mate, but its smaller size and lower aspirations has seen it deliver a perfectly good service for some time.
‘For the past three years we've been improving our fleet specialist network; we have 19 dealers with specialist sales people conversant with the business market to improve sales to SMEs,’ he said.
While all SEAT dealers can sell, service and fund fleet vehicles operated by SMEs, the specialist fleet dealerships also go one step further by prospecting. Each dealer's designated local fleet specialist goes out and about in their local area to get to know the local businesses and understand their fleet needs.
‘It's about proactively marketing the dealership to local firms and being active in local chambers of commerce, which is a great networking opportunity. It's all an extension of the old golf club ethos and getting known in the community,’ he said.
The programme works with each designated dealer building close personal links with a growing number of local businesses.
Mazda also offers a tailored service for its SME customers. While four designated fleet centres collectively handle around 50% of its fleet volume, the rest of the 140-strong network is encouraged to build relationships with SMEs, with each one able to provide contract hire and PCP funding to business customers.
‘There are significantly more SMEs than major corporations in the UK and as such they form a very important part of Mazda's fleet mix,’ said Steve Tomlinson, Mazda's head of fleet.
‘Of all the end user relationships we have, approximately 45% run fleets of fewer than 50 vehicles and deliver a significant proportion of our overall fleet mix. Engagement with SMEs is something that Mazda has worked very hard at over the last 24 months,’ he said.
New car sales to small and medium sized businesses might be down nationally but the evidence suggests that manufacturers are pulling out the stops to get to know and better understand SMEs, and that has got to be welcome news for local businesses.