You don’t have to go back much more than a decade, and BMW was fairly cool about the corporate market. Previously a retail-heavy manufacturer of sporty cars, now it is able to offer vehicles in almost every fleet sector, and has become a powerhouse in the business market in the process. Offering badge desirability, driver appeal, efficiency and strong residuals with renowned customer service, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
In fact, it is the force to be reckoned with, according to the fleet industry: BMW added five awards to its ever-growing trophy cabinet at the Fleet World Honours in May, including being named Fleet Manufacturer of the Year.
‘Winning Fleet Manufacturer of the Year is the jewel in the crown, because it takes account of having class-leading product but also the service level,’ says Stephen Chater (Inset Pic 1), head of corporate sales at BMW UK. ‘I take a lot of pride in the quality of people in my team. Having that consistency in the offer and service is what customers really value.’
We caught up with Chater at one of the manufacturer’s corporate events. Held twice a year, these offer 600 attendees, including existing and potential corporate and leasing customers, the chance to find out what’s coming soon and familiarise themselves with the latest products. But Chater says cars are only part of it.
‘Products are the lifeblood but when you talk to businesses it's about what value you can add to their business,’ he explains. ‘Most of them are not petrolheads, so it's important to show the breadth of your offer and what they will get out of it. Plus it allows you an opportunity to interact with them in an informal environment.’
It’s all part of a consultative approach to fleet. Regular communication with customers offers feedback which can develop new products and services, and because the UK is one of BMW’s largest markets for both of its core brands, Munich responds quickly to customer responses.
This has been central to the development of its newest additions. BMW replaced two of its core fleet models, the 1 Series and 3 Series, in the last 12 months, and both are set to grow to include a wider choice of drivetrains, including four-wheel drive for the 3 Series, and additional body styles during the summer. New trim levels mean drivers can choose the options they want, without making it difficult to predict residuals.
Vitally, the low-carbon EfficientDynamics versions of both, which have previously been so key to making BMW a viable option with new fleet customers, will be available close to launch. The 320d EfficientDynamics makes up the majority of BMW’s near 4,000-strong Olympic Games fleet – with around 100 delivered each day to venues – and de-branded cars will eventually be fed through the dealer network as demonstrators before being drip-fed through the remarketing process to avoid flooding the market.
MINI has experienced similar recent fleet success. Countryman is proving a key conquest model for the Volkswagen Golf, and has enabled the brand to compete for business with new customers where smaller MINI vehicles would’ve been unsuitable.
The Olympic Games also presents a canvas for near-future technology. There are 200 electric vehicles on the fleet, and data collected during the Games will be used to inform the development of its i electric sub-brand late next year.
Potential benefits are already being discussed with fleets. ‘There's a lot of misinformation and subjective opinions about electric vehicles,’ Chater explains. ‘People have to think differently for electric vehicle fleets. If 85% of a driver's mileage can be done in an electric car then fill in the rest with another vehicle. We're having that conversation with corporates and leasing customers.’
Chater says: ‘Across BMW and MINI we offer vehicles in all, if not almost all, sectors. From a niche, we can now be on a solus badge policy, but without diluting our offer to drivers. Instead, we're enriching it. We've got a much broader range but people still buy BMW because they say it drives better than other cars.’
New models will be backed up by fresh initiatives, showing support throughout the ownership experience. BMW will launch its aftersales charter and “repatriation” scheme, which offers a direct remarketing channel, before the end of 2012.
But Chater admits much of this year’s work will be about sustaining performance. ‘This year will be challenging,’ he comments. ‘There's the challenge of the 16-year low for the corporate sector, which has affected the renewal cycle, meaning a low level of business or four-year extensions. Next year is likely to be bigger for renewals, but this year is about consistency.’