Honda: Back on its fleet?
Honda has totally revamped the way it addresses the needs of its small fleet customers. Curtis Hutchinson, editor of Motor Trader, reports.
Honda had a miserable time during the downturn. Sales were hit hard internationally, R&D was virtually suspended and an ageing product line-up served as a prolonged stop-gap even after the economy picked up.
However, the carmaker is back in contention with the rollout of a succession of desirable new products from the return of the HR-V to the latest generation Jazz and Civic.
As part of Honda’s comeback as a mainstream contender, the company has thoroughly reviewed how it serves the fleet market, a sector in which it would admit it has punched below its weight.
That’s set to change with the recent revamping and rebooting of its Platinum Programme which aims to build closer relationships with small fleet customers and user-chooser through its national dealer network.
Every Honda dealership has the opportunity to join the Platinum Programme and currently around two-thirds of the network is signed up with 104 sites live and a further 25 set to join over the next three months.
Dealers who have joined the scheme are incentivised to provide user-choosers with a targeted number of 48 hour test drives regardless of whether they end up supplying a car. This gives the brand a useful USP which should appeal to user-choosers who will get time to live with the car rather than having a cursory 20 minute test drive whilst pretending they are a retail customer thinking of buying it.
For dealers this means they will be required to invest more in providing extra demonstrators and they will need trained fleet specialists. But, that investment could pay off as they will stand a good chance of looking after these customers for subsequent servicing, repair or warranty work, even if they did not supply the vehicle.
Heading up the programme is Marc Samuel, the recently appointed fleet sales operations manager. This new role was created to help shape Honda’s renewed focus on the corporate business sector.
“The Platinum Programme aims to provide expertise and support to businesses where and when they need it; this approach is at the heart of our overall corporate strategy,” he says. “To make this possible we’re offering a true corporate sales experience from all of our signed-up dealers. We want businesses of all shapes and sizes to be able to visit their local Honda dealership and speak to a fleet expert, face-to-face, about their needs,” he said.
The prime target for the programme is the small business community made up of companies typically running up to 25 vehicles, although it can cope with the demands of larger fleets.
“All organisations, irrelevant of size, are significant to us at Honda, and SMEs are no exception,” Samuel adds. “The programme has been carefully designed to work with a range of organisations and complements our existing account management structures. SMEs have needs and challenges very specific to the size of their business and we want to ensure we understand and appreciate them.
“Many SMEs aren’t in the position to have a dedicated fleet manager, so selection and management of corporate vehicles can be an unnecessary burden. We see it as our job to ease this process, and that’s why all of our Platinum programme dealerships have undergone extensive training to remove any unnecessary complexity.”
Additionally businesses can make use of a virtual account manager with specialist fleet support provided over the phone or through an online meeting when required.
So what can a user-chooser expect from the service when they walk into a showroom?
“A company car driver can walk into any Honda dealership and expect to be met with a fleet expert who can fully support them. Whether this is a question of what vehicle is best for their mileage, taxation or contract terms, they’ll get the answer. Additionally, our 48-hour test drives are perfect for allowing drivers to get a realistic feel for the vehicle in which they are interested.”
Honda confidently believes it has a market-leading offering for local businesses and says it will evolve the programme over time based on its experiences.
“We will continue to review and invest in the programme as we see necessary to ensure our corporate sales offering is market-leading.”
Having rediscovered its new product mojo, Honda could soon find itself punching above its weight in the small fleet sector.