Interview: Andy Barratt, chairman, Ford of Britain
How does Ford see the fleet sector developing at the moment?
The fleet sector is hugely important to us both on car and commercial. The car sector is highly competitive, even more so than ever before. There’s huge fragmentation – we’re seeing lots and lots of changes in that market – growth of contract hire and growth of personal contract hire for people who are opting out and also growth of salary sacrifice. It is starting to gain some degree of momentum. Lots of traditional fleet customers are looking at salary sacrifice as an added benefit for employees who would not be eligible for a company car.
There are big changes too in acquisition method. Clearly there’s a lot of market testing going on with a lot of fleets bringing in outside consultants and growth of ‘e-auction’ type activity, which is very much commodity based. That means no emphasis on brand, or relationship, or on aftersales support, it’s purely straight down to price.
How is Ford dealing with these changes?
We have traditionally done business not only on having a very wide product range and what we believe are outstanding products, but also on a great relationship. We have a dedicated aftermarket fleet base with people on the road looking after fleet customers. We will do a lot of things in the aftermarket space around delegated warranty with people with their own fleet workshops, around roadside assistance and fleet parts pricing. And we do a lot of investment around keeping vehicles mobile for fleet operators to continue their work. So it cuts across all that and takes it down to a commodity price, which is not the way we traditionally do business. So there’s a lot of change.
How is the Ford product range responding to changes in the market?
Fiesta remains number one; it’s also a very high fleet seller, the number one small car in fleet. Focus continues to perform very well, particularly with traditional fleets. We’re seeing huge demand for Focus ST diesel in the fleet market – very much a user-chooser car of choice, which is really exciting. Mondeo has come at the right time. It’s a fresh face in that family-sized fleet market.
We’re seeing growth of SUVs in fleet as well. The overall market is growing. We have Ecosport, which performs quite well. It has started to make inroads into the public health sector. Kuga is very strong, particularly in the SME segment and through contract hire, then we have Edge coming in the spring.
What about commercial vehicles, traditionally a Ford strength?
It’s the first full year of having full product supply of the new range. We’re seeing a real change in demand. They are all heavily specified. It’s not unusual to have air conditioning or satellite navigation. More and more we’re seeing driver panels involved in the selection of commercial vehicles and a number of fleets doing a longer-term test, maybe up to three months to gather real world fuel economy.