Interview: Francis Bleasdale, fleet and remarketing director at FCA
It can be hard to keep up with the various comings and goings of the Fiat Group and its various brands, which have been through many iterations and reorganisations over the years. But two years after Fiat and Chrysler finally and formally came together to create FCA Group there’s at last a sense of stability and long term planning that has often been missing previously.
Francis Bleasdale, fleet and remarketing director at FCA, thinks the firm is now well placed to take advantage of this new‐found direction. Initially off the back of the incredibly successful 500, FCA has proved it has a good understanding of what the market wants, with characterful Jeep products in crossover segments, new Fiats in mainstream sectors and to top it off, the latest rejuvenation of Alfa Romeo.
2016 is going to be quite a year, with the Tipo hatchback and gorgeous Giulia representing huge opportunity in the corporate sector, but they are coming from an ever strengthening position in fleet.
Bleasdale explains: “Our revival started to show last year, where we were up 23% in fleet to 39,000 units off the back of new products such as Jeep Renegade and 500X. That’s up 6,400 units in 2015 having been up 2,000 in 2014. The overall fleet share of the business has risen to 47%, from 31% three or four years ago.
“There’s a huge amount of product coming, and I’m really optimistic because we will properly be in corporate segments that we haven’t been in recently. Now we have an offer in B, C and D segments and that’s not something we’ve had before.”
Investment has been made in the team, and whereas previously customers would have seen separate account managers for each of the brands, they now sell across Fiat, Jeep and Alfa Romeo, which in turn makes it easier to put together deals that include cars on all levels of a choice list.
“The structure of the team, the way we go to market, our pan‐European offering and product investment, and ensuring we are growing in all channels shows there is a long term vision in FCA now,” says Bleasdale. “All are strong brands in
their own right, but we can now offer fleets group solutions, and that’s a very strong message to take to market.”
Certainly it has been proved that when it gets its right, people want the cars. Until recently, the Alfa Romeo 155 and 156 were about the only cars that have ever threatened to break the German stranglehold on the premium sector, and the 500 has been a massive hit, surprisingly so with fleets, where its cheap pricing and used market popularity have combined to make it a low running cost proposition.
“We are doing about 40,000 units a year for 500, with 28% fleet, with a significant number of those the sporty Abarth versions, and we are seeing a lot of popularity for it through channels such as salary sacrifice and Motability.”
Following the success of 500 has been the 500X and L variants, and the introduction of the Jeep Renegade, giving FCA an offering in vital crossover sectors. The next couple of cars will be even more vital to its fleet proposition: the Fiat Tipo and Alfa Romeo Giulia.
The Tipo will be seen by fleets in September, driven before Christmas and on sale by the end of January, next year, and will come in hatch and estate guise. It is essential in helping to get the whole group’s model range on choice lists, because a C sector hatch is core to any line‐up.
“It will be positioned as an excellent value for money, practical lower medium car with classic Fiat design, which should be very attractive for user choosers too,” says Bleasdale. “It will be up against Kia and Hyundai and a third of sales will be corporate. It means for Fiat we will have 500, 500X, 500L, Tipo in hatch and Wagon in the fleet market by the end of the year.
And then, of course, is the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Although only seen in 490bhp QV versions so far, speculation suggests there will be low, mid and high power diesel models to match the other premium brands and it seems likely that even the lower spec versions will be stunning if the initial taster is anything to go by.
But of course, looking gorgeous and tugging at heartstrings is the easy bit for any Alfa Romeo, and Bleasdale knows this.
“Alfa Romeo’s brand heritage will only get you so far but I think we know what we need to do – first and foremost the product must be right. We are really excited about Giulia: the premium sector is a real challenge because there are some very good, heavyweight players in there. But with Alfa Romeo 155 and 156 we’ve done it before and achieved a level of success that was led by the strength of the brand and the attractiveness of the product.”
Although the car will not go on sale until later this year, already Bleasdale is working with fleets and influencers to ensure the positioning, pricing and wholelife costs are at the right levels. It gives him and his team the necessary time to convince the market that Alfa is here to stay.
It’s a massive opportunity for the firm because it will be able to offer cheap runabouts, vans, mid market volume, SUVs, crossovers and high end executive cars – and there are very few companies in the fleet sector that have such a broad offering. Perhaps at last, Fiat, Jeep and Alfa Romeo will make the lap into the premier league of fleet brands.