Q&A: Owen Gregory, Ford
Owen Gregory, appointed director of fleet operations at Ford in 2016, on new opportunities and the advantages of turning long-standing relationships into partnerships.
What were your priorities with the new role?
My priority has been listening. I’ve kicked off a full strategic review of fleet operations. It’s been a couple of years since it was last done, and I think it’s helpful to do on a regular basis. It enables you to look back at what the world looked like then, the changes we made, what worked and what did we learn, and to take a fresh-eyes look at how the market is changing and whether we need to rethink some of our approaches.
we’ll soon have a clear view of where we think we’re strong, where we can improve, where some of the market opportunities are and some of the changes that might be challenges for us. Plus, that process is helpful for me in terms of getting up to speed with the key challenges my team are working through at the moment.
What are they telling you?
There is a bit of an ebb and flow in terms of how our larger corporate customers are looking at managing their fleet. So not only is it working with our customers and those providing funding and contract hire, but also fleet management solutions along with our dealers. It’s about how we best bring all those stakeholders together so the customer gets what they need.
When you dig down, those relationships where we’re strongest are where we understand the customer the best and we’ve gone beyond a supplier-customer relationship to a true partnership. We’re able to help them find solutions they might not have thought of, or we might have new product in the pipeline which can help their business, and vice versa. Some of our customers work with our engineers to give real-world feedback on usage and that’s used to refine and develop the vehicles. When we get to that point where it’s a symbiotic relationship, that’s where it’s adding value.
That’s where I’d like to be with all our customers, and that’s what our team is focused on achieving.
On the contract hire side, that’s been the most dynamic over the past few years and I think that’s one area where we’ve got some real opportunities. We’ve got some great relationships with partners in that channel, but one of the things we will be thinking about is whether we are going to market with the right products to really make use of that channel.
Which products do you see helping most?
I think in that contract hire space, where people have much more freedom of choice, ST Line can be very strong, and, for the same reasons, SUVs. It’s that blend of attractive product, desirable in the marketplace, and increasingly with affordable engines. We think SUVs, and Edge, will be a really interesting and additional opportunity than we’ve not had in the past.
Have attitudes changed since ‘dieselgate’?
There are a couple of points we’re getting asked about. One is we’re being asked about how we do business – we are recognised globally with the Ethisphere survey, and we’re the only automotive brand in that. The other is electrification – we are talking to more customers about the Mondeo Hybrid than I think we probably otherwise would.
As a company our intent is to be a leader in electrification – we’ll be investing $4.5bn (£3.6bn) and there are 13 new electrified vehicles that we’re working on so it’s absolutely part of how we see the marketplace developing. Our intention is to be there with the right product at the right time, when several factors come together to drive meaningful levels of customer demand. That’ll be around incentives, infrastructure and the right product at the right price.
Looking across Europe, the only places where we’ve seen volume shift out of conventional powertrains is where there’s attractive government incentive to do so. Full EV in Norway, PHEV in the Netherlands, CNG in Italy – those are examples of where incentives exist. Customers haven’t picked that technology on its own merits, there’s been reasons to do so.
We’re very lucky in the UK in that the government publishes its thoughts on company car tax, which enables us to plan.. We’ll be interested in that discussion from 2020 and beyond as we transition towards an ever-lower CO2 footprint target.
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