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SEAT’s bold approach

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SEAT’s days as a fleet outsider may be changing as a result of a new dealer initiative. Curtis Hutchinson, editor of Motor Trader, reports.

COMMENT_Curtis Hutchinson_Nov16

“SEAT’s days as a fleet outsider may be changing as a result of a new dealer initiative.”

User-choosers can be forgiven for wanting to be different. Not everyone wants to be driving around in a mainstream company car for three years even though it might be generously specified, economic to run and practical. For many drivers their company car is a highly personal choice which appeals to their emotions and, importantly, differentiates them from the crowd.

That’s why brands such as Mazda, Infiniti and DS appeal to a growing band of user-choosers who don’t necessary want to commit to a mainstream supermini, family hatchback or crossover. For them the car’s appeal is the absence of a more ubiquitous badge.

Judging by moves afoot at its Milton Keynes base, we can now add SEAT to that list. Volkswagen Group’s Spanish marque has struggled to assert itself over the years, trailing behind its Skoda stablemate which carved out a useful niche in affordability and practicality through a series of distinctive models.

SEAT’s sales traditionally trail behind Skoda in the UK but now, with its broadest ever line-up, which finally includes a compact crossover and the promise of more SUVs to follow, things are changing. The Auto Emocion and Enjoyneering tag-lines were dropped, while ‘Technology to Enjoy’ better fits a brand which sees itself as a leader in delivering greater levels of connectivity through increased smartphone integration.

Awareness of SEAT in the fleet and retail markets have grown over recent years. Where previously it offered quirky and cheaper alternatives to the Volkswagen range, it now has a more recognised appeal based on stylish design, sporting character and high levels of standard kit.

Sales have certainly picked up with 2017 already shaping up to be a record year for the brand.

During the 17 plate-change in March registrations leapt 29% to 11,200 units; the biggest global market for new SEATs for the month. This unprecedented performance saw Q1 sales jump 25.3% making SEAT the fastest growing car brand in the UK outside of the premium sector.

Since the turn of the year there’s been a noticeable renewal of SEAT’s focus on the company car sector with the brand promoting its wares through its national dealer network with dealers actively encouraged to engage more with local businesses.

In March, buoyed by four consecutive years of fleet growth, the brand launched its Fleet Excellence programme, aimed at ramping up the level of service it offered fleet customers through its dealers. The idea was to make business sales a more attractive proposition for dealers otherwise focused on retail sales. A critical element of this was engagement with user-choosers.

Dealers who have joined the Fleet Excellence programme are funded with an additional £12,000 per year to support the costs typically associated with fleet management, administration and systems support.

To be eligible for the programme, dealerships have to sell more than 100 units a year to fleets of 40 or more vehicles. At least two people in each showroom need to be trained in SEAT’s direct invoicing system to leasing companies and fleet customers in a move to offer a more streamlined and transparent customer service.

Dealers on the programme also have to meet certain standards to ensure fleet customers are receiving an agreed level of service; including accurate vehicle forecasting, transaction accuracy and high scores for the company car handover experience.

Peter McDonald, head of fleet and business sales, commented: “Fleet customers rightfully expect a good handover and service, but by supporting dealers with the necessary incentives and infrastructure, we can improve that level of service even more.

“The Fleet Excellence programme is built to make fleet sales more viable for our dealer network, and will encourage dealerships to make it a more significant part of their business going forward.

Alongside this initiative SEAT launched an ambitious extended test drive scheme out whereby cars are available for user-choosers and fleet managers for up to four days as opposed to the more typical 20 minutes.

Bookings can be made through SEAT’s website with cars delivered to, and collected from, a driver’s home or place of work. The scheme was initially piloted with just the new Ateca SUV, however demand was so high it was quickly extended to cover the full range.

“Test drives are one of the most important stages in choosing a new car, particularly for fleets. Business customers need to be certain they’re making the right decision, and we’re happy to give them the time to make sure individual needs are met,” said McDonald.

“Once they’re behind the wheel of one of our products, we’re confident they’ll be hooked.”

Judging by the response to the test drive programme and the way SEAT has increased its fleet penetration this year, he might have a point.

Curtis Hutchinson

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