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Winners and losers

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What do dealers really think of the car brands they represent? Curtis Hutchinson, editor of Motor Trader, reports.

Curtis Hutchinson

Curtis Hutchinson

Twice a year car dealers are asked to reveal exactly what they think about the brands they represent. The answers are revealing as they chart the ebb and flow of carmaker fortunes; quite often the brands you think should be popular amongst their dealer partners are not and those you assume must be doing okay are struggling.

The survey is conducted by the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), the long-established trade body which represents main dealers across the UK. The newly published Summer 2017 Dealer Attitude Survey polled the views of 1,754 retailers representing 29 brands.

The importance of the survey should not be under-estimated. UK carmaker bosses are held accountable for their performance by their European, Japanese and Korean bosses and the results prompt many awkward conference calls as bosses explain their underperformance.

For fleet managers the survey provides a useful snapshot of just how happy their local dealers are with the brands they represent; these are, after all, the businesses that in many cases supply and service their fleet cars and vans.

Dealers are invited to award marks from one to 10 for a wide range of business-related issues from profitability, targets and incentives to day-to-day working relationships with carmakers and their professionalism. The big question is how dealers rate their carmaker partners overall.

It’s a confidential survey so dealers can say what they like. And they do.

This summer’s hero brand, which will vindicate the fleet operators who have bought into it in recent years, was Kia, scoring 9.2 points. The carmaker tends to perform well in these surveys (in the winter survey it took second place) as it has a developed a successful collaborative approach which has rewarded dealers who were early adopters and the many who have joined in recent years.

The result was particularly impressive as the brand knocked Mercedes-Benz (9.0) off the top spot for the first time and also outgunned the third-placed Lexus (8.4); traditionally the two most desirable brands in the survey. Rounding off the top five were Suzuki (8.0), a brand with a winning knack for punching above its weight, and Toyota (7.8).

“I am immensely proud to see this response from our dealers and to take the number one spot in the NFDA survey. We have been close to Mercedes-Benz for some time and to overtake them is a clear statement that our strategy of building a sustainable, profitable partnership with our dealers is the right one,” said Paul Philpott, Kia UK’s president and chief executive.

“Avoiding short-term actions that undermine a dealer’s ability to make a realistic profit and seeking to work together in a way that delivers sustainable growth is clearly the right way forward. I am extremely proud of the relationship we have with our dealers and I know that is shared by every member of the Kia team here in the UK. We shall do all in our power to build on this and justify our dealers’ confidence.”

To put Kia’s win into context some of the more established fleet brands struggled. Market-leader Ford mustered 6.1 points, making it just the 11th most popular brand, while BMW mustered only 5.8 points, taking a mid-ranking 14th position.

However, there were some big names scoring under the 5.6-point average. These included Volkswagen (5.3), Peugeot (5.0), Hyundai (5.0), Jaguar (4.7) and Vauxhall (4.2). The least valued franchises were Jeep (2.9), Citroën (2.8) and Nissan (2.6).

While Jeep is coming from a low base as a result of under investment, lack of desirable new products and underwhelming marketing support, Citroën is clearly still reeling from the brand’s controversial decision to hive off its upmarket and desirable DS brand from June 2018 to selected outlets rather than the whole network.

But what of Nissan? On paper you would think the brand is doing well. Overall sales were up 7.1% in the year to August buoyed by a well-received new generation Micra. It also dominates the two key crossover sectors with the Juke and Qashqai both doing solid business in the fleet sector, while the LEAF is by far and away the biggest selling electric vehicle in the UK.

Yet Nissan dealers are clearly unhappy; voting the brand down across most of the survey’s comprehensive list of questions. Perhaps the most revealing result is the response to the question: How satisfied are you that the management of your manufacturer actually takes dealers’ views and opinions into account? It scored just 2.3 points, one of the lowest marks in the whole survey. Now that’s an uncomfortable position for any manufacturer to be in.

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Curtis Hutchinson

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