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The start point for the best source of fleet information

FAST-FITS: Franchise or independent? (continued)

Date: 28 April 2009

With increasing numbers of fleets extending contracts, more maintenance is required to keep cars on the road, but which type of servicing operation should you turn to? Tom Webster investigates

However, Peter Eldridge, operations boss at Inchcape, which counts both leasing and dealer groups among its business, doesn't feel the case is so clear-cut.

He suggests the most compelling argument in favour of returning to your dealer is "if you're looking at post-warranty goodwill", and argues there's a benefit to maintaining relationships built up over the period that the car spent being looked after by its original suppliers.

Smaller fleets and companies that source their cars directly from the dealer would profit most from this. By maintaining a personal relationship with a local company, fleets could find themselves more likely to get preferential treatment in terms of lease rates and service costs.

Eldridge also points out that there is an alternative to simply choosing between goodwill and price, and that is to pick both.

For example, it can often be as economical to go with a dealer should they have a scheme along the lines of Ford's Fleet National Pricing programme. This allows fleet operators to see the recommended maximum price for any maintenance or repair job, or service, for either cars or commercial vehicles.

The programme, which has similar equivalents at other brands such as Peugeot and Volkswagen, is designed for fleets of 25 or more vehicles and can accommodate vehicles older than three years. Benefits include having confidence that charges will be fair and being backed up by the manufacturer's national network.

"It is very dependent on the product," says Eldridge, who warns that with some low volume brands "you are in the hands of the dealer not the manufacturer", meaning you could receive a totally different service, and therefore price, from two neighbouring dealers.

The right mix

Eldridge advises that fleet managers pick a combination of franchised dealers and independents for their servicing requirements, saying: "The better mix is to have all of the options available to you."

Smaller fleets could benefit from weighting their choice in favour of the potentially more expensive option of going back to the dealer. It may mean paying a premium for a service, but showing loyalty could bring discounts, as well as other advantages such as quicker turn-around times for less time off-road.

Larger fleets looking to trim expenditure and less concerned about quality of service will be best served by the independents. However, with more and more business heading their way, a potential increase in off-road time waiting for repairs could prove to be the only major negative point.