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VW CVs: Focus on fleet

Date: 06 March 2012

VW Commercial Vehicles is looking to the large corporate market for growth in 2012. Fleet boss Alastair Hemmings talks Paul Barker through the German giant's plans.

The UK operation of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is looking to larger fleets for growth this year, increasing the volume it places with existing business, and building sales of the Crafter large panel van it revised in the second half of last year.

In the past 12 months VW CV has expanded the fleet team from three area fleet managers to five, and added a second corporate account manager to deal with smaller fleets of 20-350 units as well as a second person to handle the contract hire sector.

"We've spent a lot of time putting facilities in place with the top corporate customers to build relationships with the decision makers," VW Commercial Vehicles' national fleet manager Alastair Hemmings tells BusinessCar. "We've also encouraged area fleet managers to build up relationships with the contract hire sales person in their area."

The firm's business centre back-up has also been enhanced, mirroring the set-up with the passenger car side of the company, and can provide customers with basic information and brochures, and book demonstration vehicles.

"Five dedicated account execs will look after area teams and prospecting, and ensure the customer has the right information", comments Hemmings, who feels the brand has more to do to highlight its commercial vehicle range. "The anecdotal feedback is that people don't know we do vans - I feel like we're pushing against an open door,"

he says. "The centre went live in September 2011 with a full complement of staff, so we've been prospecting and cleansing our data since then. We've got a level of expertise in the centre too. It's not just a case of picking up the phone - they are commercial vehicle people."

But increasing sales with the existing client base is a priority for lifting volume, according to Hemmings. "I want to look after the customers we have got - there are some big names in there," he declares, pointing to the likes of Carillion, which has a 5000-vehicle fleet but only five VW units. "How do we build a relationship? I don't want to go around collecting badges - I want to look after the customers we've got. We're trying to bring a real structure and process to sales," he says.

"Last year we restructured the team, took on more resource and now we've got our shirt sleeves rolled up to do the job and put it into action," says Hemmings. "Some of the wins we are about to announce will send repercussions across the organisation - real high-profile wins just by applying a bit of structure and process from a team that is very experienced and passionate about CVs."

By 2015 VW is looking to increase market share from 12.2% to around 14%. "It's not at all costs though, we have to be profitable and think about customers and RVs. If the market has a wobble, as long as we have a 14% share we'll be happy," he says. "It would be easy to stack high and sell cheap, but three years down the line you'd have customers not happy with the product as it would not be fit for purpose."

The Crafter, VW's biggest van and revised last year to improve both the looks and efficiency, is targeted as a specific area of growth. "We're scraping the surface of the market and it will be a real crown for us in the fleet market. This year we have real ambition," comments Hemmings, who says the company has also looked at which sectors would most suit an assault. "There are a lot of areas of the market and we need a clear strategy to see which we go for first. We've looked at various industry sectors and can see four or five that the Crafter will lend itself to."

Hemmings has pledged to make sure the dealers have suitable demo vehicles, and is also expecting some return from the extended Try and Buy programme the firm launched last year, offering extended test drives to larger fleet customers. There are currently 42 vehicles out with clients, and the target is to add another 30 during 2012.

The firm's sales teams will also be under pressure to increase Crafter sales. "The Crafter is the opportunity. Sales teams can sell the Caddy until the cows come home, but the Crafter is my goal," he says. "If you look at running costs there are genuine savings to be had by a fleet that runs the Crafter. The range as a whole is an undiscovered gem."

The number of van specialist centres is also set to rise. "We have 71 dedicated van centres. Each one has dedicated sales and service technicians not bolted onto passenger cars, and circa 100 authorised repairers," explains Hemmings. "We've got ambitions to get to 125 by 2015 as we want to make sure we have adequate representation across the country for our customers.

"The foundations are in place. We've always had fabulous product - it's about communicating that and now we've got to get out and say, 'what can VW Commercial Vehicles do for your business?'" says Hemmings. "This year will be tough. People will be more considered in their purchases and we have the tools to help convince them why to make that purchase.

"It's not just about selling more vans, it's ensuring the customer experience is right," concludes Hemmings. "We all talk about it but don't necessary understand. One of my personal ambitions for this year is to drill into customer satisfaction.

"At the end of the day it's people - they can be your biggest strength or your biggest weakness. We will be investing more in people - without them and the dealer network we have fabulous product but not the experience."