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New launches see Fiat Group become better corporate fit

Date: 19 January 2015   |   Author:

A pair of new model launches is only the start for Fiat Group's trio of mainstream car brands, as new fleet boss Francis Bleasdale tells Paul Barker.

Fiat, the company's fleet and used car director Francis Bleasdale admits, is a company that has previously been seen in the industry as having an inconsistent approach to the corporate sector, but a couple of business-friendly new models are leading the change towards a more balanced plan.

"It's fair to say that if you speak to people in the industry, the group is seen as one that's in and out - were we truly serious about fleet?" Bleasdale tells BusinessCar. "Now we are unequivocally serious and starting to lay the foundations ahead of a great push this year and in succeeding years."

Bleasdale was appointed to lead Fiat Group's fleet and used vehicle activity across its car brands, primarily Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep, in August 2014, having previously served more than nine years at Nissan, most recently as LCV sales and marketing director for Nissan UK, and as fleet and used car manager for Nissan Europe.

"We're seen at a very basic level as a heavily retail business," he declares, quoting the figure of fleet accounting for 35% of the firm's registrations, against a broadly 50:50 industry average, but says two new models will help bring that to around 48% this year.

The Jeep Renegade and its Fiat 500X sister vehicle enter the flourishing small crossover sector in February and April respectively, with the Renegade offering a 120g/km model and the 500X getting down to a low of 109g/km.

"We need to deliver a top-class launch into the fleet industry, make sure we get the communication message right, [and have] the right product specced correctly at the right time," continues Bleasdale, who also points out that Fiat Group has recently launched a three-day test drive programme to help "try and connect with user-choosers in a more meaningful way", while in 2014 it expanded its demo fleet with more Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Jeep Cherokee models.

The 500X and Renegade will expand the demonstration model numbers further this year, and the corporate team under Bleasdale grew from 16 to 25 people last year ahead of the predicted fleet registration growth of around 12,000 units for the group in 2015.

That growth will come in what he calls a "managed" way. "We're not going to say we will pull out of daily rental and cut back on certain channels. We have a balanced approach to the market and there is a quantity of daily rental designated for us to achieve to help product exposure and [nearly new] cars for retail," he says. "It's about doing that side of the business well."

Motability is another area in which the company is looking for a more consistent approach. "We were in and out of Motability and never took a conscious decision that we would have an ongoing presence in that marketplace," Bleasdale continues. "We're here and ready for business. We're not going to throw the book at certain parts of the industry, we're looking to build and grow in a balanced and sustained way. If we're saying we'll do something then we'll do it; if we're not then we won't."

Residuals and running costs are also under renewed scrutiny as the brand tries to increase its business
car presence.

"Am I ever satisfied with where we are with RVs? Probably not," says Fiat's fleet boss. "With the 500 you have a great product, marketed really well, doing business in a responsible and sustainable way and growing naturally. It proves we can manage such business responsibly and is a template for everything else we do going forward."

The UK operation is also having conversations with its Italian headquarters regarding improvements to SMR cost. Other work on Bleasdale's plate includes a rebranding of the group's used car operation to encompass all three brands, and the potential to increase the number of small fleet specialist dealers from 26 to around 40.

Bleasdale admits that bringing together the three very different brands of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep is not the easiest of tasks. "We have a much more comprehensive and cohesive range than people think," he says. "Yes, there's a challenge, but one we can explain, and from talking to customers we find an enormous level of awareness of these brands and genuine warmth towards them. There's a desire to see Fiat, Alfa and Jeep succeed, and we'll do that by showing we're serious and credible players in the industry."