Site seeing: Fleet manufacturer websites compared
02 November 2020
Author: Jack Carfrae
Business Car's assessment of the top fleet manufacturers' websites is back for 2020. Jack Carfrae delves into the digital detail of the 10 biggest-selling business brands.
Websites and fruit and veg are rather alike: they grow in abundance and are at their best when brand new; leave them for a while and they tend to go a bit manky, and before you know it, they make way for a fresh replacement.
Ditch the produce analogy and that is more or less what our web analysis is all about. Over the years, Business Car has meticulously scoured the biggest-selling car manufacturers' sites to deliver our highly respected verdict on which OEMs best cater to fleets online - and it is always those that tweak, update and refine their sites with business customers in mind that impress us the most.
Vauxhall has often dominated in our past web assessments, having previously paid close attention to our editorial team's scrutiny and honed its pages for fleet operators and company car drivers. It has still fared extraordinarily well this year, as only one percentage point separates it from first-placed Toyota.
In fact, there is no more than 10% between first and sixth place, which proves that more than half of fleet's biggest UK manufacturers have really given their websites some thought, creating something more than just a digital shop front with genuine use to vehicle operators. Conversely, there is a 14% chasm between sixth and seventh place, and a clustered trio respectively separated by no more than 3% at the bottom, so some of fleets biggest brands clearly have work to do. Two of those - Ford and Hyundai - told us that updates to their fleet pages were imminent, the former in quarter four of this year and the latter expected at the start of November.
Customer service forms a big part of our assessment - we contact the manufacturers via their remote, public-facing channels to find out what fleets can expect if they do the same. It's worth noting that the three highest-placed brands each fare poorly in at least one area, while those that rank lower outshine them. It goes to show that no manufacturer, no matter how established, can rest on its laurels when it comes to serving fleets and businesses.
What we assessed
Our analysis was conducted during late September and early October and covers the fleet and business sections of the 10 biggest-selling manufacturers' websites according to 2019 full-year SMMT fleet registrations. We examine 10 different areas and score each site from one (lowest) to 10 (highest) to create a percentage total. We reward useful content and features geared specifically towards fleets and company car drivers and, where we interact with the companies, we give precedence to those that respond quickly, supply accurate responses and are friendly and polite. We also contact each manufacturer's press department and ask about recent or forthcoming updates to the sites.
Ease of use: Websites have evolved to the point where no site is truly bad at this. However, the faster and simpler it is to find fundamental information, the better. We use the price of a car as a starting point, followed by key fleet figures such as CO2 and BIK.
Design: The most subjective area of our assessment is also the one that dictates whether or not users engage or click away. Fresh and smart pages always trump those that are staid or old hat.
Configurator: An important tool for fleet operators and company car drivers, so it should be easy to find, use and packed with information. It should also work properly.
Brochure download: They might sound old-fashioned but digital brochures often give you everything you need to know about a car in one place. The best are easy to find, informative and, crucially, not kept under lock and key in exchange for your email address and/or phone number.
Email response: We sent an email to the general enquiries address or contact form on each site and asked whether or not a popular fleet model is fitted with a DAB radio as standard. Fast, precise replies score highly.
Telephone enquiry: We asked the same question but over the phone. Once again, we rate manufacturers on the speed and usefulness of their answers.
Dealer finder: Often labelled 'centre locator', it is another vital feature for those in need of service, parts or repairs, so it should be easy to find. The best include filters to refine the search by speciality - which are even better if they address fleets.
Social media presence: Every vehicle manufacturer has its social media channels; far fewer use them to say anything about fleet. We like the ones that do and those that interact with users.
Mobile site: Mobile devices are said to account for the lion's share of web browsing, so savvy companies ensure their pages rearrange to a compact, mobile-friendly format.
Extras: The web's infinite nature affords endless possibilities for additions. We rate the vehicle manufacturers that use the space to provide fleets with genuinely useful tools and features.
Ease of use: 7/10
An extremely intuitive layout - the blocks respond when you move your cursor over them - and a click or two brings up key facts about the range.
Audi's tiled format is easily the snazziest of them all. The squares themselves darken and zoom in as your cursor hovers over them.
Easily accessed by the drop-down menu, and the design and operation are both simple and clear. Would be better if the images were a bit more interactive.
Brochure download: 1/10
Audi lacks downloadable brochures on its website but says all the information is available via the configurator.
Email response: 6/10
Just a minute later than BMW with a concise and accurate answer.
Phone help: 8/10
The initial automated message was a bit leggy but the operator was extremely polite and, after putting us briefly on hold to check, gave us a precise answer and offered further help.
Dealer finder: 2/10
Well tucked away - you have to find it via the owners' area tab. Tells you if dealers do new/used/aftersales but that's about it.
Social media: 6/10
No mention of fleet, and rivals post more regularly, but it is popular and responsive. YouTube tech and EV guides are useful.
Mobile site: 10/10
This site was clearly designed as mobile first, desktop second. The block format converts beautifully, as do fleet tools such as the whole-life cost calculator.
The in-stock contract hire vehicles section is particularly useful for those who need wheels quickly. Also has a whole-life cost calculator.
Ease of use: 4/10
Fleet area is well divided by four tabs: company car drivers, fleet managers, smaller businesses and specialist sales. Not the most glaringly obvious for new car data but not difficult either.
Very plain and very white, but worse is that the fleet page duplicates itself halfway down. Guides, brochures, public sector, rental and contacts are all there twice.
A little clunky in places - interior view seemed to muddle things a bit - but otherwise suitably interactive and straightforward.
Brochure download: 6/10
Easy to find via a link at the bottom of the page, smart, and includes all the relevant info. You have to punch in details to get to it, though.
Email response: 4/10
Responded within 24 hours but failed to properly answer the question. Said "most vehicles" had DAB radio as a "standard option" but would not confirm without a VIN number.
Phone help: 4/10
Quick response but the agent struggled with the question and the answer was speculative, not really confirmed and a bit garbled.
Dealer finder: 3/10
A cinch to find via the link at the top of the page. You get a link to the showroom site, route planner and service booking facility - but it doesn't actually tell you which dealer is the closest, though (most list them by distance).
Social media: 2/10
No fleet content to speak of and posts are predominantly promotional. YouTube channel aggregates third-party reviews.
Mobile site: 3/10
Rearranges the top menus into compact drop-downs. Otherwise more or less replicates the desktop site.
Very relevant: eight fleet manager guides and a series of explainer articles for fleet car drivers.
Ease of use: 6/10
Price and spec lists are three clicks from the fleet page and, although the site does not look new, the spacious format makes it easy to navigate.
Ford told us the site is due an update in Q4 - and it needs it. Knocking on a bit and not particularly inspiring.
Simple, clear display, but the images froze when we changed the paint colour. Could benefit from more information in places, too.
Brochure download: 7/10
Flash they are not, but the downloadable price lists give you the fundamental information in a refreshingly simple format.
Email response: 8/10
The fourth reply we received, within a day, with a clear, polite response and a link to the price list.
Phone help: 1/10
An automated service tells you to call a dealer - Ford is closing lots of them - or call a premium-rate number for model information.
Dealer finder: 3/10
One of Ford's strong suits. Glaring link on any page, opening hours by department (sales/service/parts), list of dealer services and some have reviews.
Social media: 9/10
Facebook page is generic international content but UK Twitter feed has posts geared to businesses and working vehicles. YouTube has a commercial vehicle section and handy how-to videos.
Mobile site: 1/10
Converts to a stacked format well enough but otherwise mimics the desktop version.
Showing its age here. A whole-life costs calculator and a plug for Ford's telematics service, but not much else.
Ease of use: 3/10
Basic information is obvious but more detailed pricing and specification information requires a fair bit of scrolling.
The outgoing site just looks old. Not particularly intuitive and the chicken graphic at the top of the page has been there for years. A redesign is imminent.
Far from the flashiest configurator - static images only - but it was the easiest and fastest of all with very clear pricing information.
Brochure download: 3/10
Really obvious link from the fleet page but brochures themselves are promo-heavy and lack pricing info.
Email response: 3/10
The answer was correct but we had to wait five days for it.
Phone help: 9/10
Professional agent answered quickly, put us on hold for a couple of minutes while she checked, and came back with a definitive answer.
Dealer finder: 9/10
There's a simple one-stop dealer finder from the home/fleet pages, then a more detailed function a click away. You can search by sales, service, Motability, approved used and business centres.
Social media: 1/10
We had a hard time finding posts relating to anything other than the Mercury Prize - which Hyundai sponsors.
Mobile site: 2/10
This actually looks much fresher than the desktop site but it loses some functionality in the transition.
Another one that feels long in the tooth. There's a whole-life costs calculator and business offers section, but that is about your lot.
Ease of use: 8/10
All of the fundamental information about the range - P11D, BIK, basic contract hire value - is a click away from the main fleet page. Tremendously no-fuss.
Clean, simple, no-frills. Does the job but not exactly thrilling to look at.
A little more interactive than sister brand Hyundai's - you can play with the images more - but equally clear and straightforward.
Brochure download: 2/10
Receiving it by email is your only option. Brochure is jargon-heavy and does not contain a price list.
Email response: 10/10
Fastest responder - 56 minutes - and a very comprehensive answer with additional details.
Phone help: 6/10
Resorted to Googling the phone number - it was not obvious on the site - and it took six minutes to get through to an operator, but they were pleasant, checked, and answered the question.
Dealer finder: 8/10
Obvious anywhere on the site and you can search via eight categories, including business sales and specialists.
Social media: 4/10
Generally not much to shout about, but business news is promoted via social media channels, albeit about once a month.
Mobile site: 4/10
Upper-page functions change to a succinct drop-down format and some of the key lower links realign.
Recently added 'whole-life and tax calculations' page, and new business news section.
Ease of use: 5/10
Certainly not difficult - nothing critical is far from the fleet homepage - but the brochure seems to be the go-to place for core car info.
Merc's white font on a black background always stands out and the lower-page tile format for offers and tools looks the business.
Fastest and most responsive 360° images and pricing data. You can even turn the car's lights on and off.
Brochure download: 10/10
Two clicks from the fleet page, very smart and easy to follow.
Email response: 1/10
We gave up waiting for a reply on the sixth day.
Phone help: 5/10
Our longest call at almost 12 minutes, eight of which were spent waiting for an operator, who asked if we had spoken to a dealer. We eventually got the answer after they put us on hold to check.
Dealer finder: 1/10
You really have to dig around the site to find it. Works fine, but others do it much better.
Social media: 8/10
Other feeds are mostly plugs but the YouTube channel contains genuinely useful videos explaining features of the cars, technology and, more recently, how to buy online during the pandemic.
Mobile site: 9/10
Good rearrangement of five key links - aligned right on the desktop site - to a prominent position at the bottom of the page, while offers and tools change to a neat scrolling format.
New cost-comparison calculator - illustrates electric vehicle savings over petrol and diesel among other elements. Tax calculator plus BIK and charging guides.
Ease of use: 1/10
You can find the price of a car easily enough, but anything more specific - say, CO2, BIK etc. - you have to hunt for. The other nine brands do it better.
A lean font complements the firm's new logo. The site is picture-heavy, and red boxes on pale grey/white is not a bad combination.
Does the job, but slow to load and overcomplicates things with a greater than average number of sections.
Brochure download: 4/10
Simple to find and download, but hard facts give way to pictures and puffery.
Email response: 2/10
Third to reply within 24 hours but the answer was wrong (completely different to the one we got on the phone) and said we were better off asking a dealer or consulting the car's manual.
Phone help: 10/10
Very speedy pick-up, and the agent kept us on the line while they quickly checked, then confirmed, precise details.
Dealer finder: 6/10
Two clicks from the fleet or homepage via the right-hand drop-down menu. Eight filters, including fleet and EVs, but you can only apply one at a time.
Social media: 3/10
Some explanations of vehicle features and EV advice amid the promo. Many YouTube videos are now quite old.
Mobile site: 6/10
The upper page is tidied by condensed menus, although the main image is very tall. Brochure, test drive, and dealer finder links are compressed and visible at the bottom of the page.
Very little of use or interest. The fleet pages are extensive, but there is a lot of repetition, much of which is self-promotional and loops back to contacts and sales.
Ease of use: 10/10
P11D, BIK and CO2 for each model is visible on the fleet homepage. Click on a car and you instantly have an abundance of extra detail.
Scintillating it is not, but its neat clarity and stacking of individual cars is easy on the eye.
Not quite as slick as Mercedes but exceptionally clear and simple to use.
Brochure download: 8/10
A cover-all fleet brochure gives you the basics on all models and includes a company car taxation table.
Email response: 9/10
Second fastest in less than three hours, with a clear and friendly response.
Phone help: 3/10
Second-longest call at more than 11 minutes, 10 of which were spent waiting for an operator. Did not know the exact answer but read out some details. Not rude but hardly friendly.
Dealer finder: 4/10
Takes a little unearthing via the drop-down menu and lacks filters. Good information about each dealer, though.
Social media: 7/10
Little or no corporate content but very responsive, and YouTube channel has some useful 'how-to' and explainer videos.
Mobile site: 7/10
Not a dramatic departure from the desktop site, but the rearrangement of the fleet model listing to vertical with larger pictures is clean and coherent.
Extensive hybrid section, relatively new tax calculator, and lots of finance information.
Ease of use: 9/10
A very close-run thing with Toyota and there is a maximum of two clicks in it. Extremely easy to access the information fleets want.
Bright blue and orange-backed range highlights splash across the page and liven up the business section.
Good all-round but the sub menus for certain options render it fiddlier than configurators from other manufacturers.
Brochure download: 5/10
The price and spec guide is good, but it's only available by email.
Email response: 7/10
Just half an hour later than Ford and an equally comprehensive reply.
Phone help: 2/10
Neither operator on the numbers we tried could answer our question. The first told us to call the second, who told us to look online or ask a dealer.
Dealer finder: 5/10
Not as obvious as some, but simple enough to find at the bottom of any page. Clear information and seven different filters, but nothing fleet-specific.
Social media: 10/10
The only brand with an active, dedicated fleet Twitter page - albeit small potatoes next to the main UK feed - while the YouTube channel includes a video about the whole-life costs calculator. Some business and fleet mentions on LinkedIn.
Mobile site: 8/10
Unfussy and the best use of a drop-down menu - everything is really well concentrated.
There are eight different tools specifically for fleets and company car drivers, many of which are very sophisticated.
Ease of use: 2/10
Not what you would call complicated, but it just does not serve up key vehicle information as instantaneously as rivals. There is a lot of clicking through involved.
Smart, very neat and business-like in a modern sort of way. Highly appropriate for Volkswagen.
Very smart and intuitive but it failed to show pricing information and was slow to load.
Brochure download: 9/10
Harder to find than most but there are three different brochure options, each offering specific information. Very good.
Email response: 5/10
Seventh to respond - asked us to confirm if we were enquiring about a new or existing car. We did, and received a fast and clear reply.
Phone help: 7/10
Very quick response and polite, friendly operative. Checked the information but did not put us on hold - kept chatting. Took a little hunting but got us the answer.
Dealer finder: 10/10
A click from any page, 10 filters including fleet, business and rental, and loads of information on each dealer, including unfiltered reviews.
Social media: 4/10
Fleet Twitter account has been dormant for three years. Other feeds are chiefly promotional but there is some good advice about showrooms and servicing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Mobile site: 5/10
Spot the difference between mobile and desktop - but the latter's clean and smart design lends itself well to the former.
Very comprehensive: tax, whole-life costs and residual value calculators, leasing explainers, ownership and SMR sections.
The final standings
Best and simplest presentation of key vehicle data, excellent configurator and email response
Phone assistance leaves much to be desired, room for improvement on dealer finder
Swathe of tools for fleets, best social media and a cinch to use
No help on the phone, and brochures require personal details
Very snazzy, plus the best configurator and brochures
Failed to respond to our email, dealer finder is hidden away
Superb dealer finder, brochures and loads of fleet extras
Key figures could be more obvious; same goes for the configurator
The best-looking website by far and great in mobile format
The only site without brochures, and the dealer finder is obscured
Dead simple, best on email, plus strong dealer finder and configurator
So-so design, brochure is email lock and key and, itself, not great
Good on email and social media, refreshingly simple brochures
Configurator, phone service, mobile site and extras need work
Speedy and accommodating on the phone; great dealer finder
Showing its age in many areas, took five days to reply to an email
Extremely quick and very helpful on the phone
Fails to get to the point, promo takes precedence over useful info
Fleet and company car driver guides make great extras
Drab and flawed design, does not outshine rivals in any areas
Live and kicking: The ups and downs of web chat
Nine of the 10 manufacturers we assessed offer live chat services, with the exception of Kia - and it told us it should have joined the fold by the end of October. BMW's and Toyota's are something of a grey area. The former has an 'online genius' service, which is unmanned, but actually does a decent job of instantly dredging up basic information. In that respect, it is the fastest of the lot, but less useful if you want to talk to someone. We could not find Toyota's live chat so asked its press department whether or not it had one. We were told it did, but that the service would only appear to users when staffed and available. Suffice to say, it did not pop up at all during our entire assessment.
Many - but not all - manufacturers that offer a proper live chat service now do it well and we asked them the same question as we did on the phone and via email - whether or not a popular model is fitted with DAB radio as standard. Audi, Mercedes, Vauxhall and Volkswagen each gave us a definitive answer in well under five minutes, so given the variation in phone and email responses, it can be the best way to a speedy reply to a simple question.
Hyundai took longer at just under 10 minutes and it got us an answer, albeit not quite as clear as the aforementioned four. Nissan was pretty poor - the agent effectively gave up after four minutes, leaving us with a link to the Qashqai page and an instruction to call a dealer.
Ford, however, was the worst by far. The chat window was open for more than 10 minutes while we waited for a response, then we were told "the advisor has left the conversation". Why offer a live chat service and not staff it?