Site for sore eyes: Fleet manufacturer websites compared
01 September 2021
Author: Jack Carfrae
Business Car has once again put the top ten fleet manufacturers' websites under the spotlight. Jack Carfrae examines which best serves the fleet community in 2021.
More time indoors and an acceleration in online purchases have rendered websites even more prominent than they already were. If there is a commercial lesson in the pandemic, it is that businesses having a comprehensive online presence and one that is - crucially - genuinely useful to their customers, is a must.
That applies just as much to car manufacturers as to online retail (although they can now be one and the same) and it is exactly what Business Car looks for in its annual OEM fleet website analysis. We are not interested in an abundance of lifestyle photography or self-promotional videos, rather in features that assist the fleet community and easy access to the information that matters to company car operators and drivers.
We commend manufacturers that readily serve up such tools and details, and go the extra mile with offbeat and innovative digital functions. We also go further than the websites themselves, mystery shopping the ten best-selling fleet brands via their email, phone and live chat services, and weighing up their social media with fleets in mind.
Vauxhall has fared well in our past assessments, having acted directly on our editorial team's comments, so it is no surprise to see it return to first place this year, after a drop to second in 2020. Its swathe of tools and features specifically designed to assist fleets is unrivalled.
However, just one percentage point separates it from Skoda - a new entry this year, having replaced Hyundai in the top ten biggest-selling fleet manufacturers - which makes an impressive debut, thanks to its simple and immediate way of serving up key business car data and its strong customer service.
Only 5% separates first and joint-fourth places, showing just how hot competition is at the top, but there is an 11% fall to sixth and 20% between sixth and tenth, meaning half of the top ten fleet brands could do with brushing up their online shopfronts. Audi and Nissan told us their fleet sites were due a refresh before the end of this year (the latter, which came last, desperately needs it) and the same could be said to be desired of BMW and Kia.
What we assessed
We examined the websites of the ten best-selling manufacturers according to 2020 SMMT full-year fleet registrations in early August. We start and focus on the central fleet and business page, but fan out as appropriate. Sites are assessed across ten different areas, each of which is ranked from one (lowest) to ten (highest), and scores are tallied to form a final percentage. We award sites with useful content geared to fleets and company car drivers and, when we interact with them, manufacturers that respond quickly, clearly, politely and provide us with relevant information. We also contact each OEM's press department and ask if the fleet pages have been updated since last year's equivalent article was published.
- Ease of use: It is rare to find a truly bad car these days and you can say the same of manufacturers' websites - but some make it easier to find essential information than others and we base our scores on access to it. We start by searching for a popular car's price/P11D, then look for other fleet vitals such as CO2 and BIK.
- Design: The most subjective area but, honestly, no one wants to hang around on a dull site, especially one that has not been updated for an age. We like smart, clear pages - even better if they have recently been refreshed.
- Configurator: A big one for user-choosers. Configurators should work without a hitch and present the cars and relevant information in as coherent a form as possible. The best look snazzy and include interactive images and features.
- Brochure download: They may sound old hat these days, but brochures nonetheless remain an excellent one-stop source of vehicle information - or at least they should be. Those asking for personal details prior to a download are less appealing.
- Email response: We sent an email to the generic 'contact us' address on each manufacturer's website - or whatever was closest to it - asking if a popular model was fitted with parking sensors and rated the speed and accuracy of response. Those that failed to respond within a working week scored zero.
- Telephone enquiry: We phoned the main switchboard number published on each manufacturer's website and asked the same question about parking sensors. Fast, polite and helpful responses ranked highest.
- Dealer finder: The go-to tool for the lowdown on your nearest physical premises. We like those that do more than just tell you where the dealer is, especially if they allow you to filter the search for sites specialising in fleet services.
- Mobile site: Any web page worth its salt succinctly rearranges itself to a mobile format (if not, it is very much behind the times). The best do more than just align their content vertically and make good use of sliding tiles and neat
- drop-down menus.
- Extras: The majority of the top ten manufacturers have links to electric vehicle pages and at least basic whole-life cost and/or BIK calculators. The cream of the crop go further, with additional, innovative fleet features that do more than just plug their products.
Ease of use: 3/10
The configurator is the gateway to hard facts about the cars. Flashier stuff takes precedence on the fleet and range pages.
Get past the cheesy 'business professional' image above the fold, and you have a classy website with quadrants that respond when you hover over them.
Linear format is easy to follow, but it is quite prescriptive and does not lend itself to toggling as much as others. Static photos only.
Brochure download: 1/10
We scoured the site but could not find brochures. If there are any, we honestly could not locate them.
Email response: 7/10
Fourth responder, a minute later than Skoda. Referred to the A4 as the S4 but that looked like a typo. Otherwise all present and correct.
Phone help: 8/10
Dialled our way through a few menus, but the agent was friendly and did not put us on hold while he checked details. Definitive response in four minutes.
Dealer finder: 1/10
Really hard to find - we resorted to Googling 'Audi dealer locator' and even then it was not the first result. Little information beyond opening hours.
Social media: 4/10
No shortage of presence but largely self-promotional. However, YouTube video guides, many of which focus on EVs, are useful.
Mobile site: 10/10
The stacked format is wonderfully concise, and actually cuts out some of the marketing bumf from the desktop site. You can tell the design brief was 'mobile first'.
Has an equivalent of VW's EV-4-ME and EV Maturity functions to establish suitability for plug-in cars. WLC and contract hire calculators.
Ease of use: 7/10
Models tab at the top of the page provides near-instant access to prices with EVs at the forefront. Two more clicks gets you key vehicle information.
Better than last year because the content no longer replicates halfway down the page, but other sites put its dull white design and small font to shame.
The sliding window on the left - with all the details - obscures the view of the car, but otherwise good. Large moveable images and BMW's emblematic Munich HQ in the background.
Brochure download: 4/10
You have to hand over your details, but it is a highly interactive brochure. The model pricing lists - which download separately - offer a great summary of key figures.
Email response: 0/10
Did not to respond to our email.
Phone help: 10/10
Polite and professional representative. We were momentarily on hold while she confirmed the answer, but the call was less than three minutes.
Dealer finder: 2/10
Obvious from the map link at the top of the page. Booking links take you to the dealers' pages but little more to it.
Social media: 3/10
A few how-to and finance explainer videos on YouTube but little else of note for fleets.
Mobile site: 8/10
Another site that looks wildly better in mobile format. Bigger font, more coherent layout and a link to the firm's app at the top of the page.
Nine downloadable guides for fleet managers and a series of explanation articles for company car drivers. A couple could do with updating, but very informative overall.
Ease of use: 2/10
Digging up anything more than a car's base price requires work. Price list serves up most key data, but you have to go looking for it.
Significantly cleaner and more responsive than it used to be. The press office did not respond to our email this time, but last year, Ford told us the site was due an update in Q4 of 2020 - and it shows.
Does the job, but clunky and limited image movements. Key details are visible but rivals present them more clearly.
Brochure download: 7/10
Three different options. Interactive brochure is swish and actually an improvement on the configurator. Would score higher if any contained a price.
Email response: 0/10
Did not respond to our email.
Phone help: 3/10
Not being directed to a premium rate number, as was previously the case, is an improvement, but after five minutes of menus, the agent could not answer our question and told us to call a dealer.
Dealer finder: 10/10
Search filters for fleet, rental and Transit specialists among others. Shows individual dealers' specialities and department opening hours.
Social media: 8/10
Greater emphasis on fleet and business than most. Dedicated UK CV Facebook page, relevant Tweets and LinkedIn posts and YouTube videos about telematics.
Mobile site: 3/10
Vertical configuration works well enough, but that is more or less all there is to it.
Good WLC calculator and Transit conversions page but lots of circuitous links to the same pages within the fleet section, many of which are hoopla.
Ease of use: 4/10
The comparator is the best place to find core fleet figures but that is not obvious from the outset. Once you know that, it is four clicks from the fleet homepage.
Has not changed since last year and looks were not great then. Drab and in need of an update.
Lacks an interior view but, crucially, the page layout makes it really easy to navigate and see exactly what you have specced. Clearest of the lot.
Brochure download: 2/10
Asks for your details and the website only gives you a long specification sheet after you have punched them in.
Email response: 10/10
First to reply in little more than an hour. Concise but detailed answer.
Phone help: 6/10
Near-instant response, which was polite, detailed and very helpful. Everything we needed in less than five minutes.
Dealer finder: 6/10
Easy to find, loads quickly and a series of icons displays the retailers' specialities - hover over them to see what they mean.
Social media: 1/10
Kia was never top of the class here but it previously managed the odd business-themed post. They seem to have dried up now.
Mobile site: 1/10
An iffy cookie pop-up which left the page opaque meant we could not access the mobile site in Google Chrome. We could in another browser, and it is decent, but that first issue is a big one.
Decent calculator and comparator but, like Ford, feels a bit 'round in self-promotional circles' as you navigate the fleet section.
Ease of use: 5/10
Another site that requires you to search for prices (and a historic issue for Mercedes). However, the comparator and brochure list everything fleets need to know and more.
Black background and lower-page grid layout look crisp, distinctive and professional.
May have scored ten if it had not stalled and required a couple of page refreshes, but very smart and intuitive. Even presents a list of near-matches available at dealers - handy, given the international new car supply crisis.
Brochure download: 10/10
A cinch to access via the floating blue link on the right. Interactive, so you can immediately navigate to the precise information you need. Excellent.
Email response: 6/10
Fifth responder and a straightforward answer in two days.
Phone help: 2/10
We gave up after ten minutes of waiting for someone to answer the phone.
Dealer finder: 3/10
Tucked away behind a drop-down menu. Plentiful contact and service details but nothing extra for fleets.
Social media: 5/10
Does vans well across the board but cars are awash with promo. There are some decent electric explainer videos and online showroom clips on YouTube, though.
Mobile site: 9/10
The big three premium brands have mobile sites licked. Mercedes' is arguably easier to navigate than its desktop equivalent, with a neat rearrangement.
Live chat is a new addition to the fleet pages; short fleet guides for some promoted EVs; coming soon, specialist sales and chauffeur sections.
Ease of use: 1/10
What we said in 2020 still applies: it is easy to find a retail price but extremely difficult to dredge up any other key figures.
Seemingly no change since last year, although a refresh is afoot. Layout is reasonably clean and clear.
Not bad - until you get the to the option packs section, which is weird. Lots of zooming in and out of the image and hidden information.
Brochure download: 3/10
Two options, the mobile brochure is better but not exactly brimming with useful information.
Email response: 4/10
Seventh to reply and took exactly four days. Answered the question but did not include as much detail as many others.
Phone help: 5/10
Eight-and-a-half-minute call, more than half of which was spent waiting for an answer/on hold, but the agent was diligent and got us a comprehensive answer.
Dealer finder: 7/10
Clear layout, quick to load and filters include fleet, EV sales and dealers with rapid charging points.
Social media: 2/10
There is a handful of useful electric car and technology videos on YouTube but they are at least two years old. Everything else is self-congratulatory.
Mobile site: 4/10
Decent repackaging, with good use of a drop-down menu for the upper tabs and a neat realignment of the demo, brochure and offers links along the bottom. Header picture could do with cropping, though.
We said it in 2020 and we will say it again: there is nothing that could be considered a useful extra on Nissan's fleet website - not even a tax calculator. We are told it should improve with a late 2021 refresh.
Ease of use: 8/10
Very impressive. P11D, BIK and CO2 are one click from the fleet homepage. Click on a specific trim level and there is plenty more.
Simple and business-like, but the layout is so clear and easy to follow that it ranks highly here.
Among the simpler configurators - loads very quickly - but static pictures only and not particularly inspiring.
Brochure download: 9/10
Similar to Mercedes, just not quite as easy to find (but not hard). Click on the tabs and you are instantly propelled to relevant information.
Email response: 8/10
Third to reply in just over a day. Basic and accurate answer, although there was room for elaboration.
Phone help: 7/10
Just under nine minutes of waiting and holding, but the representative was very polite and helpful and gave us a clear, detailed answer.
Dealer finder: 4/10
Works well enough and has a business centre search facility.
Social media: 10/10
The first LinkedIn post we came across related to fleet - and there is a section of the YouTube channel dedicated to it, including an interview with fleet boss Henry Williams.
Mobile site: 6/10
Cleans up the desktop site very well, courtesy of a tidy upper drop-down menu and sliding tiles.
Some self-congratulatory news and reviews, but little beyond the tax calculator.
Ease of use: 10/10
No one else makes it as easy to see the starting P11D, CO2 and BIK figures of its entire range. They are all there on the fleet homepage.
We like substance over style, but this is where that counts for less. Nothing inherently wrong with it, but other sites are smarter.
Not the flashiest or the clearest - but a good mix of both. Big interactive images and a summary of your selections down the right-hand side.
Brochure download: 8/10
Fleet brochure offers a superb overview of the company and range with businesses in mind. More detail on individual models can be found elsewhere on the site.
Email response: 9/10
Second fastest responder in less than 24 hours. Succinct message with a link to more information.
Phone help: 1/10
Try as we might, we could not find a customer service phone number on Toyota's website (it used to have one). We checked with the press office and that is indeed the case. You can email the manufacturer and request a call-back.
Dealer finder: 5/10
Glaringly obvious via the floating tab on the right and you can see each dealer's fortes, including business and LCV centres and those with charge points. No filter, though.
Social media: 6/10
Little for fleets, but company cars and vans get the occasional mention. How-to YouTube videos are useful. Lots of followers and very active.
Mobile site: 5/10
Lower menu bar with quick links, offers, feedback and help is a nice touch and the cars are clearly laid out. Fleet homepage is very long, though - lots of scrolling.
Hybrids have their own extensive section, Kinto contract hire pages with quote calculator and lots of detail about other types of finance.
Ease of use: 9/10
Oodles of important fleet data a click away on the 'range' page. Vauxhall has updated the site to distinguish ICEs and EVs and promote the latter.
Loud, colourful promos dominate above the fold, framed by clear links to fleet pages.
There is a bit more going on than we would like for clarity purposes, but you cannot argue with the level of information on display. Delivery ETAs on new cars also useful.
Brochure download: 5/10
Everything is there, it just is not quite as slick as the best. Price brochure requires a separate pdf download.
Email response: 0/10
Received a delivery failure notice from the first email. We tried the next address on the contacts page but did not get a response.
Phone help: 6/10
Very quick - we had an answer in just over two minutes - but it was a little garbled. We asked again to clarify but it still could have been clearer. Agent sounded disinterested.
Dealer finder: 8/10
Link at the top of the page and filters include professional services and CVs.
Social media: 9/10
Has a dedicated fleet Twitter page, albeit low key. YouTube channel contains fleet and LCV-themed videos and helpful explainer films.
Mobile site: 7/10
Concise rearrangement and does not overcomplicate things. Some of the more obvious information from the desktop site is tucked away in submenus, but simplified format works well on a phone.
Loads, all geared to fleets. New additions include WLC and BIK calculators for different fuel types including rival cars and an EV range calculator to illustrate the effects of different conditions/driving.
Ease of use: 6/10
Four clicks from the fleet homepage are downloadable P11D price lists with a summary of fleet vitals.
Smart enough, but the omnipresent plain white background is less than inspiring.
Fully interactive images would be nice, but that is all it lacks. We marked it down for lack of pricing clarity last year but that has been addressed. Excellent all-round.
Brochure download: 6/10
Takes a little finding, but there are four different options covering just about all the details you could want. Concise price list.
Email response: 5/10
Sixth to reply in just under four days. Polite and detailed answer.
Phone help: 4/10
A poorer show than in recent years. More than 13 minutes in total, the first eight of which were waiting for a response. We eventually got an answer but the agent was a little chilly.
Dealer finder: 9/10
Another very easy one to find via a floating link and has extensive filters, including 50+ fleet, local business and rental.
Social media: 7/10
Has dormant fleet Twitter accounts. CV and Financial Services pages. YouTube has useful videos detailing cars' features and technology.
Mobile site: 2/10
Little to distinguish it from the desktop site and the header picture is heavily cropped rather than resized.
Several new EV-themed features on top of the existing calculators, including tools to help fleets identify appropriate powertrains and establish their readiness for plug-in cars.
The Final Standings
Ranking/position change from 2020
No other OEM's website caters to fleets as well; best extras
Failed to respond to our email
Great all-rounder with the most fleet-focussed social media
Not much in the way of extras
Easiest to use, configurator, brochures and email response
Lacks a public-facing phone number; design a little staid
Superb brochures and mobile site; best looking
Did not answer the phone; dealer finder could be better
Best configurator and very good dealer finder
Rivals do mobile sites better
Stylish with an excellent mobile site
Seemingly non-existent brochures and near-invisible dealer finder
Best on the phone and lots of useful extras
Drab design on the desktop site and ignored our email
Top notch customer service on phone and email
Poor social media and mobile site did not work in
Best dealer finder; strong social media and brochures
Failed to respond to our email and access to key data is poor
Good dealer finder
Least useful website and the imminent refresh is long overdue
Live aid: The best and worst of live chat
Each of the ten manufacturers we assessed now offers a live chat service, and we gave them all a try. As with our phone and email enquiries, we simply asked if a popular model is fitted with parking sensors.
First, the good news: BMW, Mercedes and Nissan did an excellent job and answered our question in five minutes or less. Ford and Toyota did similarly well, but the former's chat window disappeared after we first logged on, so it was a case of second time lucky; the latter issued a series of annoying automated bot questions before we could connect to a person, but the eventual human made up for it.
Kia - the only manufacturer not to offer live chat last year - took eight minutes. You must first register with an online receptionist, who then puts you through to your nearest dealer, which is a leggy process. Props to the dealer, though - once we were through, he answered our question in one minute.
Vauxhall has historically shone here but not so much this year, because 45 minutes is too long for a Q&A. The agent left us hanging for 36 minutes while they checked the answer; we got it, but we were making a cup of tea when the response came through and they closed the chat.
The VW Group seemingly has the same live chat system across its brands - the uniform pop-up box format with review stars gives it away - and service is questionable. Audi got the answer completely wrong when it told us the A4 does not have parking sensors as standard (it does; we checked with the press office) and we could buy them "either from the factory or independently from a place of your choosing", then ended the chat after we asked a second question.
Skoda was mawkishly upbeat about our interest in its cars but just gave us a link to the website then closed the chat. VW itself was better; the agent gave us an initial - and correct - answer and asked us to wait while they checked another detail, but the chat automatically shut down because we did not type anything for five minutes. The Group really needs to have a look at its live chat provider if the service is to be taken seriously.