I first ask Roberts if it was fleet business-as-usual in 2022 – despite the chip shortage. He says: “It was, largely, but with a huge amount of pent-up demand, as we were in the fortunate position of demand outstripping supply. 

“This forced what we call a ‘back to basics’ approach, where we’ve been focusing on large corporates. Although, this is sadly to the detriment of smaller fleets 

“As far as supply is concerned, there is now more certainty of production and stability. This allows the customers and leasecos more certainty that cars are going to come when we say they are going to come – that’s made our lives easier in that regard. 

“We’re building good numbers of EVs, but, of course, because of the taxation and just how well the cars have been received, this has equalled massive demand – which is a fantastic position to be in. 

“I do hope next year to put some cars in the SME space – we’ve been out of that pretty much all of 2022. These are influential people that we want to be seen in our cars. 

Roberts believes that work done with ‘Inside Edge’ – the reward programme for BMW company drivers and the BMW app – has changed brand perception in the corporate market. He says: “Having been new to the role earlier this year, I’ve been overwhelmed by the take-up and engagement of it. It is all very well getting people to sign up, but then using these features on a regular basis – regular being at least once a month – is massive. 

“To me, what that tells us, is that corporate customers want to be engaged with the brand. It must mean that, by the fact they are engaging regularly, that what they are seeing is relevant and of interest to them, because I know I get enough emails in my inbox every day and I’m sure customers are no different to me, either. 

“So, I think it has played a massive part in something we’re looking at and constantly questioning. We’ve developed ‘Inside Edge’ even further, in terms of guides such as winter driving. So, I think it’s a great platform, and a great decision a couple of years ago to bring that in and I’m really, really, happy with the engagement we see.”

The iX1, which is due early this year, Roberts tells me is its most anticipated car. He says: “When you look at electric vehicles across the market, the biggest segment is the small SUV. So, for us to have iX1 in there, with decent volumes – not excessive, it’s no surprise it’s in the top three in our weekly order take and it’s only been quotable for just over a month! 

“We’ve got EVs across the BMW range now, so when you’re going in and talking to big fleets, they want something in all bandings, and iX1 allows us to do that and of course even with i7, we’re talking to fleets with senior people, who are maybe chauffeured or like driving top-of-the-range models. We call it the ‘bookends’ here at BMW, I can’t think of a better word myself, but it allows us to cover the spectrum requirement that there is. 

“Next year we will have i5, which is going to be another big moment for BMW in this transition, we’re working with the product available now – but there are more incoming, so 2023 will be another important year for us. 

“Fleets have heard about the i5, because we’ve been quite open that it is coming, and I believe there’s a huge space for that. I think that type of vehicle in the fleet segment has dropped because of the taxation changes. If we look at the current range of cars, the average across all competitors is between £60-80k, but you’re not going to take that plus Benefit-in-Kind. The requirement is still there and an electric vehicle with the bandings we’ve got, I believe there is space for an electric executive range. The closer we get to it, the more excited I am about it, because I think that car will do very well for us.”  

Roberts believes last year’s mini budget should have been about infrastructure for electric vehicles. “All the discussions we have with fleet managers and drivers, is around the infrastructure, charging cars and access to chargers. Ultimately, I think the customer is more concerned with how easy it is to charge their car. Is the infrastructure there if they go on a long journey and do I have easy access to electricity?

“For me, what we need to see is more around infrastructure for charging – that is an open question at the moment.”   

The move towards full electrification has seen a massive change in mix again over last year, Roberts tells me. He says: “For example one in two corporate BMWs sold last was a PHEV, that has now accounted for one in four. What we are seeing now is more adoption into EVs. We were always anticipating that in our planning with the PHEVs, that as we’ve brought more EVs on board, the volume of those PHEVs would drop. There is massive growth in EV, but we’re also starting to see a decline in traditional ICE vehicles. Our prediction was that by the end of 2023, the order take for those in corporate channels would be within single digits as we move to EVs. We look at order rates, we monitor those on a weekly basis, and go through them in detail – that’s a trend we’re seeing. 

“What’s interesting is you might assume that this would be different for MINI – but it’s not. We’re seeing the same – in fact, we see an even higher uptake of electric MINIs than BMWs. So, it’s all moving in the right direction, with huge, huge changes.”

Roberts is keen to tell me about the launch of ‘Corporate Certified’ a new programme being rolled out within the network. He says:  “We will be introducing a new programme called ‘Corporate Certified’, which we’re in discussion with our network about now. If they sign up, there will be dedicated staff, they will have dedicated showroom areas, and they must adhere to and agree to exceptional service for the end customer to be ‘Corporate Certified.’ 

“We already have corporate hubs and centres of excellence and we want to give them certification. So, if you’re a fleet or corporate customer, buying from one of those retailers, you’ll get a higher level of service from them. What this will allow us to do, is to give larger fleets the TLC and really dedicated service that they deserve. 

“We’ve worked in conjunction with the leasecos on this, to stipulate what the programme looks like. It also helps with sustainability, as we will be able to move to more localised delivery. As a manufacturer we’re very good at the service we provide, a lot of that is delivered by our network, so let’s take it up another level.”

BMW won Fleet Manufacturer of the Year at the Business Car Awards in 2022. When asked how it is hoping to keep hold of this title, Roberts is keen to tell me that it doesn’t take its recent win at this year’s Business Car Awards for granted. He says: “We’re constantly challenging absolutely everything, from ‘Inside Edge’ to the ‘Corporate Certified’ that we’ve got coming. 

“Since last year we’ve also got a leasing portal, so the leasecos can go in and access all the information that they need. We’re also going to be able to give real time access to our factory systems, to give the exact status of every car, so the leaseco and customer knows at any point in time, where it’s at. They’ll be able to get access to that information live quicker than we can access them!

“So, we’re pushing forward, and I’ve got a very driven team that are constantly challenging – which is great. So, there’s a lot going on and we have everything crossed that we win again.”