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The Business Car Files: DS Automobiles

Date: 13 December 2021   |   Author: Martyn Collins

Since DS Automobiles split from Citroen six years ago, growth has so far been strong in Europe, but slower in the UK. Martyn Collins speaks with UK managing director Jules Tilstone about DS's fleet plans moving forward.

Jules Tilstone is just over a year into his role as managing director, but has over 20 years of experience within Stellantis - most recently as European commercial director of DS. He revealed his growth plans in the UK earlier this year, which focus on offering a premium buying experience with new dealerships and personal customer service. So, Business Car asks how important is fleet to the brand now and how they're getting the message across to the corporate market?  

"Fleet has been and will continue to be important to the brand, but it's of course key that we operate in the channels that are right for the brand. 

"Given the significance of fleet in the UK premium market, the suitability of our model range to user choosers in particular remains key to our growth strategy. In addition to the growth opportunity, by offering a fully electrified range, our models appeal to companies looking to reduce their CO2 company fleet footprint, and to drivers looking to take advantage from low BiK levels, in turn, contributing to our Group CO2 objective. We're focused on user chooser fleets, SME business through the major leasers, as well as salary sacrifice schemes, whilst avoiding high-cost channels, which can impact negatively on our residual values, such as daily rental.   

"Given the channels we're prioritising, we have a three pronged approach: 1) reaching out to company fleet decision makers, ensuring they're familiar with what we offer and the benefits to their business and their fleet drivers; 2) ensuring leasing companies know the DS brand and our products, including what we can offer to their customers, positioning and promoting our range accordingly; and 3), reaching user chooser drivers through wider marketing actions, including advertising and product placements, promoting extended test drives through our central fleet and network of stores. 

"We will give particular focus to communicating our strong proposition for the fleet customer, those interested in key current trends and of course electrified vehicles. We have the lowest average CO2 emissions of any multi-energy premium brand and all our vehicles are available in an electrified powertrain. From 2024, all new models will be full BEV only and from 2025, we will stop selling petrol and diesel engines.

"In summary, we feel well placed both today and tomorrow to meet the needs of our
fleet customers."

Tilstone is first to admit that there is a good percentage of the fleet market that don't know about DS and raising this awareness remains their biggest opportunity for further growth. "We find that with fleet customers who have experienced our products, they are pleasantly surprised at the bold designs, the abundance of high-end materials and the levels of technology and specification versus the competition. 

"In recent months, we have seen interest levels and order take increase strongly - this momentum is very timely as we see the impending arrival of our new products, DS 4, our C-segment hatch and DS 9, our new E-Segment saloon, which launch in January 2022.

"To support this doubling of our product range, we will see a growth in our retail network from 26 to 45 independent showrooms by 2023, and our suite of services under our unique Customer Programme 'Only You' will continue to grow. This includes preconditioning of our LEV range, a programme called 'DS Club Privilege' working with partners such as Harvey Nichols to deliver exclusive experiences, and delivery and collection services for those relevant fleet drivers."

The DS range, which now consists of four models, covers 44% of the premium market including the all-important C, C-SUV and E Fleet segments. With Tilstone acknowledging their solutions to electrification. "A fully electrified fleet provides the perfect solution for the corporate fleet - the doubling of our range will drive further growth, building on the momentum we've seen this year.

"We feel we're in a very strong place to maximise the evolution towards more demand for electrified vehicles. All our models are available with an electrified version (either BEV of PHEV, depending on the model). Encouragingly, 40% of our customers this year have bought an E-Tense powertrain and we are confident this will grow to 50% and more next year. 

"Looking at our models, we offer BEV on DS 3 Crossback - in our view, ideal for the small car market where daily travel tends to be below 100 miles and often the second car in the household. With PHEV, [it is] ideally suited to those looking for a car with the benefits of full electric, without the concerns of range anxiety for those longer journeys. 

"We also have a popular tool called PHEV Connect. This is an online tool allowing fleet managers to follow usage of a PHEV between EV and petrol to ensure company drivers are optimising EV usage and the resulting running cost benefits. 

"We still feel the full benefits of our PHEV technology isn't fully understood by the masses. Unlike self-charging hybrids, our plug-in hybrids have a good electric battery range, but even when this has been used and the battery is effectively flat, through use of our regenerative braking technology, which we've developed with our Formula E team, you can get up to 30% of your miles using electric, helping to deliver a strong fuel economy.

"So, we're proud of our offering today to the fleet market and are excited we have the right plans in place in the impending years to meet the evolving needs of the fleet customer."