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The Business Car Files: Jeep

Date: 09 November 2023   |   Author: Martyn Collins

Martyn Collins talks to Jeep managing director Jules Tilstone about the opportunity the Avenger offers the brand, and future fleet plans in the UK.

We first talk about how Jeep has been doing in fleet, and Tilstone is quick to point out that the brand has had a difficult past year, and a few difficult years in terms of product supply. He says: "Obviously we weren't the only manufacturer in Europe to have that - but Jeep UK were hit particularly hard with supply constraints. The good news is we're coming out of that, we've got some exciting new products, but also the likes of Compass that is still a new product for us in its current form. 

'The future looks very optimistic, with the new organisation, the new business, although it's a couple of years old now, it does give us a different foothold within the market. To be able to go to fleet customers and offer them the portfolio of brands with different product offerings, I think is a huge advantage for fleet operators. Obviously having Jeep as part of that offering, does give us a big advantage being a relatively small brand in a big group. 

"I think the Avenger will invigorate the rest of the range, because when you look at who chooses Jeep and why they choose Jeep, everyone knows Jeep, but not everyone knows why they would choose Jeep today. Maybe they've only got Wrangler in their heads, which is super cool, great fun and a serious off-roader. Grand Cherokee is in their minds, or Cherokee from history - because some of those name plates are really strong and have a huge heritage for the brand. 

"Do they really know about what we offer today in the biggest segments in the market? I think Avenger really cuts through and will raise the profile of the brand for those looking for their next company car or fleet contender. So, yes, I think it will put us on the map, where perhaps we've been a bit quiet over recent years, and that can only bring attention to the full range. Suddenly, you've suddenly got a strong portfolio for different needs in the market." 

With the launch of the Avenger and the recent roll out of plug-in versions of their other products, we ask Tilstone if Jeep is in a strong place as we head towards 2035 and more attractive to fleet.

He says: "There is a real passion and love for Jeep. It is considered a cool brand in the UK, which is no surprise really given the products and history we have. However, we must stay relevant in the market, so I think the electrification plan, is clearly in the right place at the right time, first and foremost. 

"When you look at the UK market, we know there's a lot of talk about the immaturity of the charging network, the public charging network in particular, which does cause some challenges for BEV models. We're coming to market with Avenger in the compact SUV segment, where users are driving them on a much lower daily mileage than perhaps some of the fleet users of bigger cars. Having a fully-electric small car is perfect here, then you go up the range into 4xe, which is our plug-in hybrid technology. Not needing to stress about doing longer journeys in a day, where you need to think ahead and plan where you charge, for me that's the perfect combination for where the market is today. 

"Clearly there is some anxiety out there about driving electric. So, the likes of Compass for example, where we have mild-hybrid, but also full plug-in, where you're able to drive 30 miles on pure electric in day-to-day journeys - but then do longer trips - is more akin to how some of the fleet operators use their cars. 

"I think for us, we're in the perfect place for 2035 when you look at our current product range, and obviously Avenger is a key part of that."

Asked if he thinks the Avenger will be the Jeep to conquest fleet drivers from other brands, Tilstone tells us the model's compact SUV sector is growing. He says: "I think it is going to be one of those products that can help fuel that growth if you like, so that's a significant opportunity. Then you add BEV benefit-in-kind (BiK) and all those advantages, as well as it being a stunning car to own and drive. 

"It is not going to have any barriers. So, think company car drivers upsizing or downsizing, or even moving to EVs. We've seen that when customers move from ICE to electric - they tend to reassess brands. So, it's great for us to be part of a consideration that we wouldn't have normally been in the past. 

"If you look at the areas of the fleet market that we're likely to be considered now with Avenger, of course there are some corporate clients who will be looking in their transition to electric for the credentials that Avenger has. This is because of all the practical elements this Jeep has, which is part of the positioning. Mix that with full-electric power and range of 250 miles, and Avenger becomes a strong proposition for some corporate fleets. 

"Then, you think about user-choosers who are going through leasing companies and policies who are not doing the mileage and have the need for a bigger car. Avenger could be a sound option for them. Then you've got areas like salary sacrifice, public sector, they're generally the smaller segments and Avenger will sit nicely with both of those, too. 

"How are we going to make sure people know about Avenger, in those different areas? There will be a corporate fleet, that the team will use to send out to corporate clients and leasing companies, so they know what the new car is about. Then of course, you've almost got the retail consumer behaviour that user-choosers operate in, where our network becomes the principal touchpoint for those customers. 

"We've got 45 retailers across the country, but we've got an expansion plan which will take us up to 72 in the next two years. Of course, we've already had the Avengers arriving, in the showrooms, available to test drive and that will be a key point for us. 

"We've got products that can suit the UK fleet market, and what the audience is looking for - particularly when you add in the electrification. It is going to be a stepped approach, but for sure, this year will be significantly better than last year, and we'd expect next year to be significantly better than this year through demand, but also supply. 

"Of course, fleet should be a good proportion of sales, it should account for something in the region of a third in the coming years. With the incoming Wagoneer S, maybe even more than that! We just need to put all the building blocks in place and the product is always number one. If you've got the right product, then everything else is about how high. Not whether it's going to be high or not, and for us that's where we're at. 

"Some networks have fleet specialist retailers; many of our retailers are used to dealing with fleet - whether they're big or small customers. I think it's important for anyone handling customers in the showroom, they can talk about BIK, different funding methods, and such like that are important to businesses - whether you're a user-chooser or, small/medium enterprise. So, first we'll be upscaling, as we move through the years, the number of people we've got in our stores, and the training that goes along with that will be key to being able to handle any customer, no matter which segment of the market they're coming from."