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Mr Unflappable is RMI's boss at last

It took time - around 25 years - but at last David Evans has the job he wanted. He is chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Federation. Not 'acting'. Not 'temporary'. He is the boss.

Mr Evans stepped into the breach when Christopher Macgowan moved from the RMI to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, again as chief executive.

He played a key role during the search for a permanent successor, which lasted nearly a year. In May the RMI appeared to have found the right man - Alan Hines, previously managing director of Securicor's £175m turnover transport division.

After three months in the job, he resigned. The departure was sudden, unexpected and has not been explained. Mr Evans and his colleagues felt let down.

So the RMI Council said, in effect, to David Evans: “Once more into the breach, dear friend.” “I have agreed to do the job until the replacement for current Block Exemption is in place by the end of September, 2002,” said Mr Evans. “Then I really will retire.”

The lobbying has started by Europe's dealers, manufacturers and their trade organisations, which pitches Mr Evans into an exacting role. He is 67 and, ironically, the RMI had wanted to appoint a younger man to provide continuity through the review of Block Exemption and into the period beyond.

“I'm not sure I feel younger but there is a certain satisfaction in finding myself doing this job,” Mr Evans said.

He is well known in the industry for his phlegmatic nature. He is Mr Unflappable, with a lawyer's mind which latches on to complex detail.

By now Mr Evans should be spending more time growing vegetables, one of the past times he loves as a contrast to days full of meetings.

“I like to see the green shoots of the turnips and wonder whether they will develop into vegetables I can enjoy,” he said.

He is blessed with a sense of perspective, valuable for someone with an important role in the automotive industry's current fevered atmosphere.

Mr Evans is continuing with the role of RMI company secretary until a successor can be found. The hope is that the person appointed will, by September 2002, be ready to step into the chief executive's chair.

This structured approach should provide what Alan Hines professed he wanted. In his interview with Automotive Management, he said: “The RMI must be run effectively so that it is effective for members. Our members want a period of solid, sound and professional management.”

Mr Evans said his members were “surprised” by Mr Hines' departure. “I was disappointed and embarrassed, as we felt we had taken considerable care in the selection,” he said. The vexed question of new car prices is occupying much of his time. Dealers, he said, were looking for a clear statement from the Government about what they could expect.

“Dealers are expecting manufacturers to make sure deals they do with fleet operators are available to them,” he said. “But manufacturers have been slow to reach that point - they have not been upfront.

“The carmakers have been encouraged or persuaded to realise that the Government means business. The call for lower prices came clearly from the Competition Commission, despite the protestations of the manufacturers that they could not make a reduction.”

Mr Evans said the RMI would watch the position carefully at the end of three months. By December, carmakers had to reveal the nature of the discounts on offer, and the terms. Automotive Management, among others, has raised the possibility of the RMI forming some kind of club, giving smaller dealerships access to the discounts. Mr Evans did not believe that was feasible.

“We have a duty to our members to ensure that the RMI does not run any commercial risk by becoming a buying agency,” he said. “I don't see how we could work it effectively.

“We are disappointed the Government didn't accept our argument that the existing networks of manufacturers' franchised dealers should qualify for discounts.

“Manufacturers should accept they already have retail buying groups in place, whether a group buys 100 cars or 5,000.

“The other relevant point is that fleets do not always buy, say, 2,000 cars all at once. A fleet operator may come to an arrangement with a manufacturer to take the vehicles over the course of a year.

“We have made that point to the Government, and to the Competition Commission which didn't seem to consult more than a couple of fleets.”

Assuming the debate about prices is quickly resolved, Block Exemption will quickly move into the forefront of Mr Evans' mind.

“Whatever the outcome, we want to see the new arrangement properly monitored,” he said. “Since 1995, the EU and UK authorities have failed to ensure Block Exemption has worked in the best possible way.”

The problem over new car prices in EU countries was based on the lack of harmonisation in taxes.

Mr Evans accepted that member states would want to set their own levels, but he wanted to see movement towards a narrow band of levels.

Once a new form of Block Exemption is in place (as he hopes), Mr Evans can turn his mind to other interests, such as his vegetable patch, music and bird watching.

He ended the interview by thanking his staff for their “magnificent support” and added: “They probably think it's better to have the devil they know.”

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