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Dealers call for ‘fair fleet’ deal

AM is launching a Fair Fleet campaign designed to create a Customer Charter in response to a surge of criticism by fleet operators through the pages of sister magazine Fleet News.

AM’s Fair Fleet-Fair Pay Charter is aimed at creating better understanding between the two sectors, in the interests of both. Fleet News, which last month launched a Fair Dealer campaign quoting often unnamed fleet operators claiming franchised dealers had let them down, has said the same: “Our campaign highlights best practice and condemns unacceptable service in Britain’s dealer network.”

Bosses of major AM100 dealer groups are the latest to contest allegations of widespread shoddy servicing work highlighted in Fleet News. Two of them say that long-term servicing agreements with leading fleet operators prove the franchised sector can be trusted to do the work. Another explains why his group was forced to pull out of fleet business.

Ken Surgenor, Lookers chief executive, says: “We negotiate a fair price for servicing fleet cars and then make sure we do a fair job for them. Lex Vehicle Leasing has been one of our fleet clients for years, and I would soon know if they were unhappy with us.”

Fleet operators have been challenged by Nidd Vale chairman and managing director Colin Hainstock to understand the “extremely tight profit margins” faced by franchised dealers. The Harrogate-based group is a leading Vauxhall partner, also representing Saab and Mazda.

Hainstock has carried the fight to fleet customers in an interview with Fleet News, and says he wants to put isolated complaints into context. “Fleet customers screw dealers down to the last penny,” he says. “They should consider how much they expect for what they are prepared to pay.”

Hainstock’s comments are based on Nidd Vale’s decision to withdraw from sales to fleets because it was costing £200 to supply a fleet car. “That was net cost covering the car coming in, having its pre-delivery inspection and being delivered to the customer,” he says.

Paul Stokes, Nidd Vale commercial director, adds: “The biggest bugbear with fleet servicing is usually cash-flow. Dealers have to wait three or four weeks for payment from fleets, whereas retail customers have to pay before getting their car back.”

Chris Barry, joint managing director of the Staffordshire-based Greenhaus Group, a key Vauxhall partner which last year bought a Peugeot dealership, says: “For many years, we have had servicing agreements with Interleasing, which is, understandably, a demanding customer. Fleet operators tend to want retail dealers to drop everything and sort them out straight away. We try to prevent a problem becoming a crisis and realise getting company car users mobile is essential.

If no courtesy car is available, then we offer a daily rental car at a special price.”

Barry says Vauxhall’s long-running fleet workshops for dealers were valuable in creating better understanding about both sides of the business. “We now have regular conversations with our local fleet operators to understand their problems,” he adds. “This is important because the relationship is more personal than with a major leasing company.”

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