The move has been welcomed with caution by fleet operators and by Seat retailers. Fleets say the strategy will succeed only if the manufacturer fully embraces fleet expectations in respect of supply and cost terms, and dealers offer the level of aftersales support fleets have come to expect from brand partners Volkswagen, Audi and – latterly – Škoda.
“They can’t just say ‘we’re different’ and expect fleets to come on board,” says Association of Car Fleet Operators director Stewart Whyte. “There needs to be far more substance, and dealers need to play ball. But we say welcome to the party – the product’s certainly up to the job.”
One Midlands-based dealer agrees that Seat’s product range has fleet potential, but points out that more than 40% of its sales are already company funded. And perhaps indicating that there may still be a gap between what dealers sees as retail aftersales service and what fleets expect, he adds: “We give all our customers the same high level of service, whether they are private buyers or company car buyers.”
It’s more than five years since the brand has had a dedicated fleet and business sales department chief – that role was scrapped in June 2000 when Robert Couldwell left Seat to open his own fleet consultancy business.
Last year, Seat’s retail to fleet (including business) split was roughly 50:50, according to SMMT figures, with the Leon and Toledo accounting for most sales. While Seat wouldn’t confirm targets to increase fleet penetration, it does want to cushion itself against a falling retail market, which ended last year down 10%.
Webb leads a 12-strong team to market the merits of Toledo, Leon and Altea to small and medium businesses. Also on board are national business sales manager Nigel Wright and used car manager David Ardern, as well as three business sales accounts managers and a business sales support team.
“Seat makes highly desirable fleet cars,” says Webb. “They appeal to drivers through their sporty and dynamic character, but also please fleet managers thanks to such virtues as great residual values and low running costs.”
In fact, Seat’s residual values are not far short of VW’s. A Leon 1.6 Stylance is rated by CAP at 40% over the three years/60,000 miles typical fleet cycle and the Toledo in the same specification is shown at 37%. Diesel models also tend to be in the 37-40% bracket, and there are reasonably healthy retained value predictions for the less obvious fleet contenders Alhambra, Cordoba and Ibiza.
Will fleet penetration change all that? Not according to one analyst. “Overall volume isn’t going to be affected much and I can’t see them going down high churn, low profit route,” he says.
Kevin James, director of Seat UK, says the brand has become too reliant on the retail side of the market. “With this invigorated fleet team we will target the profitable small and medium business sales market where our range has great appeal.”