But reduced budgets and high fuel prices (diesel up 22.5% to 133p per litre and petrol up 15.4% to 119p per litre since the start of the year, according to Catalist, part of Experian) don’t necessarily mean buyers will stay away.
It’s actually an opportunity for industrious dealers. They can ensure they remain the driver’s friend by keeping customers informed about how they can fend off higher fuel bills.
Product is a key part of the mix, as fuel efficiency and running costs will be a question on many customers’ lips when they visit a dealer.
But this doesn’t have to mean you are limited to selling superminis.
According to dealers, the fuel economy and cost questions are important to car buyers in all categories.
Most major manufacturers now offer products specifically designed to reduce a vehicle’s environmental impact and costs.
Honda and Toyota’s hybrid technology has received a substantial amount of press coverage and offers a combination of petrol and battery power that slashes fuel use.
Most carmakers are working on their own hybrid options, with a particular focus on the diesel hybrid.
But other very successful examples include BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology, standard on many models, which uses technology such as stop-start and brake energy regeneration to improve fuel economy.
Citroën also provides a stop-start option on some models.
New Environmental programme
Renault has introduced a new Eco2 symbol, designed to show models that are affordable, economical in terms of fuel consumption and engineered to help reduce the environmental impact of motoring.
Citroën has unveiled a new environmental programme called Airdream, which will identify the cleanest and most environmentally-friendly vehicles in the Citroën range.
Dealers need to ensure that their employees are trained to cope with the increasing number of enquiries about their low-emission ranges, but there are also a number of initiatives that aren’t focused on product that can help customers cope.
The ideas can be replicated in any dealership, given the budget and time commitment.
For example, a special simulator is being developed by Renault to take customers for a ‘drive’ – then tell them how they could have completed their virtual journey on less fuel.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# Ten green tips
1. Drive traffic into your showroom by offering eye-catching services that have an environmental theme. For example, a green service check to make sure vehicles are as fuel efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.
2. Promote green products to customers, such as oils and tyres during servicing that could make their vehicles more efficient.
3. Get the message out to customers. Ensure your marketing lets customers know that you can help them keep their fuel costs low.
4. Be seen to be green. If there is an event focused on the environment, make sure your brand is clearly allied with it. You may have to field questions about the role of the car, but with the right preparation, you could even turn cynics into a sale.
5. Make the most of partnerships. There are plenty of organisations to turn to for help, including the Energy Saving Trust, Carbon Trust and product providers who can make your green message more effective.
6. Make the most of your product. If it’s green, it should be seen. Make sure you promote your cleanest cars effectively and get the message right. And remember, saving money is just as important as saving the environment to most buyers.
7. Carbon offsetting. It isn’t particularly expensive, but it can be a truly eye-catching initiative. Offset the emissions for the life of the car’s use by your customer. It costs very little, but says a lot about your business.
8. Fuel. Instead of a discount on the price of the car, consider ways in which you can discount fuel costs for your customers, for example, by paying for their first 5,000 miles. You may still be providing a discount, but the marketing message is perfectly timed to get people looking at your forecourt.
9. Free advice. To drive traffic to your showrooms, consider offering workshops where members of the public can learn the techniques of green driving from experts in the field.
10. Don’t think you can do nothing. If you don’t take action, your rivals will. Getting the message out and maintaining close contact with your customers is essential to make sure they see their dealer as a vital part of their toolkit for keeping travel costs down.