Fiat Chrysler Automobiles believes 2016 is its most important year yet in the fleet and business market.
It is a significant period in the short life of the group, now in its third year after being formed to look after the Fiat, Fiat Professional, Alfa Romeo, Jeep and Abarth brands. “This is our busiest year yet for new model introductions,” Francis Bleasdale, fleet and business sales director, told AM sister-title Fleet News.
New models already launched include the refreshed Fiat Fiorino, Fiat Fullback pick-up and Fiat Qubo MPV, while the Alfa Romeo Giulia (autumn), Fiat Tipo (autumn), and Fiat Talento (September) are among those to follow.
“The Giulia puts Alfa back in the D-segment after nearly six years, Fiat Professional is entering the pick-up sector for the first time with the Fullback, and Fiat is also returning to the the C-segment after quite some time with the Tipo,” said Bleasdale.
“We’ve got a new medium van with Talento which will fill the space between Doblo and Ducato, we’ve got a refreshed Fiorino and then we have the 124 Spider. Although that is limited in terms of fleet potential, it is still a model we are excited about and also makes a really positive statement about where the brand is going.
“It’s a big year, an important year, and it’s really the year that fills all the spaces we’ve had in the range, so it’s given us a full line-up for quite some time.”
Despite the gaps in the model range, last year FCA saw fleet registrations, helped by the launches of the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade, increase by 23% to 39,859 compared to 2014, a year which itself saw fleet sales rise by around 2,000.
This year, to July 27, fleet registrations were 23,585, 17% greater than in the same period last year.
“I think we were constrained by the fact we didn’t have C- and D-segment cars, but now with the total power we have by coming together as FCA we can offer much more,” says Bleasdale.
“We have a complete range of commercial vehicles and SUVs with Jeep, a sporting brand in the form of Alfa Romeo and a performance brand in the form of Abarth.
“For instance, take Giulia: there are lots of fleets currently running BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class models, and there are many company car drivers who will appreciate and are looking for an alternative to those brands,” he added.
“They are great products and great brands, but I think there is a general desire for something a bit different and I’m really optimistic we’re going to tap into that groundswell of opinion.”
Bleasdale also has high hopes for the Fullback. “What the Fullback gives us is not just a fleet solution but an offering into the small business marketplace, which is so important for pick-up sales,” he says.
“Many companies that run a pick-up will also run two or three vans, so it gives us a real opportunity to target those customers and get a foothold in that marketplace. Our dealers are really welcoming the opportunity.”
However, despite his obvious enthusiasm for the opportunities the new vehicles will bring, he is more reticent about what it will mean to fleet registrations.
“We are not wedded to a particular number,” he says. “Obviously the market will change and develop, it depends on how the new models are received. But the key is got to be sustainable. It’s got to be sustainable in terms of bringing your dealers along with you, it’s got to be sustainable in terms of residual values (RVs) and it’s got to be sustainable in doing the right kind of business.”
Improving RVs has been an “unerring focus” for Bleasdale.
“We are benchmarking ourselves and our competitors to see where we are and we want to make sure that when we launch a new vehicle it is positioned with the RV guides in the best possible way, giving them access to early drives and range line-up, and making sure they are familiar with what we do,” he says.
“The vast majority of cars are leased in one way or another. Whether that’s a PCP, a PCH, salary sacrifice, or whether it’s a conventional company car user-chooser, we are all more reliant on leasing. And that provokes a challenge for us in terms of RVs. They are such a cornerstone of a lease product and I now have a dedicated RV and service, maintenance and repair (SMR) manager whose job is to make sure product launches properly within the RV community.
“He also monitors where we are on SMR and total cost of ownership, and acts as our conscience in terms of making sure everyone in the business is working in the right way to make sure our RVs are protected.”
Approved used cars
The launch of a new approved used car programme across the group this year will also help improve RVs, according to Bleasdale.
“We already have a used programme, but the idea will be that we have a new and improved programme which will really make sure that customers can buy from a Fiat dealer, Alfa Romeo dealer or Jeep dealer with all the reassurance that the cars are fully checked, that the cars are refurbed to a really high standard and they have the usual customer reassurances, mileage checks and condition checks, so that will be very important for us,” he says.
“We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes – myself and the used car team – to make sure that that programme when it launches will be one of the best in class.”
FCA UK is aiming to increase the number of fleet specialist dealers in its network from 25 to 40 over the next year.
“Part of that will be done by strengthening our aftersales proposition, so we’ll be more prescriptive about the aftersales charter for business customers,” said Bleasdale.
“That will be absolutely fundamental to growing sales within the SME sector. We all think that the big fleets are the most demanding, but mobility is probably of even more critical performance for a small business.
“A big business has access to rental, it can have pool cars, it has that flexibility that comes with scale.
“But if you’re a business with two or three vans and you lose one van, that’s 30-50% of capability down straight away, so you need that reassurance that if you select a brand or product then, a) that product is up to the task and, b) the structure will be there to support you if things do go wrong.”