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Fleets consider boycotting brands as OEM relationships hit an 'all-time low'

Paul Hollick AFP

Fleet operators are considering a boycott of certain manufacturers as supply issues and a breakdown of communication pushes them to breaking point.

The relationships between car manufacturers and fleet operators have reached an all-time low, according to a fleet industry body.

The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP), which represents the interests of businesses which operate cars and vans, says its members are often unable to get hold of representatives from major car and van makers.

Fleet operators have also reported having orders cancelled at late notice and suggested that large fleets are often being placed last when it comes to allocating stock.

The situation is causing high degrees of ill feeling within the fleet industry and the AFP said there was talk among its members of organising boycotts of some manufacturers.

Paul Hollick, chair at the AFP, said: “As an organisation, we don’t think any form of boycott would be an effective strategy but the fact that such an idea is being raised just shows the strength of feeling.

“A refrain we hear time and again from fleets is that, once supply returns to some kind of normality, the worst-offending manufacturers will not be easily forgiven and our members will not work with them in the future where a choice exists. Relationships feel at an all-time low.”

The situation it at odds with the recent move towards agency models and direct sales arrangements, where manufacturers will rely on building stronger relationships with fleets to drive sales.

With a couple of possible exceptions, complaints seem to be consistent for almost every car manufacturer, according to the AFP.

Hollick explained: “There’s a general perception that this issue is getting worse rather than better. Everyone knows and understands that there are ongoing production issues affecting almost every manufacturer but no-one can comprehend why this has seemingly caused a complete breakdown in responsibility and communication.

“Placing orders is difficult because you can’t get hold of the right people to do so, getting subsequent updates on those orders is often impossible and finally, these orders are often pulled at the last minute with no explanation.

“We are hearing regular stories from across our membership about orders for dozens or even hundreds of cars and vans being cancelled more than a year after they were first made and within weeks of when they were due. This leaves fleets high and dry. It’s having a direct impact on businesses that need transport and, on a personal basis, potentially damages the perception of the fleet manager within their business.”

One fleet manager labelled the sector’s treatment by OEMs as “disgraceful”, saying he was “sick to death” of order books for vehicles being opened only to be shut again.

“You’ve got orders in for six, eight, nine, 10 months, and then they just send you an email saying you’re not going to get your vehicles,” he told AM's sister title Fleet News.

Retail customers get priority

A further point of contention, Hollick said, was that manufacturers appeared to be giving priority to retail customers and small fleets over large scale buyers of vehicles.

He explained: “Especially for certain types of more fashionable vehicle, it seems that it is easier to get hold of supply if you a private individual or if you run 10 vehicles rather than if you run a thousand. This is something that makes no sense whatsoever – especially at a time when fleets are often paying something very close to retail prices.

“It’s a common complaint that before the pandemic, fleet managers were pursued by manufacturer reps on a daily basis and now, they haven’t heard from any in years. That’s not a basis for responsible, long-term partnerships. Manufacturers should realise the damage they are doing and change their approach as quickly as possible.”

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