Volkswagen and Nissan said they are making efforts to improve relationships with their dealer networks following low scores in the Winter NFDA Dealer Attitude Survey.
Asked how they would rate their manufacturer overall, dealers scored Volkswagen 3.9 out of 10 (down from 4.5 in the previous survey), Nissan 4.0 (down from 5.3) and Mitsubishi 3.9 (down from 4.6) Bottom-of-the-table Citroën actually improved its score by 0.2 points, to 3.8.
The unifying theme around the negative ratings was poor communication with the franchise and dissatisfaction with profitability.
The average score across all manufacturers was 6.1, a drop of 0.1 when compared with summer 2016, but the same as last winter’s survey.
Sue Robinson, NFDA director, said while a number of manufacturers had clearly taken previous negative scores into consideration and improved their position, average scores across most questions had worsened.
Robinson said: “In such a critical period, it is fundamental that manufacturers and dealers continue to constructively work together towards the same ultimate objective, which is ensuring that the automotive industry is well represented at all levels and continues to thrive.”
Alison Jones, VW UK passenger cars brand director, said she was disappointed by the NFDA results and had at least hoped to hold a 4.5 rating.
Jones told AM: “I wrote to the partners on March 7 in an attempt to foster more openness and address the issues the survey raised.
“We really have done all we can to try and understand where we can improve.”
Jones knows the dealer network has taken issue with profitability and the complexity that comes with running the franchise.
She said a recent dealer forum generated 650 questions “to give us things to think about”.
Jones said: “The timing of the NFDA survey came just ahead of our big conference at the end of January and the feedback from that event was very good.
“We keep being told ‘yes we’re going in the right direction’, hosting dinners and discussions with our partners, and we are determined to drive improvement.”
Dealers rated Nissan particularly poorly for volume target aspirations, at 2.8 out of 10. It also posted the lowest score for dealers’ ability to do business with their manufacturer on a day-to-day basis, at 3.7 out of 10.
A Nissan spokesman said: “We are aware of these findings and are working closely with the dealer network to resolve them.”
He said the results were a reflection of how fast Nissan was growing in the UK, with increased volumes over the past couple of years.
He said: “This growth has put pressure on the network to perform. We are also intensively working with dealers to drive enhanced profitability.
“We are improving our communications with dealers to outline our vision for the coming years and are working closely with them to move our business forwards in partnership.”
Citroën declined to comment on the areas of the survey where its scores fell, instead focusing on improvements in how dealers rated target expectations, target-setting for aftersales and demonstrator requirements.
A Citroën spokesman said: “We continue to have a close working relationship with our network partners through regional forums, dealer council meetings and via one-to-one feedback/development programmes.”
Citroën said it is confident the new C3 and C3 Picasso replacement will have a positive impact on network profitability.
The spokesman said: “Citroën UK is proud of its open and honest approach, and is fully committed to a truly successful business
relationship with our network partners and to achieving our shared business objectives.”
The top performers
At the other end of the spectrum, Mercedes-Benz maintained its position as the best-rated manufacturer, with a score of 9.6.
It improved its overall score by 0.1 points compared with the summer survey and it was 0.3 points higher than the same survey last year.
Kia consolidated its second position with a further improvement of 0.1 points, to 9.3. In fact, when the scores for all survey questions were averaged, Kia came out on top of the table with 8.7, ahead of Mercedes-Benz on 8.5.
Lexus placed third in the manufacturer rating with 9.0 points, unchanged from last summer.
Gary Savage, Mercedes-Benz Cars managing director, said the spirit of partnership is the foundation of everything the brand does with its network: “Our overriding principle is to make our communications clear and uncomplicated: we listen, we talk and we work together.”
He said high scores across the board for Mercedes were due to examining every survey question to determine where improvements could be made: “I have already called representatives from our network and the dealer council to discuss and gain their insight on scores from the latest survey.”
Paul Philpott, Kia UK chief executive, said the high ratings from dealers showed how well the business collaborates with its network.
He said: “The key thing for us is communication with the network and giving them what they need to run their businesses effectively and profitably.
“We listen to them, they listen to us. We have mutual respect.” This is backed up by the NFDA results, showing dealers rate Kia at 9.2 out of 10 on how the franchise takes their views into account.
Kevin Ledgar, Lexus general manager of operations, said the brand has established a mutually beneficial working relationship based on a “consultative and transparent approach”.
Ledgar said: “We consult with our network on a broad spectrum of business and operational matters through working groups and committees, covering everything from quarterly campaigns to standards.
“However, it’s just as important that anyone in the network is free to pick up the phone and have a direct conversation with Lexus senior management if they have anything they want to discuss. That is one of the benefits of having a compact and flat management structure.”
Mazda also scooped a top six position with 8.0, its best result since 1992. It came just behind Suzuki at 8.6 and BMW at 8.2.
Jeremy Thomson, Mazda UK managing director, said the business had worked hard to build mutually beneficial relationships with the dealer network.
He said: “We will continue to listen to our dealers and, building on this positive feedback, will redouble our efforts to be an ‘easy to do business with’ manufacturer.”