Hyundai has been knocking on the door of the top honours at the Fleet News Awards for a number of years. 2015 saw it finally make the breakthrough.
The brand has been highly-commended in the most improved manufacturer category for the past three years, including this year, and took its first award when the i10 was named best supermini.
For Martin Wilson, Hyundai’s fleet and marketing director, this recognises the progress the brand has made over the past five years.
“Winning the Fleet News Award is a great endorsement of our products,” he says. “In that vast room you’ve got your peers and competitors and it’s amazing how many people will pick up the phone to congratulate you or, if nothing else, realise that you – Hyundai – are the brand that is collecting the award.
“Without question, people’s perception of Hyundai has changed dramatically and that is right across the board from the acceptance of the brand and product to realising that we have now got a breadth of vehicles that is suitable for every fleet.
“Whereas four or five years ago people may not have considered Hyundai, certainly they have to consider us now because of the constant change of new cars.”
The new product is one of the factors behind Hyundai’s growth in the fleet sector. In an interview with Fleet News earlier in the year, Wilson said the brand was aiming to increase its fleet registrations by up to 6% this year: in fact, he says true fleet growth was up 15% in the first quarter of 2015, and he expects this to continue for the rest of the year.
Many of these extra sales will be generated through the launch of new models, but the Hyundai is also hoping its investment in improving residual values and reducing service, maintenance and repair costs will help win new business.
Fleet News: How important is it to Hyundai’s aspirations in the fleet market to have new models?
Martin Wilson: The fleet market is very similar to retail in that it’s important to have new products – whether it is a facelift or brand new car – because it gives my team something to talk to customers about. I’ve always said that when you go to the customer with a new product for the first time, the natural reaction is positive and, as we have more new products and facelifts, that experience and reaction is more and more positive. The i10 is doing amazingly well in its sector, we’ve got a brand new i20, facelifted i30 and i40, and an all-new Tucson is coming in September. Our range goes up to Genesis which is against some of the major premium marques, so it’s a very diverse spread and we’ve got a team which is massively dedicated and wants to make it work.
FN: Are you facing any particular challenges in the fleet sector?
MW: One of our biggest challenges is to get our message across to a wider sector and that includes everything from using customer relationship management (CRM) systems for our current customer base, dealer interaction with fleets, general marketing, social media and attracting more people to our central website. Consistently improving these gives us a much closer tie and a better affiliation with our customers. Over the past three or four years we’ve consistently been drawing new customers to the brand, which we clearly need to continue doing, but we need to make sure that we retain the customers we already have. We have to love our customers to bits and that’s something I say to all of our team: having the right relationships with the right people is key.
FN: The ix35 hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is on sale now. How has that been received by the market?
MW: We’ll probably have 10 cars on the road by the end of the third quarter and there are a lot more people who have a very serious interest in them. These come from a wide range of backgrounds, including the public sector, those involved in hydrogen production and those with a vested interest in the delivery of hydrogen.
Having our fuel cell ix35 on sale says a lot for our brand. It says we are at the forefront of the technology and that cascades down to the rest of our range so the team can use that very much as a tool to talk to customers. A business might not be looking to buy a fuel cell ix35 for its own fleet, but it may want to understand the technology and the knock-on effect from that is that it might have a look at an i30 or an i40. It’s a bit like the Genesis: people will look at it and see that the technology is amazing, and straightaway that technology is cascading down to i30 and i40. We know that not everybody is going to buy a Genesis or fuel cell car, but they can see that we are capable of that level of technology and equipment.
FN: What issues are there surrounding the uptake of fuel cell vehicles in the UK?
MW: Clearly, there is an issue around infrastructure such as refuelling stations, but my team is looking at trying to help influence various stakeholders to make sure that we are developing that because I think everybody is aware that fuel cell has got to be the medium term solution. Last year, we appointed Robin Hayles as our first sustainable fuel development manager. 70% of his job is to look at the sales potential of fuel cell cars, but the remaining 30% is to liaise with stakeholders and the Government as there are various grants available in the UK and Europe. His role includes trying to harness some of that money, not just for car sales but to assist with the infrastructure. A fuel cell car drives like an electric vehicle: it’s quick, it’s obviously silent, but unlike an EV it takes just three minutes to refuel, exactly the same as a petrol or diesel car. It means drivers’ habits won’t need to change at all when it comes to refuelling it.
FN: Hyundai has been retained on the Government’s Crown Commercial Services procurement list. What benefits does this bring you?
MW: Supplying cars to the police gives us another level of kudos as the average customer can see that if the police are using our vehicles, they must be safe, reliable and tested well beyond any of the driving needs of an everyday motorist. It also gives us another area of growth that we otherwise would not have had, so it’s a fabulous area for us to be in.
Speaking from Hyundai’s stand at Company Car in Action, Wilson insists the brand will not take any short-term measures to increase fleet registrations.
“As a brand we have to take a medium- to long-term view,” he says. “Like any manufacturer, we can dramatically increase our sales if we use certain sectors to do that, but I am very clear with our business plan that it has to be a very balanced sector mix.
“We need to spend more time with SMEs through the dealer sector, while we also need to make sure we have the right offering, the right aftersales programme and the right marketing for all organisations and initiatives such as public sector and salary sacrifice.
“We are also looking to talk to more different customers who will hopefully become brand advocates.”