Appealing products, quality levels of service and competitive pricing are attracting increased interest from user-choosers to FCA.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) UK’s development into a fleet manufacturer to be reckoned with is mainly down to three factors, according to its fleet and remarketing director Francis Bleasdale (pictured).
“The UK is probably the most competitive fleet market in Europe,” Bleasdale says.
“To be successful, you need to have strong, appealing products. You need to have a service in place to support companies in order to operate those products, and you need to be competitive. We’ve had to work really hard to develop that.”
This strategy has seen FCA UK overhaul and significantly strengthen its fleet and business s§ales team, with a number of appointments creating expert teams focused on specific areas, such as public sector, Motability, SMEs (small- to medium-enterprises) and leasing.
“All that means we are realising opportunities and building our customer database beyond the level it has been before,” says Bleasdale.
This has also been aided by FCA’s ability to provide five distinct brands – Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep, Fiat Professional and Abarth – through one contact point, which makes the group “unique”, he adds.
“We recognise that people’s days and the hours within those days are quite tight and they don’t want to be seeing masses of manufacturer representatives, so the ability to see one person who can converse with them and support them for all their fleet needs is important,” says Bleasdale.
“Our brands complement each other well: Jeep is the iconic 4x4 and SUV brand, Fiat is a fantastically accessible fun brand, Alfa Romeo has a strong sporting heritage and is very aspirational, Fiat Professional is a very strong commercial vehicle brand with a proven history, and Abarth is a real enthusiasts’ sporting brand.
“There are other groups where the separation between the brands is potentially quite confusing.
"Our brands are very distinct and have clear positions in the market place and that really helps us when we speak to customers because they can easily see where our products and brands line up with their fleet requirements.”
Fleet News: How important have FCA’s new cars been to your fleet ambitions?
Francis Bleasdale (FB): We launched the Fiat Tipo and Alfa Romeo Giulia towards the end of last year and they have been really important to us because they’ve taken us back into the C and D segment properly for the first time in a while.
We’ve also got the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jeep Compass SUVs coming this year which we have high hopes for.
Compass takes us right into the biggest and fastest-growing SUV segment in the marketplace.
It will be positioned in the space between Renegade – our fastest-growing model in the Jeep brand – and Cherokee, so it will be a bright addition to the range.
Stelvio, together with Giulia, is really opening doors for us.
They are getting fantastic coverage in the media, whether that is in the Sunday Times or on Top Gear, and fleet managers are now being asked about Alfa Romeo products by their drivers.
There is a real reservoir of goodwill towards Alfa Romeo and a desire among user-choosers who may well be on their second or third BMW 3 Series or third or fourth Audi A4 to have something that’s different but, at the same time, not have to compromise to get it.
That’s something we’ve managed to achieve with Giulia.
This has helped us get on to the choice lists of some fantastic customers for the first time, including some major corporates within pharmaceuticals, engineering and financial services.
FN: Do you also see an opportunity for significant growth in the SME sector?
FB: I do. In the past we’ve had Fiat Professional and Fiat 500, but we’ve not really had the product offering to confidently attack that area of the marketplace. Cars like Stelvio and Giulia will help us do that.
FN: How have your business-specific trim levels been received?
FB: They are proving popular. We have Elite on Tipo and Technica on Alfa Romeo, so we will have Technica on Giulia and Giuletta and we are evaluating it for Stelvio as well.
The business trims allow us to make a really good, appealing product offering to the user-chooser that has got great equipment levels, the prices are at a competitive level in terms of benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax, and therefore it means it’s a good option for them to choose.
It doesn’t represent all the fleet mix by any means because there’s a high level of fleet customers and user-choosers who just want the model that they want, but it’s certainly a very appealing offer and it allows us to focus our fleet communications on one particular model as well.
FN: With the expected growth in volume, how are you protecting residual values?
FB: We’ve had to be very selective about some of the business we’ve done for understandable reasons.
I’ll give you an example: on Giulia we’ve done absolutely no rental whatsoever, not a single unit, and we’ve started to see that manifest itself in the RV position of the car, both in terms of its forecasted value and its current value.
We’ve also developed used car programmes called Found for Fiat, Abarth and Fiat Professional, and Selected For You for the Jeep and Alfa Romeo networks, and this adds to our ability to remarket our products back into the market and support their residual values.
This also generates the data which we need to demonstrate how that improvement in RVs has been achieved.
FN: How else is the dealer network supporting your fleet ambitions?
FB: We’ve relaunched our dealer network business centre programme. This will provide a high level of support to our fleet and business customers and will help us engage with more SMEs and local businesses.
Currently just less than 30 dealers belong to the initiative but we hope that will increase to 40 by the end of the year.
If more dealer partners want to invest in the opportunity then we are open to that, but it’s really important we know the business opportunities that exist locally will be developed and that they can offer the level of service and support that customers want.
As well as being named most improved manufacturer in the Fleet News Awards, FCA UK has also been celebrating the success of its FCA Fleet Services contract hire company.
This moved into the top half of the 2016 FN50 listing of the UK’s largest contract hire and leasing companies for the first time, and was the fastest-growing leasing company, in percentage terms. It’s 2,569-unit increase to 7,381 represented 53.4% growth.
The contract hire company has recently been rebranded Leasys to bring it into line with the group’s mainland Europe operation.
“It’s been a bit confusing to customers in terms of FCA Fleet Services versus FCA Fleet and Business Sales,” says Bleasdale.
“It didn’t really create a distinctiveness, so Leasys has replaced FCA Fleet Services so we will have a really recognisable leasing and contract hire brand as part of our solution and that will give us a real presence in that contract hire market.
“We are genuinely excited by it because in its previous branding it was very difficult to communicate that out into the marketplace.
“Now you will only have to hear the name and you know what the company is about.”