With four months of 2010 gone, Vauxhall was looking at a near three percentage point drop in its share of the fleet car market (11.25%), while van share was tracking a 5.5 percentage point deficit (14.75%).
But, unlike in days gone by, the company did not pull the wraps off the button marked ‘short-term rental’.
A new fleet team and an internal restructure had put it in a strong position to benefit from the anticipated upturn in fleet sales later in the year.
And so it turned out. Fleet car sales ended the year up 9.4% at 154,053, and market share recovered to 15.83%, similar to 2009.
Fleet van sales rose by a fifth to 18,486 for an 11.67% share of the market.
Neither result surprised Maurice Howkins, Vauxhall fleet director and a 2010 inductee into the Fleet News Hall of Fame.
“We were in line with our expectations,” he says. “We were strong in user-chooser and down in Motability, but that was a conscious decision.
“Our share dipped slightly but it was our decision not to chase the market and add short-cycle volume where we historically have done. That is detrimental to residual values and we want to protect them and grow organically.”
Sales were also hampered by supply issues with the Insignia, due to higher than anticipated demand.
It peaked at 14 weeks, significantly above its usual six to eight-week lead time.
Vauxhall took the Insignia off its internal car plan to help satisfy demand. Lead times have now returned to normal levels.
In vans, Vauxhall was constrained by supply of Vivaro.
But with forward orders in the bag, it did not need to chase activity, although that led to a dip in share year-on-year.
Capacity has now been built back up and lead times have subsequently come down.
Fleets of 25-200 vehicles were key to driving up volume business last year and they will continue to offer the biggest opportunity in 2011, with Vauxhall promoting hard to drivers the tax benefits of the Ecoflex technology.
The tactics are working: about a third of Vauxhall registered to fleets in 2010 wore the Ecoflex badge.
“Ecoflex is key for customers – it helps them to save money through vehicle efficiency, lower CO2 and better fuel consumption. It also has tax advantages with the writing-down allowances,” says Steve Catlin, fleet marketing and Motability manager.
In many ways 2010 was a landmark year for Vauxhall.
It scooped the Fleet News manufacturer of the year award in March – for the first time since 1999 – at a time when its parent company General Motors was still suffering the hangover from its profit woes a year earlier.
GMUK Fleet, created in 2006, was also being picked apart as Chevrolet embarked on a solus path and Saab was sold to Spyker.
The changes have enabled the newly named Vauxhall Fleet operation to focus solely on its own brand and on improving customer relationships.
“The Fleet News award helped us when we were going through a period of uncertainty,” says Howkins. He puts Vauxhall’s success down to one thing: customer focus.
“That is the pillar of our success. Our job is to exceed customer expectations from order to deliver and in aftersales as well.”
Vauxhall has set up an internal customer focus group which meets fortnightly to discuss any issues.
It also works with a core group of car and van fleets to understand first hand their expectations.
Communication is a critical part of the proposition.
Last year Vauxhall invested in a “21st century database system” which enables the fleet sales team to respond more quickly to customer queries.
It also enables Vauxhall to send bespoke product updates that are relevant to each individual fleet.
The big headlines, however, were reserved for the Lifetime Warranty announced in August.