Value, doing things better and employing the best people in the business. These are the three key areas of focus that will help Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions continue to grow, says Robert Wastell, divisional managing director for the cars division.
The business, which was named leasing company of the year in the 2014 Fleet News Awards, currently sits 10th in the FN50 and its growth ambitions are clear.
“We call it shooting for the top five,” says Wastell. “We used to be 10th in the FN50, then we were up to eighth and we want to be in the top five by 2018.”
The ability to retain existing customers as well as attracting new ones is vital to this ambition, he says. “You’ve got to keep your customers. We’ve been really focused over the past few years on delivering and evidencing long-term value to our customers over and above that of our competition, and they’ve rewarded us with their loyalty.
“We work really hard to deliver against the things our customers value and, whether they are big or small, we make sure we understand their needs upfront.”
The growth experienced by Hitachi in recent years – its fleet size grew significantly in 2013 thanks to the launch of a new service for SMEs as well as securing the Royal Bank of Scotland fleet contract for 7,000 vehicles – did not come at the expense of service for existing customers.
Customer satisfaction indicators improved, with a 4.4 out of five approval rating from survey respondents, while Hitachi was ranked as the best leasing company for operator satisfaction rated by net promoter score in Sewells Research & Insight’s annual leasing satisfaction survey last year.
The company has also embraced the Japanese heritage of its parent company and introduced its kaizen programme to encourage continuous improvement. “We are committed to doing better so we measure so much around our service levels,” says Wastell.
“We are continually measuring and improving the way we do things, and, in doing so, we are year-on-year increasing customer, driver and also decision-maker satisfaction.
“The third reason is that we invest in the best people who share our values – top talent is the phrase I’m always using. It’s not just customers who want to work with the right people; we do as well. We always look for the best people and do the best thing for their careers to keep them at the top of their game.”
Wastell says the company’s focus on staff led to it making the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For listing for the first time last year, as well as receiving a Best Companies two star accreditation.
Fleet News: What funding trends have you seen emerging, for example companies using different funding methods for different vehicles on their fleet?
Robert Wastell: There are plenty of fleet reviews where the recommended funding method always comes out as contract hire with maintenance. However, all fleets are different and you may get one where there may be CO2 restrictions, it might want to use outright purchase or contract purchase, ECO schemes or contract hire with or without maintenance. We do have a number of fleets which use blended funding and that is one of our strengths: we offer multi-funded solutions depending on what the customer wants. We have seen an increase in fleets using blended funding and I think that trend will continue. Fleets like the fact that they have flexibility. In a certain year they may be cash-rich so they want to buy outright and have vehicles fleet managed, while the following year something may happen so if they want to move to a funded fleet solution they can.
FN: Do you think salary sacrifice schemes will grow in popularity this year?
RW: I do. Our approach is not to go out and sign up loads of salary sacrifice schemes, but we tend to focus on a small number and work with the customer to ensure it is a compelling offering.
That’s why we’ve got 13 large salary sacrifice schemes now which have excellent penetration of 13.5%. Clearly, if you are going to launch a scheme you want it to work and we work very closely with our customers to ensure it will. Signing up is the easiest part – gaining penetration and getting employees engaged to ensure that those schemes actually grow and do what they’re meant to is more difficult. We also have our next-generation salary sacrifice platform coming out this year.
FN: What other funding or growth trends do you expect to see in the next few years?
RW: Alternative fuels are on our radar at the moment. I think we are at a tipping point around electric vehicles and hybrids, especially with the launch of some of the brands recently. I think we will see growth in this marketplace. We are seeing a lot more interest from our customers now in funding these vehicles, especially hybrids.
FN: Are SMEs a big focus for you?
RW: They are, but all customers are important. The SME market is vast and a lot of companies are now focusing on growth in that sector as well. We see the SME market as part of our growth strategy for the future, both direct and through a third-party intermediary associate channel.
FN: How do you minimise end-of-contract charges?
RW: We launched The Company Car App last year which features an end-of-life contract damage meter. With this, a driver is prompted six weeks before their car is due back to take photos of any damage. We can then assess it according to the BVRLA Fair Wear and Tear guidelines and can say what the likely cost of any repair is going to be.
We can then give fleets an option: they can either send the vehicle back for repair and potentially know what the bill is going to be, or we can help them repair it through a smart repair company before it comes back. That’s one innovation that has gone down quite well. No one likes a bill at end-of-contract, so anything we can do to reduce them is good for the customer. This approach helped us be the first placed brand in the Sewells leasing satisfaction survey for fair recharges and damage.
FN: What products will you be launching this year?
RW: We’re about to launch Trade Ready Solutions in partnership with Hitachi Power Tools, which is aimed at the professional trades industries.
This consists of a van, racking and a bespoke Hitachi tools kit in one package. There’s a lot coming down the line, but I don’t want to say too much at the moment.
Embracing technology and making it as accessible as possible is also key to Hitachi’s ambitions, says Wastell. “When we launched our apps last year, we made sure they could operate on Android, iPhone and also Blackberry phones.
We all know that technology solutions, especially around phones, are first and foremost in people’s minds and we are constantly seeking how we can expand that product range.”
He adds: “Because we are such a large organisation, there is so much going on and every day we find out about something new that Hitachi is doing in Japan – it might be about green mobility or clean energy – so lots of innovation is coming down the line.”