It wasn’t long ago that manufacturers and franchised dealers were simply companies which sold and repaired vans.
But as the business of fleet management gets ever more complicated – and as suppliers increasingly realise the beneficial results of going the extra mile for their customers – things are changing rapidly for buyers of light commercial vehicles.
Manufacturers and dealers now offer a vast array of extra services such as extended opening hours, bespoke body conversions and expert financial guidance.
But these services vary hugely between the different manufacturers – and it is an exercise well worth undertaking for fleet operators to study exactly what each van maker offers before making their final vehicle selection.
While all manufacturers will willingly brag about their specialist fleet services, Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles takes it to a new level: Andrew Lawson, national fleet sales manager, reckons none of them can match what is offered by the three-pointed star.
Is this hyperbole or simply the truth?
As the company rolls out its new Citan small van and an upgraded Sprinter, the battle for fleet business is reaching fever pitch.
Such is the belief in product that abounds among Mercedes-Benz chiefs that they are aiming to grow market share substantially in the coming years, taking a firm hold on the No2 sales slot in the UK by 2016.
This means increasing sales from 21,000 in 2012 to 30,000-plus at today’s market volumes, passing Volkswagen, Vauxhall and – after a strong first eight months in 2013 – Citroen along the way.
To achieve this lofty ambition, Mercedes-Benz will have to tackle the perception that its vans are expensive.
Its answer is to put the focus on total cost of ownership in its discussions with fleets and leasing companies. It’s a tactic that appears to be working: sales year-to-date have hit record levels.
Lawson also points towards the fact that, with the launch of the Citan, Mercedes-Benz now has a vehicle for every fleet need, which is an attractive proposition for those looking for a sole-supply solution.
“We are the only manufacturer which can offer commercial vehicles from 1,800kg to 44 tonnes gross vehicle weight and that way we can now pick up a lot of solus deals that we couldn’t pitch for before we had the Citan,” he says.
“Because we are a truck manufacturer too, our dealers offer 24-hour servicing so that vehicles can be serviced and repaired in the night, thus cutting downtime to a minimum. Most of our 98 dealers offer this and the rest are being encouraged to do so.”