Most of the major manufacturers have already set up a network of van fleet centres among their dealer networks, offering specialist knowledge about which vans to choose, enhanced levels of aftersales service and extended opening hours.
Mercedes-Benz may be a little late to the party, but there was already a higher level of professionalism throughout its commercial vehicle network. Set up to deal with the needs of truck operators as well as van operators, Mercedes-Benz now wants to ensure there are dedicated van specialists available at its centres at all times to enable them to qualify for elevated ProCenter status.
Steve Bridge, managing director of Mercedes-Benz Vans, has promised fleet customers the highest level of service in the UK.
The launch of the ProCenter project comes at an important time for the German manufacturer, which sees the van and truck divisions split into two. Bridge previously reported to his truck superior, but he now reports to the Mercedes-Benz’s HQ in Germany.
The benefit of this move for fleet buyers is that the company now has a greater focus on van sales and aftercare and that any decisions that need to be made can be done so more quickly and efficiently.
So far two dealers have been given ProCenter accreditation and it is hoped that eventually all 80 commercial vehicle dealerships in the UK will eventually sign up. The possibility of car dealers in the Mercedes-Benz network signing up in the future also hasn’t been ruled out.
Dealers must demonstrate excellence
To become an accredited Van ProCenter, Mercedes-Benz Van dealers must achieve more than 50 standards ranging across all business areas.
In addition, there are obligations around the availability of a selection of demonstration and display vehicles.
Van ProCenter dealers are additionally required to have best-in-class brand and product presentation at their premises, where they should also retail a broad range of top-quality used vans.
From an aftersales perspective, Van ProCenter dealers must have specialist van service advisors and technicians, and ensure customer mobility by providing replacement vehicles and collection and delivery services.
Once accredited, the dealers receive additional investment, support and training from Mercedes-Benz UK.
To ensure these levels of service are maintained, every Van ProCenter will be subject to an annual audit to retain their accreditation.
Bridge says: “We looked at the fleet centres run by the rival manufacturers and analysed what the best bits were. We then fashioned our programme round those best bits and we are confident that our ProCenters will offer the very best in all areas.”
One of the problems that dealers face is that customers often think they know which models they need for their businesses, having carried out research on the internet, but in fact they are making the wrong choices.
Bridge says: “When a fleet operator comes into our dealership and asks to buy, say, a fleet of Vitos we sit him or her down and look closely at what the vans will be used for.
“Quite often we find that the smaller Citan will do the job, thus saving the customer a lot of money over the fleet lifecycle.
“Conversely we have had buyers who think they need small vans, but in fact they would be quite unsuitable for the job owing to payload restrictions. This is all part of the sales process at one of our dealerships.”
One of the unique selling points for Mercedes-Benz is that the manunufacturer is the only one to offer both a full range of vans and trucks right up to 44-tonnes gross vehicle weight.
As all Mercedes-Benz vans are sold through the commercial vehicle dealership network, this means that even buyers of the smallest Citan van benefit from truck levels of aftercare, such as 24/7 servicing.
The three-pointed star offers another service too – in the event of a breakdown, a specialist turns up from the local Mercedes-Benz dealership in a van loaded with spares and in 90% of cases, the stranded vehicle is back on the road within a couple of hours.
Most of the other van manufacturers use services such as the AA and RAC who will often have the vehicle towed to the nearest garage for repair.
Mercedes-Benz has always prided itself on its high levels of aftercare so did the launch of the ProCenters mean that the manufacturer felt there was something lacking?
“Not at all, although we have identified areas and segments where we wish to grow,” answers Bridge. “We have undertaken a six-month study with some business experts and have concluded that while our service to bigger fleets is second to none, we could do more in the SME sector. We will also be targeting utility, construction and facilities management fleets with a view to clinching more deals.”
Bridge says Mercedes-Benz will launch a range of tippers, dropsides, boxes, lutons and tail-lifts later this year.
Van and truck overlap will ‘improve’ service
A concern among fleets may be that as Mercedes-Benz has separated the van and truck divisions, companies that want to buy both types of vehicle would have to set up two different fleet agreements, but Bridge says: “There will still be an overlap and the service to fleet buyers will actually improve rather than diminish.
“We will be offering a tailor-made sales package to these fleets so that buyers can deal with one salesman or two different ones, whichever they prefer.”
Dealers who become ProCenters face a tough road ahead before they gain accreditations. Bridge says: “Becoming a ProCenter is not just a box-ticking exercise as with some of our rivals.
“Main dealers must show us how they believe they are best in class in various areas and our consultatnts will make suggestions for any improvements they think are necessary.
“This is all about winning the hearts and minds of fleet buyers – we don’t just throw a load of money at the dealers and let them get on with it.
“The biggest problem with our ProCenters will be getting the bigger dealer networks to be able to offer the same service right across all their sites. It is all about getting the right people in the right places, but when that happens, success will follow.”
At the launch of the Citan, Mercedes-Benz’s first small van, last year, Bridge said he expected his company to be sitting at the No2 position in the sales chart by 2016. Does he still hold this view?
“Very much so,” he told us. “The Citan has given us access to many more solus fleet deals and now the ProCenters will be the icing on the cake.
“We’ll be right up there at number two, never fear!”