Fleet News

British Motor Show: Land Rover, Skoda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Chrysler, Saab, Daewoo, SEAT, Bentley, Daihatsu and Lexus.

Foot and mouth fails to hit Land Rover's growth

IN A year when foot and mouth disease shut the countryside down for months, you wouldn't expect a car company whose products are closely associated with farming to enjoy booming sales.

But that is exactly what Land Rover achieved, with record sales in 2001 and the company is on track for an even better 2002.

The company sold 45,015 units in 2001, up 16% on the year before and it is now expecting to sell about 47,000 models this year. Much of the success of 2002 can be attributed to the new Range Rover – seven months after its launch there is still a six month waiting list for a Vogue model – but the Defender has also played its part in the success, increasing sales by 33%.

Phil Popham, sales director for Land Rover UK, said: 'The Defender has been one of the bright sparks of the year, even after foot and mouth, and we are now taking the vehicle beyond agriculture and widening its appeal to people such as civil engineers. The car has still got the cache but now has more creature comforts.'

The impact of the huge new Range Rover has also been a key player for Land Rover, and Popham expects the new model to increase Range Rover sales from 3,200 units to about 6,000 – accounting for a 27% share of the luxury car market.

But corporate business is also playing its part and is undergoing a period of expansion.

Popham added: 'Over the past 18 months we have introduced a new fleet team and we are learning from Ford – who are market leaders.

'We now have a Land Rover Business Centre, mirrored on Ford's, and are targeting Ford's top 5,000 customers with our product offering, as well as aiming to get on choice lists.'

This approach to corporate sales, allied to an expanding role for corporate sales through its dealer network, has seen the company net 5,000 incremental sales in the past 18 months.

The dealer corporate sales programme will be introduced in January, based on the scheme already in operation in Jaguar dealers, and a third of Land Rover's network will be involved, as well as business consultants out on the road.

In addition to offering a corporate programme, Popham is also confident of attracting drivers opting-out of company car schemes.

He said: 'We have not seen the true scale of drivers opting out as people are still on change cycles but we have got the products to support these cash-for-car drivers and can mirror a company car offering through Premier Automotive Group.'

At the show Land Rover displayed several changes to its product line-up. The Defender features a new fascia as well as a new top-spec XS version offering alloy wheels and air conditioning as standard.

The revised Discovery and Range Rover models were also on show, as was the Freelander with its new range-topping ES Premium model and two special editions – the Serengeti and Kalahari based on the 1.8-litre S model.

Skoda expects 30% fleet jump

SKODA'S fleet sales are expected to jump by 30% this year, the manufacturer revealed at the show.

By the end of 2002 it expects to have supplied 9,000 cars to fleets and small businesses and the figure also includes its daily rental business.

The manufacturer's most popular fleet model is currently proving to be the Octavia but the Superb is also having an impact, head of business John Rooney said.

Skoda used the show to display its full range of cars, including the Fabia, Octavia and Superb, and unveiled its Octavia vRS estate, which is launched early next year and adds to the Octavia portfolio.

Rooney said the vRS hatchback was proving popular with police forces and said the manufacturer planned to grow its police fleet business next year.

'We'll do about 200 police units this year and increase that to about 300 next year,' he said.

He is confident general fleet sales will expand from this year's 9,000 units to 12,000 next year, with the Superb fuelling the growth.

And commenting on Skoda's daily rental activity, Rooney said: 'We do sensible and prudent levels of daily rental, this year we have supplied about 2,700 units on buy-back. It's important for a manufacturer like us because it gets people in our cars. We're currently discussing next year's levels.'

Skoda also reported that its initiative aimed at improving its service for company car drivers was progressing as planned.

Earlier this year it opened 17 business sales centres at selected dealers and it is on track to increase that number to 25 next year with an ultimate target of 40. Rooney said: 'These sales centres are an important statement to the industry, it shows we are committed to the corporate market.'

Each centre is led by a specifically appointed and trained member of staff.

Mazda's UK fleet focus

MAZDA is confirming its focus on fleet in the UK as it expands its dealer network. The company is in the process of increasing its network from 115 dealers to 155 over the next few years.

Mazda managing director James Muir said: 'A core element of our strategy is wholelife costs and it will be key to our success in fleet. We cover about two-thirds of the country with our existing network and our expansion will give us complete coverage. We are creating a dedicated demonstrator fleet for corporate customers and investing in infrastructure in the dealer network to focus on this important market.'

The company is expecting its second best year for Mazda sales in the UK for 2002 and will see significant growth in 2003 as the new Mazda2 supermini goes on sale. A new common rail diesel was introduced in September for the Mazda6 while the Mazda2 will have a new common rail diesel engine.

Mitsubishi's turnaround

MITSUBISHI is hoping for a complete turnaround in its fortunes following two years of hard work in the UK to turn revitalise the company.

In 2000 the firm registered losses of £10 million for the third consecutive year, had 18,000 sales, of which 6,000 were to rental companies who bought cars for less than they sold them for, and a massive oversupply problem, with two years of stock.

Dealers were making massive losses and leaving at the rate of two a month.

Stefan Jacoby, president and chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales Europe said following a 2.6 billion Euro loss in 2000 the firm questioned whether it should stay in Europe.

But this year in Europe it has broken even and in the UK, following the company's decision to slash prices by 15%, simplify its range by taking out 75% of product complexity and keeping a tight control of costs, the firm has been turned around.

In the past three years, £4 million has been taken from the cost base, sales are forecast to reach 26,000 this year, up 44% on 2000, with 24,000 retail sales.

The L200 has more than 40% segment share, with 8,000 sales and the firm has turned a small profit. Dealers are now making a 2% return on sales and new ones are joining the fold, with dealer count expected to be 140 this year, up from 100.

Jim Tyrrell, managing director of Mitsubishi UK, said: 'I think we can now believe we have created a solid platform from which we can move to the next stage of our development, driven by a new product offensive.' On its stand the firm was showing off the Pajero Evolution, a 3.5-litre V6 that will be taking part in the UAE Desert Challenge rally.

Other models on show included the Space Star, Carisma and L200 Warrior. Jacoby revealed the confidence boost would bring 12 new models in the next five years, aimed at niche markets, such as a cross-over between an SUV and estate. A new compact car is also planned.

He said European sales are expected to rise from 210,000 to 300,000 in three years and to 600,000 in a decade.

Chrysler Jeep UK boss attacks plate changes

THE twice-yearly vehicle registration plate system has come under renewed attack –- this time from a car manufacturer at the show.

Simon Elliott, managing director of Chrysler and Jeep in the UK, said the plate changes are damaging the industry with customers becoming more focused on the new plate arriving in March and ignoring the September plate.

Elliott was speaking after new car sales seemed to have gone off the boil last month when the latest 52 plate was introduced. He said: 'For the first time in September we saw hardening of the market at a time when the new plate means a sale boom.

'We don't want to go back to how it was when we had a single plate change in August. But we have to come up with a system that will encourage customers all year round. We haven't got it right at the moment and we are lobbying hard within the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to bring about change.'

Elliott's comments come just a few weeks after CAP national research manager, Martin Ward, criticised the twice-yearly registration system at the Fleet News Hit for Six conference for damaging residual values. TV film buff and radio presenter, Jonathan Ross, appeared on the Chrysler Jeep stand to get his first glimpse of the new Chrysler Crossfire coupe as the first UK customer for the car.

Chrysler staff said Ross found the information on the Crossfire while surfing the internet and contacted the company for more news.

He wanted to be the first customer in the UK to own the coupe when it arrives in showrooms towards the end of next year. Specifications and prices for the car are yet to be finalised but it will compete against the likes of the Audi TT and Mazda RX8. It will be powered by a 3.2-litre V6 engine.

Elliott added: 'I am delighted that Jonathan wants to get into the Crossfire and we will help him to make sure that's exactly what happens.'

A spokesman added that Ross was a genuine customer spending his own money on the car and Chrysler was not merely allowing him to drive it to cash in on the publicity.

Elliott said: 'We are very excited about the car and have already received 200 orders based on the preliminary information given to dealers.'

Saab looks for a change with new 9-3

A CHANGE is as good as a rest, so the saying goes, and Saab is hoping that its new 9-3 is going to give people a change from the German domination of the compact executive market.

With the BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4 ruling the roost, Saab has been falling behind the German competition with its hatchback range of 9-3 models.

But the new saloon version is aiming to shake-up the market and offer buyers a credible alternative to the Germans.

Andy Dunsdon, Saab's business operations manager, said: 'We have not really had a true competitor in the compact market before because we did not have a saloon model but we are setting our stall out with the 9-3.

'The industry wants a new player in the sector to dilute its disposal reliance on certain models and Saab is seen as being spot on for this. We offer customers something different and as we bring on new models you will only see that growing even more.'

He added: 'Initial reaction to the car has been very good – its wholelife costs are competitive and its servicing, maintenance and repair costs are very strong because of the 35% reduction in servicing time over the previous 9-3.

'Residual values are also very good and are up there with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.'

New Saab models in the pipeline include the 200bhp Aero version of the 9-3 which is on order now for January delivery and a convertible version as well as a sporting estate model, both scheduled for launch next year.

Daewoo is back with new name and car

AFTER years of staring bankruptcy in the face, the Daewoo brand is on the move again under a new name in the UK and backed by a new car.

Following a life-saving deal signed with General Motors at the end of April, the new GM Daewoo UK made its debut at the show.

In the UK, the firm's new managing director, Andy Carroll, believes the company has a unique advantage in being created from scratch, as it can adapt to the needs of modern customers.

Initially the company has signed up 30 distributors, supported by 55 AA Service Centres. All sites will carry out warranty work. An additional 15 potential distributors are already under review by the company for planned appointment during November and December and there is a target of 100 outlets by the year end.

The UK company will initially supply three model lines, the supermini Matiz, the Tacuma MPV and the Kalos five-door hatchback that made its UK debut at the show.

Carroll said: 'We are building the new company from scratch in the UK, so in total we will have 100 distributors, with 50 to 60 of those offering both sales and service.

'We are in a unique position in the car industry, because all manufacturers are going through a 12-month transition to deal with changes to block exemption. As we are brand new, we can build the company around the new framework.'

Because of the disruption in forming the new company, Carroll expects sales this year to drop to 15,000 from 18,000 last year, but by the end of 2003, he is aiming for up to 25,000 sales.

Retail sales will be a key focus this year, with a focus on fleet sales building demand from mid-2003 he said. He said: 'We have a strong presence in fleet through other GM brands and there is a definite opportunity for us in fleet next year.'

SEAT gears for growth SALSA dancing, tapas and the UK unveiling of its new Cordoba set the scene for SEAT to reveal its fleet ambitions at the show.

The manufacturer is currently compiling a fleet strategy that it will start to fully implement next year. Although SEAT is reluctant to reveal its corporate sales projections for next year, it stresses it is 'going for growth'.

Two new appointments confirm the carmaker's commitment to the fleet market. Rawdon Glover has been appointed as head of operations and Dominic Elms as national business sales manager.

Glover said: 'Our priority now is to identify where we want to be and how we get there. We must also build closer relationships with the leasing industry.'

He also said there were no plans to include SEAT as part of a wider VW fleet offering in the UK that would include its sister-companies such as Audi and Skoda.

Elms said the manufacturer's range of vehicles and engines now meant it was ready for fleet business. If corporate sales mirror its retail success then SEAT will be in a favourable position.

As well as the unveiling of the Cordoba, SEAT's Salsa 'Red' concept (below) made its UK debut and, although not destined for production, the manufacturer said it provides a 'tantalising taste of SEAT styling and technical innovation'.

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Show's star THE stunning new Bentley Continental GT has been named 'Car of the Show' for 2002.

The marque's latest creation was selected from 100 vehicles at the show to win the accolade at the Institute of Vehicle Engineers Motor Show Design Awards.

It beat the Jaguar XJ and Volvo XC90 to scoop the top award and also took the best luxury car award beating off close competition – again from the new Jaguar model.

The Continental GT is the first completely new model to come from its Crewe plant and is the result of the £500 million investment that has been made.

As many as 400 Bentley employees that helped design and build the car have been invited to the show to celebrate the win.

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Daihatsu shows roadster model

WITH its Mercedes SLK-style hard-folding roof, the Daihatsu Copen two-seater roadster was the star attraction on its stand.

The car made its European debut at the show and although currently only available in Japan, Daihatsu is undertaking an engineering and costing analysis into the possibility of importing the 660cc roadster into the UK.

Daihatsu also used the show to promote its green credentials, claiming its revised models of the Cuore, Terios and Sirion boast better emissions and economy figures than their class-leading predecessors.

Daihatsu managing director Andrew Edmiston said: 'We believe the importance of our green message cannot be overstated.

'Daihatsu differs from all other mainstream manufacturers in that its entire range of passenger vehicles is at the leading edge in terms of low emissions. Perhaps the most important fact about how we perceive our own brand, however, is that it does not achieve its excellent environmental credentials at the expense of performance or driver interest.'

Film star visits Lexus's stand

Lexus had one of the stars of Steven Spielberg's new blockbuster film gracing its stand. The Lexus car appears in the film Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise and set in the year 2054.

The car features an electric engine, head-up instrumentation, interchangeable body panels and DNA recognition entry system.

A little less high-tech was the new IS200 SportCross (pictured below), which was making its UK debut at the show. Powered by the familiar 2.0-litre 153bhp straight six engine, the IS200 joins its larger-engined IS300 sister.

Elsewhere on the stand, specification revisions were made to the GS range which now feature Mark Levinson hi-fi systems as standard.

  • Lexus IS200 SportCross test drive will appear in Roadtests on Thursday.

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