Fleet News

New Renault UK MD backs company cars

The new managing director of Renault UK, Philippe Talou-Derible, has given an immediate vote of confidence in the future of the company car in Britain.

Talou-Derible only took over the role in January, after spending the last two years as managing director of Renault-Nissan in Switzerland.

But speaking to Fleet News about his vision for Renault and the company car sector, there is no doubt he is fully up to speed with the UK fleet market.

'We will see changes - some company car drivers will take diesel and some will downsize or more likely downprice, but the company car sector in the UK is not going to change significantly,' he said.

'People are not moving out of company cars. Would you give up your company car? Even if it costs you £500–£600 a year more to be in one? Next time you have somebody bang into you at the traffic lights, you give your keys over to the fleet manager and it is sorted out.'

Talou-Derible believes drivers will happily pay extra to have the hassles of service and repair taken off their hands, and he claimed that companies will not want to lose control of the type of car and its condition that an employee is driving, particularly with a tightening of health and safety rules regarding corporate responsibility for at-work drivers.

Such a fleet-friendly managing director is valuable for Renault at a time when the company has strong corporate offerings with Clio (winner of the best supermini title at the 2002 Fleet News Awards, along with the Espace which was named best MPV), Scenic and Laguna, and has two new exotic models primed to break into premium sector territory in the form of the Vel Satis and Avantime. Both will need strong corporate support to succeed.

Talou-Derible was honest in his appraisal that stepping into the rarified atmosphere of premium sector selling will be difficult for Renault. He said: 'It will be a learning curve for the firm. We have the opportunity to learn with Vel Satis and Avantime, although new Espace will be a different proposition.'

In conjunction with the launch of the Vel Satis, the company is setting up a premium dealer network to deal with customers used to the service standards delivered by prestige German marques, to be called Renault Premier Centres.

Of 175 dealers, 31 have made the grade to sell Renault's triumvirate of premium sector challengers: Vel Satis, Avantime and Espace. Even to be considered, dealers had to hit standards including size, showroom quality and customer satisfaction.

By the time the new Espace is available in October, a further 50 centres will join the Premier Centre network. Only these handpicked dealers will be able to sell the cars, and other dealers will have to refer potential buyers to Premier Centres for test drives. Referring to the need for the executive cars to become strong contract hire propositions, Talou-Derible said: 'Espace tops its class for residual value and I am determined to ensure that Vel Satis and Avantime make sound financial sense.'

In order to protect the residual value of Vel Satis and Avantime, Renault UK has excluded them from its dealers' sales targets and bonus programmes. This means that neither Renault UK nor its dealers will force sales of top-of-the-range cars.

To protect residuals further, only Renault Premier Centres will have access to remarketed models through the Renault to Go programme.

Each Premier Centre will have a dedicated relationship manager to deal with customers accustomed to the service of premium manufacturers. All potential fleet customers will be able to book a 24 hour test drive, and should they purchase one of the three executive cars, will receive a Laguna Sports Tourer as a courtesy car during servicing and repair.

Talou-Derible claimed that 31 dealers was enough to manage business from large fleets for Vel Satis, with the company expecting to sell 3,000 of the cars in 2003. The UK is Renault's third largest market - it sold 181,000 cars in the fleet market last year - and Talou-Derible said the firm could not afford to miss an opportunity with any model in its range.

He said: 'We will even have a right-hand drive version of the next generation Twingo, which will be about the size of the original Clio, although we have not decided when that will be. All Renault cars will have a right-hand drive version for at least the next 10 years.'

Industry analysts believe the Twingo is pencilled in for 2003, although Talou-Derible said that models will always arrive here later than on the Continent due to the extra development needed to convert the production line for right-hand drive and to ensure build quality standards following the switch.

Renault will also share platforms with partner Nissan in the future to cut down on development costs, but will develop its own body styles.

However, Talou-Derible was adamant the partnership would not stretch to a joint fleet assault. He said: 'We are more integrated than Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo in many ways, but we are direct competitors with many Nissan models and as a result, all sales and marketing is kept separate.'

According to Renault, the radical Avantime and Vel Satis point to the direction it wants to take its vehicles, which means moving away from building cars in the established small, medium, upper-medium and premium sectors and trying to shoehorn buyers into them.

Instead it will develop variants that are directed at certain types of people and social groups, but share platforms and componentry in order to turn a profit.

The firm first did it with the Espace, and then created sub niches like the Scenic, which sprung from the Mégane. It surprised the firm with its popularity. As Talou-Derible said: 'The predictions in 1994 were way off the mark. The Scenic was meant to be a 20% derivative, but actually accounts for about 50% of our Mégane-sector sales.'

He claimed that Renault's ability to create market trends and then adapt to them was one of the company's strengths. 'We have re-organised our MPV offering, and in two to three years will have five MPVs.

'The new generation Scenic will probably end up being the size the Espace was 20 years ago. Car size is going up.'

With Vel Satis, Avantime, Espace, plus dealership re-organisation and new Megane, Scenic and Twingo not far off, Talou-Derible has taken over at a time when the company is reinventing itself as a key fleet player with innovative and sometimes controversial products. Moving to Britain should be an adventure in more ways than one.

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