Fleet News

Face to face: Volkswagen goes on the sales offensive

THE German manufacturer's British LCV chief has a dream that one day VW will be known as the firm which also makes cars - and it could just happen.

With one of the oldest product ranges on the market, you could be forgiven for assuming that Volkswagen was struggling a bit with its LCV sales. But a glance at the first quarter figures for this year show that far from being in the doldrums, VW's fortunes are blossoming.

The reasons for this success are two-fold. Firstly, the German manufacturer's vans - Caddy, Transporter and LT - may have been around for a while now, but their names command a huge degree of respect among British LCV operators, who after all don't expect brand new shapes and engines every year like their car fleet counterparts.

Secondly, and more importantly, VW dealers have quietly been investing £40 million in the past four years in a new strategy which sees them focusing on making the business of buying and looking after vans much more pleasant for customers.

The result is a nationwide network of dedicated van centres that are as pleasant and functional as the car showrooms which bear the same badge.

VW director of commercial vehicles Peter Wyhinny told Fleet Van: 'We wanted to create a special environment for LCV customers. Research showed that many van customers felt they were being treated like second class citizens. The van sales area was always tucked away at the back of the dealership or even in a Portakabin. We felt the need to create 'van kind' and while other manufacturers are talking about doing it, we have actually put our money where our mouth is.'

The first step in Wyhinny's plan was to create clear objectives of what the new van centres were aiming to achieve. These were:

  • National coverage
  • Creating viable businesses
  • Raising the visibility and profile of the centres
  • Increasing the professionalism of the staff
  • Catering for all business needs, whether large fleets or single vehicle operators, with both new and used vans and aftersales.

    Wyhinny said: 'The first step was to reduce the number of outlets from 120 to 85. Too many of our dealers were 'playing' with LCVs and not taking them seriously. There is only one Portakabin left in our new network and that will shortly be disappearing!'

    Another aim of VW's was to ensure that 90% of customers were within 45 minutes drive of a van centre and this has largely been achieved, apart from in some rural areas of Scotland. There are also dedicated CV experts at each centre and courtesy vehicles are available throughout while vans are being repaired.

    Now the network is virtually complete, Wyhinny believes Volkswagen is in a supreme position to chase fleet business, even with its ageing model line-up.

    He said: 'Three and a half years effort is coming to fruition. Our network is now a benchmark for Europe and we actually have people coming over from Europe to see what we have achieved. Even Germany hasn't achieved what we have - we are miles ahead and we've set the pattern.'

    Fleet buyers can now take advantage of extended opening hours, loan vehicles, collection and delivery services, breakdown support, refreshments at the van centres and even van washing.

    Backing up the van centre experts, there is a dedicated team of 55 people at the VW headquarters in Milton Keynes and Wyhinny added: 'Whatever the requirements are from fleet customers, the answer will always be yes.'

    He said: 'We had a record year for sales last year, despite the fact that we are at the end of our product range. There will be a new Transporter next year and a new Caddy the year after and we will be using our van centre investment as a springboard for further growth. We may not have the latest shaped vans but we are playing in all segments of the market and our product stands up in terms of running costs, quality and reliability.'

    Wyhinny concluded with a brave statement. He said: 'My ultimate aim is for people to say that Volkswagen is a company which also makes cars!'

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