Fleet News

Face to face: Citroen's new LCV supremo Robert Handyside

THE fact that Citroen sits in third place in the light commercial vehicle sales chart is a testament to the French firm's aggressive marketing stance.

Its products may almost mirror those of Peugeot and Fiat but its sales last year were nearly equal to the other two manufacturers put together.

In a tough market place, Citroen is one of the toughest cookies, offering cashback deals and special offers that many fleets can't resist.

It is against this backdrop that Robert Handyside (35) has been appointed Citroen's new commercial vehicle operations manager – replacing Brian Roskell – and he is under no illusion about the battle ahead of him to maintain his company's position in the marketplace.

He said: 'There is no doubt that the competition in the lcv sector has recently moved up a gear. There is a lot of new and revised product out there, all competing for market share. However, to maintain its current status in the marketplace, Citroen has a proven strategy.'

Handyside said over the last decade Citroen had built up an unrivalled reputation for providing UK fleet and retail LCV customers with the optimum combination for high value for money, quality product with class-leading warranty cover.

'This popular policy will continue, subject to continuous refinement and modification to meet changing market needs.

'In recent years there are thousands of UK LCV operators who have switched to Citroen vans. My job is to continue to expand Citroen's UK commercial vehicle business. We will achieve this through a policy of product improvement, range expansion, keen pricing and increasing the number of fully equipped specialist products. These will be along the lines of existing car transporter, tipper and other very competitively priced Citroen packages already available.'

But Citroen's success is not built upon special cut-price deals alone. When Ford announced it was axing the old Escort van in favour of the larger (and more expensive) Transit Connect, the French manufacturer saw an opportunity and, within weeks of Ford's news, had launched a van version of the Xsara, called the Enterprise. So how has the market received this new contender?

Handyside said: 'The UK LCV market is the most conservative of all automotive sectors. The benefits of the Xsara Enterprise, as with the Berlingo before it, have taken some time to be appreciated by operators.

'But when users have seen the Xsara Enterprise van in the metal many, including major fleets such as Michelin, as well as individual van buyers, have voted with their cheque books.

'Now interest and sales are growing in line with our expectations as the benefits of the Xsara Enterprise's accessibility, performance and high equipment levels are recognised as being ideal for a growing number of specialist business transport applications.'

The Citroen Berlingo has been the firm's big success story since it was launched in 1996. Billed as the first 1.8-tonne van to be built as a commercial vehicle from the nuts and bolts upwards, rather than adapted from a car chassis, the Berlingo notched up an unprecedented six Fleet News Awards on the trot in the light van sector.

It was finally knocked off its perch this year by the introduction of the Ford Transit Connect, so it would be reasonable to assume that Citroen might be 'running scared' of Ford's mighty new model. But Handyside remains bullish.

He said: 'The compact LCV market is very competitive, not only with the Transit Connect, but also with the Vauxhall Combo and others. Yet, we have seen Berlingo sales actually increase in 2003 to their highest-ever level. We put the continuing growth of Berlingo business down to its upgrade to New Look standard earlier this year together with its proven reputation for reliability and low wholelife costs.'

Citroen's Dispatch also competes with the long wheelbase Transit Connect. Dispatch is based on the Synergie mpv, which has now been replaced by the C8. So where does this leave the Dispatch?

Handyside said: 'Having its best year ever, with sales up nearly eight per cent on 2002, which in turn was its previous best year. The Dispatch, like every other Citroen lcv product, has and will benefit from the company's process of continuous improvement, in order that it can maintain its key-model status in the range.'

Finally, with Ford also upping the safety stakes with ABS brakes and driver's airbag becoming standard on the Transit does Handyside think the Citroen Relay is lagging behind?

He said: 'When the New Look Relay was launched it moved ahead of competition in a number of key areas. While our competitors have played catch-up and developed new initiatives, we are happy with current New Look Relay equipment levels. These allow us to offer all customers the major financial benefits of very competitive transaction prices and for those operators who require ABS and driver's airbag, these can be specified as low cost options.'

CV: Robert Handyside

  • Best career moment – landing big deals with groups such as Forestry Commission/BskyB/Scottish Water
  • Worst career moment – fortunately it's still out there!
  • Which person do you admire most and why – my wife, for obvious reasons
  • Favourite holiday destination – Tuscany
  • Favourite film – Bullitt
  • Favourite book – Sunset Song by Lewis Grassick Gibbon
  • Favourite records – Blue Train by John Coltrane, Here Comes The Sun by Monty Alexander and Gaucho by Steely Dan
  • Hobbies – Golf, mountain biking, hi-fi and classic cars (I own a Lancia Fulvia Zagato)

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