Fleet News

Face to face: Simon Elliott

WITH the new Crossfire already proving a runaway success, Chrysler Jeep managing director Simon Elliott is looking forward to some sparkling sales successes in the coming year.

Four years into his job as managing director of Chrysler Jeep UK, Simon Elliott is finding plenty to celebrate.

Firstly, the new Chrysler Crossfire has gone on sale, creating a halo model at the top of the range. Secondly, the company is expecting fleet sales this year to reach record levels. And Elliott is confident there will be more success to come when he hits the half-decade mark next year.

He said: 'Crossfire has sold out for this year already, even before the car arrived in the UK. It has put the brand on people's agendas.'

Elliott joined Chrysler Jeep in 1999, before which he was sales director of Toyota and Lexus in Belgium.

Prior to that he worked for Toyota GB in roles including director of fleet operations, regional management and network development.

He said: 'I feel that if I hadn't been abroad, I would not be here. The move significantly expanded my CV as I got my teeth into a very different market. The experience of working in another European market gave me a different viewpoint that was really valuable and I was able to develop for different markets and needs. It is a bit like fly-fishing where you use different flies to catch different fish.

'There was no fleet strategy and no used car strategy when I arrived. I developed a set of standards aimed at improving customer perception.'

The experience set him up for the challenge of taking the helm at Chrysler Jeep during a period of significant change.

The company Elliott heads is very different from the one he joined four years ago.

One of his first jobs was to manage a merger of operations, as the firm's headquarters moved from Dover to Milton Keynes as part of a centralisation programme by DaimlerChrysler in the UK. His office now looks out over an eclectic car park mix of DaimlerChrysler brands, from Mercedes-Benz to Jeep, Chrysler and smart.

Elliott, whose current transport is a Jeep Grand Cherokee, said: 'There are benefits and synergies from working with a larger organisation. We may have a small market share, but the infrastructure through DaimlerChrysler UK is that of a much larger organisation for us.'

A fall in sales was stopped once the merger took place and volumes increased 20% to 16,000 in 2000. They jumped to a record 18,834 in 2001, a year in which Chrysler also outsold Jeep for the first time in the UK as a result of growing PT Cruiser sales. After a static year in 2002, Elliott believes 2003 will bring a new all-time sales record.

Fleet sales are expected to account for 25% of registrations, as part of a fleet strategy that has developed since 2000.

Elliott said: 'Looking to win sole-supply contracts with large fleets is going in the wrong direction for us. Instead, we identified contract hire as a key outlet, because you might not sell 200 Chryslers to one fleet, but you might sell five into a 200-car fleet.'

DaimlerChrysler has also consolidated the corporate sales back offices of its four brands – Chrysler, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz and smart – to create a new department.

Each brand will keep dedicated corporate sales contacts but back office administrative functions will be shared. Therefore, customers in the contract hire, rental and leasing industries will be dealt with on a multi-brand basis, so they are approached once as opposed to four times.

Furthermore, the policy gives Chrysler Jeep a higher profile among leasing providers than it otherwise might not have achieved.

Elliott added: 'We also went after local business. Every Chrysler Jeep dealership has a fleet specialist to focus on business user opportunities. This is proving beneficial as many small local businesses are looking for a unique proposition.'

The Crossfire, which went from show car to production reality in just two years, will certainly help raise the profile of the brand. It fits the clearly identifiable brand created by Chrysler with products such as the PT Cruiser, which has marked its 12,000th sale in the UK, and the Voyager and Grand Voyager. The Voyager has racked up 30,000 sales here since it was introduced six years ago.

Elliott said: 'Earlier this year Chrysler announced the 10 millionth Voyager and that was great news. Now we in the UK are celebrating another milestone for the Voyager.'

As well as Crossfire, there are plans to expand the range with a car based on the 300C concept shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this year, which Elliott believes will enjoy the same success in the executive sector as the Lexus LS400 did when it took on the luxury car segment.

And industry experts say the Neon is also expected to change significantly when it is updated, as it could be turned into a five-door hatchback from its current saloon-only format.

At the same time, the Jeep brand, with Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, is also enjoying sales success.

And there is also speculation that the Dodge marque might come to the UK, adding a third string to Elliott's bow, although he declines to comment on this.

Elliott said: 'I have been here four years and it has been very exciting to be involved in such a dynamic brand. We have done a lot of analysis on what our customers like. We are working with dealers to ensure customer satisfaction is paramount and the dealers know that volume is coming.

'We have some exciting new models and anticipate significant volume growth over the next three to five years.'

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