Number one for a number of years has been French maker Renault – and with people at the helm as committed to the brand as new UK national sales manager Mark Lovett, it's maybe not surprising.
Lovett was the man responsible for the successful marketing of the Renault Trafic back in 2001. It was a van which, more than any other, proved that functionality and sheer muscle could be combined with stylishness and chic in a commercial vehicle and set the marque on an upward spiral of sales success in Britain. Now Lovett is responsible for fleet sales across the whole of Renault's LCV range. So will he be making any sweeping changes?
He said: 'I'm not intending to make any real changes as I've been responsible for the overall Renault UK van marketing strategy for the past three years in my previous role as LCV brand manager. On the basis that Renault UK's LCV volume has increased by more than 55% in those three years and our fleet LCV volume has increased by over 80%, moving us from 5th to 3rd in the LCV market for fleets over 25 vehicles, I'd say that our strategy is working, and as they say: if ain't broke, don't fix it.'
Renault shares three of its vans with Vauxhall and Nissan in a complicated arrangement which sees Master rebadged as Vauxhall Movano and Nissan Interstar, Trafic rebadged as Vauxhall Vivaro and Nissan Primastar and Kangoo van rebadged as Nissan Kubistar. So how can Lovett ensure that fleet buyers choose Renault over the other two marques?
He said: 'We have shared our Trafic and Master vans with other marques for some time now (do you remember the old Trafic was also sold as a Vauxhall Arena?), so I guess you could say that we and the market are used to it now. We've achieved increases in our van sales volumes over the last few years, so at the risk of being too modest and without giving our secrets away, perhaps it would be better to ask our customers why they have chosen and continue to choose the Renault product over and above the Vauxhall and Nissan equivalents.'
Rebadging may be rife, but at last year's Fleet News Awards ceremony, the judges chose Renault Trafic as best light panel van of the year and not the Vauxhall Vivaro or Nissan Primastar. The judges said the award was made to Renault because of its superior dealer network.
Lovett commented: 'We're used to winning awards with the Trafic. Since its launch when it was announced International Van of the Year, Trafic has been a regular award winner. You're right though to mention the 'solus' win for Trafic, because to be fair, it has shared some of the awards in the past with the Vauxhall and Nissan badged products. The judges said that Renault won because its dealership back-up was best.
'That's very flattering for everyone at Renault, but I believe it's more than just dealer back-up that enabled only the Trafic to scoop the award. Our 50 or so Renault Business Centres (designated LCV and fleet specialist dealerships) certainly have the expertise that the van customer demands and expects in today's market, but you must remember that we have a strong pedigree and heritage in selling vans and understanding the needs of fleet operators and van users.
'All the people at Renault UK with an involvement in vans (not just our dealership specialists) have valuable experience and a passion about the van business. So I'd like to think that it's a credit to the Renault van team generally (at head office, in the field and in our dealerships) that Renault has been recognised as the benchmark in that segment.'
While some manufacturers aim for small or large fleet business, Renault sees any fleet buyer, big or small, as a potential customer.
Lovett said: 'All fleets, be they small, medium or large, and irrespective of their industry, are potential Renault van customers. However, it isn't a blanket/shotgun type approach that we adopt, and hope that something sticks. We will be carefully targeting the smaller fleets through our network and particularly our Business Centres with our local business programme and field support managers. Meanwhile, the medium and large fleets will of course continue to be targeted by my team of national LCV fleet account managers.'
Small fleet business is more costly to chase, so is it really worth the effort?
Lovett said: 'Of course it's worth the effort. We have a programme in place that has been specifically developed to target the smaller fleets. And let's face it, it's the smaller fleets with whom our dealer network should be doing business. If we can add support to the dealers in this aspect of their local fleet and van business, we all win.
We need to remember that it's not just about securing major national fleet business – an extra unit sold here and there in the dealer network when all added up and multiplied by 200 odd dealers could mean an extra 1 to 2% market share.'
Renault's cars have been hitting the health and safety headlines recently. The manufacturer now has five cars with the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests. Some van manufacturers amazingly still charge extra for a driver's airbag but Renault isn't among them.
Lovett commented: 'Renault has an overall commitment as a manufacturer to driver and passenger safety. With five passenger cars in the Renault range having five EuroNCap stars, Renault is committed to remaining the manufacturer with the safest cars. Renault Espace is the safest car ever tested in EuroNCAP tests and with Vel Satis, Laguna and Megane all achieving equally impressive levels of class- leading safety, Renault is now emulating that aspect of our product characteristics across our van range.
There are currently no EuroNCAP type tests applicable to light commercial vehicles, but that shouldn't stop us establishing a reputation as the manufacturer of the safest cars and vans.'
One area where Renault is noticeably absent is in the LPG field. No factory-fit vans are currently offered. So how does Lovett view the current state of play over the 'green' fuel?
He said: 'There is an uncertainty over the future of LPG. To date, we have not been the most proactive in the LPG market, preferring to concentrate our efforts on the more traditional LCV fuels, namely diesel.
'Consequently, we've been promoting the merits of our latest range of dCi common rail diesel engines now standard across our LCV range. The latest dCi technology has enabled us to prove that we have clean and efficient fuels in our products.
'Of course, there are some customers who want LPG-fuelled vans, particularly since the arrival of congestion charging in London. However, with the current uncertainty, we aren't too concerned that we don't have a factory product to offer.
'Equally, we're not alone as a manufacturer in taking that stance. If customers believe that the fundamental product characteristics are right for them, then it's their choice to weigh up the merits of opting for an LPG product that perhaps will compromise other aspects of their purchase decision.'
Fact file: Mark Lovett
Performed several field roles culminating in being appointed the operations manager for the London and South East area in the mid-1990s. Joined commercial operations department at head office as network programmes manager in 1997. Became LCV brand manager within marketing department in 2000 and joined Renault UK Fleet to head up fleet LCV sales team