Fleet News

Face to face: Ian Rendle, Volvo

IF you drive north on the A1 just past the vast expanse of Grafham Water, you'll find the arresting site of what can only be described as a Volvo graveyard.

Scores of past models sit forlornly at the side of the motorway waiting to be broken up for parts and consigned to the great car park in the sky.

The macabre site provides an ideal metaphor for Volvo's recent transformation, as its old image has well and truly been consigned to the scrapheap.

Gone are the boxy, dull but worthy efforts of past years, the 440 being an ideal example, to be replaced by eye-catching good looks and ground-breaking new ideas backed by edgy and innovative advertising. Volvo – it's the new Ikea.

Looking at its recent product development spree, there is little sign of Volvo's grey image.

Design-wise, models including the Fleet News Award-winning XC90 and S60 have transformed the brand, backed by the recent launch of models including the S40 and V50.

Design flair doesn't just sit on the outside either, as the wow factor of the S40/V50's floating centre console has proved.

This sits perfectly with Volvo's renewed bid to attract a younger, more professional audience, with the S40 aimed at the pre-family professional, backed by the S60 targeting middle-management and families, while the S80 is the choice for managing directors and business owner/drivers.

Even traditional models such as the V70 have been lifted by the brand's rejuvenation, as the car's recent highly-commended position in the Fleet News Awards for best executive car show.

For Ian Rendle, Volvo corporate sales manager, this has meant the brand is attracting a much wider audience.

He said: 'In the past, we have pushed the safety side of our models and that has grown in strength, but we are now also focusing on our performance values. If you look back 15 years, we used to be just represented in the executive level in fleet, typically attracting estate agents, dentists and small companies.

'But with our growth, we are moving into the mainstream. There are a lot more user-choosers opting for our models, because we are a very distinctive brand.'

Evidence of its success lies in the firm's sales figures. In 2000, sales were 36,786, with fleets taking a 28.3% share. In 2001, this had grown to 39,998, with fleet taking 37.1% of sales.

By 2002, sales had grown once more to 40,674 and fleet sales had risen to 53.9% of the mix.

Despite a drop in sales last year to 39,062, fleet sales were up again to 55.2% of units driven off by customers.

The first six months of 2004 have shown a strong increase in demand for Volvo cars, with sales up 10% in the UK to 21,687.

As a result, Volvo has been working hard on ensuring residual values are strong for the range, as that is vital for keeping contract hire rates and wholelife costs competitive against key rivals.

Rendle added: 'The age of our drivers is definitely coming down. Families always saw our cars as an alternative, but we are now moving into the pre-family market.'

As part of the drive to meet the needs of business customers, Volvo operates a network of 65 business centres, which are dedicated to specialist fleet business, out of a total of about 143 dealers. Every other dealer has a business specialist.

In particular, demand among fleet operators has focused on the very strong diesel offering available from Volvo, which has continued with the Ford/PSA-sourced Euro IV units in the S40 and V50.

Rendle said: 'We are very successful in diesel and the overall mix is now about 57% compared to 20% in 2000.

'Benefit-in-kind tax has clearly been a major issue for people choosing our diesel offering and now, of the top 10 manufacturers, I think only Peugeot and Audi have a higher diesel mix. It is now a question of people preferring to drive the diesel.'

But despite the changing shape of Volvo, its traditional focus on safety remains, with the new S40 receiving a maximum five stars for occupant protection, four stars for child protection and two stars for pedestrian protection.

So although some of its past is now dismantled, some things will never be scrapped.

As Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, founders of Volvo wrote: 'Cars are driven by people.

'The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo, therefore, is – and must remain – safety.'

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