All that could be about to change. The Spanish company’s UK arm has welcomed in Perry Clarke as the new national business sales manager. Together with head of fleet and business sales Andy Webb, Clarke is about to undertake a complete review of the way SEAT approaches fleet.
Clarke, who has worked in the industry for more than two decades at firms including Land Rover, Skoda and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, is leading a team of three business sales account managers, and plans to get out and about to meet fleet managers and show them what SEAT can do for them.
It might not seem like a big team, but Clarke has every hope that it will grow.
Clarke said: ‘We’re reviewing what we’re going to do and where we’re going, and I don’t think growing the team would be out of the question.’
To many industry onlookers, SEAT has always been the least fleet-focused of the mainstream Volkswagen Group brands. But Webb and Clarke believe this is going to change.
Andy Webb claims the review, which is expected to take three to four months, will identify areas that have been neglected. ‘Where we’ve got gaps, we’ll look to make some changes,’ he said.
Clarke believes the latest line-up of Ibiza, Leon, Altea, Toledo and Alhambra has the style and quality to persuade fleet managers SEAT is a realistic option, but says getting people to look at the cars in the first place is his major challenge.
‘We are doing well with the resources we’ve got, but the position we need to be in is getting bums on seats, getting out there and talking to the people in the fleet world.’
The new Leon, in particular, is proving popular with retail customers, with April 2006 proving the best month ever for any incarnation of the hatchback. Sales for the first five months of this year are up 14% on the same period in 2005.
Clarke is planning to target fleets according to their needs, looking at what different models can offer.
‘We have to break it all down to see which model fits which area and that’s something which has not been done before at SEAT.
‘With Leon, we’ll look at companies employing young people looking for a sportier vehicle – computer companies, for example.
‘The Ibiza will be for sales repping, whereas the Altea is for those that need a bigger boot, going out demonstrating.’
Clarke said the Toledo could find favour as a taxi or a user-chooser company car.
He said: ‘We call it our quirky vehicle. It’s got sportiness but quirky styling and for the user-chooser it’s something different.’
The ageing, but recently revamped, Alhambra appeals to the likes of the police and ambulance services, as well as for use as a taxi.
‘The Alhambra has the highest loyalty rate in the sector,’ Clarke said. ‘The new 140bhp TDI engine will keep it going until the new model in 2008. It’s still highly competitive and very good value.’
Part of Clarke’s ‘bums on seats’ strategy will involve making SEATs available for daily rental.
Last week on FNN, Martin Ward, manufacturer relationships manager at CAP, cast doubt on the strength of SEAT’s FR brand, the high-performance badge that the carmaker is keen on pushing hard at the moment. Ward said it had an identity problem when compared to other high-performance badges like VXR, vRS and GTI, and needed a higher profile to make it more recognisable in the used market.
The upcoming Leon FR should help to redress that imbalance. Launched in the next couple of weeks, it should raise the profile of this key brand for the marque.
SEAT is one of the Volkswagen Group’s ‘sporty’ brands and the Leon its core offering. The old Leon, Cupra and Cupra R versions of its turbo models did more than any other to put SEAT on the map. So it needs FR to do the same, and some.
SEAT accepts that FR is not as well known as some of its competitors, but says it will continue to grow, with a major advertising campaign planned for later this year.
But the FR brand doesn’t have to shoulder the entire burden of pushing SEAT forward. Some very strong RV predictions across much of its range will also help – 35-40% after three years/60,000 miles is the norm for new Altea, Leon and the Ibiza, which is above many other ‘volume’ brands. Only the Toledo is predicted to drop into the low 30s.
CAP also believes that SEAT’s decent current RV status is due to good build quality, engine line-up and transmission choice.
Clarke is confident of SEAT’s residual values and said they will improve further.
He said: ‘The main reason I joined SEAT is that its RVs are really good. We’re in a great position and all we have to do is get people into the cars.’
In 2005 SEAT sold 28,500 vehicles in the UK, 35% of which were fleet sales.
‘In five years’ time, I’d like business sales to make up 40% of all our volume,’ Clarke said. ‘It’s a big thing for the company. SEAT is probably the most understated brand that we as the Volkswagen Group have got.
‘We’re going to be visiting contract hire companies shortly, and have a roadshow coming up this year with presentations and test drives for sales people.
‘Hopefully, we’ll then be doing something similar with the fleet guys. We’re just waiting for final approval on that.’
The approach is one that has been taken before, but never with particular gusto. Clarke said he was determined that SEAT would be in the fleet world for good.
‘This job is something I’ve been wanting to do for years,’ he said. ‘I’ve never failed in any job I’ve ever done and I’m really excited and enthused about this one.’