Fleet News

Face to face: Robert Handyside, commercial vehicle operations manager, Citroen UK

Citroen’s aggressive sales campaign went up a notch recently when the firm added sat-nav as standard to some of its new models.

But will the ploy lead to extra sales? We put the French maker’s van chief in the Fleet Van hotseat

FV: The sun is shining and commercial vehicle sales are booming. How are things in the world of Citroën vans?

RH: Very good. Citroën now has its widest and most modern range of product available to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated market. The Citroën range meets virtually any LCV operational requirement – as a result the company is enjoying its strongest ever UK sales performance.

FV: You’ve been in the job for four years. Tell us how your marketing strategy has developed and changed during that time?

RH: Over the last four years, Citroën LCV strategy has evolved towards one which majors on the financial, operational, safety and environmental benefits of advanced technology. Our current C2 Enterprise, Berlingo, Dispatch and Relay ranges incorporate the efficiency, economy and environmental benefits now demanded by operators, which is reflected in our record sales volumes.

FV: You recently leapfrogged the opposition by making sat-nav standard on new Relay and Dispatch. How has the market viewed this move and has it proved a sales success?

RH: Yes, this is one of these opportunities where we have been able to embrace emerging technology. Operators are increasingly appreciating the measurable benefits of sat-nav, which provides efficiency gains and financial savings. At the same time, drivers appreciate sat-nav as it makes their job easier, safer and less stressful.

FV: Talking of Dispatch, you have a new Combi version as well as the panel van. How are sales of this model going and what sort of fleets are buying it?

RH: This latest addition to the new Dispatch range is proving to be a major success. We have expanded our customer base with the addition of the expanded Combi range. In sales terms this model has already exceeded our expectations and we are working on a number of new Combi opportunities which should provide considerable additional sales.

We have been pleasantly surprised by the wide range of customers that the Dispatch Combi range has provided, including construction, taxi, airport transfer, hotel and many other commercial applications as well as what we call lifestyle customers.

FV: Your Ready to Run conversion programme has been extended. Tell us about what new models are available and what we can expect in the future.

RH: Citroën is proud of its expanded Ready to Run programme, which is the most comprehensive of its type offered by any manufacturer in the UK. Our brief to every converter involved is to provide a no-compromise, optimum specification product.

As such the programme is unique in that it combines the benefits of high quality conversions (by the leading converter in each specialist sector), with wide choice of high specification, competitively-priced product.

The Ready to Run programme now includes tippers, dropsides, minibuses and Luton vans. In addition more specialist Ready to Run products are available – including over 40 temperature-controlled panel van conversions, car transporters, glass carriers, van racking systems and panel van tail-lifts.

As with any other Citroën LCV product, the Ready to Run programme is subject to a process of continuous improvement. There are further Ready to Run developments in the pipeline which will become available in the next few months.

FV: You are now the only manufacturer to offer a factory-fit dual fuel light van (Berlingo). Is this model selling well and do you think the others were hasty in ditching their green offerings?

RH: We are enjoying a great deal of sales success with the Dual Fuel Berlingo.

This model has recently been added to the Ready to Run programme at a price of £7,995 + VAT.

Since the current Nicholson McLaren Engines conversion became available, we have sold over 1,000 Dual Fuel Berlingo vans – and sales are running at very healthy levels.

I cannot comment on other manufacturers’ thinking on LPG conversions, but can only say that the Berlingo Dual Fuel van is continuing to be a popular model in our LCV range.

FV: While on the subject of green offerings, we understand Citroën is making great strides in the use of biodiesel too. Tell us a bit about that and other environmental benefits you believe Citroën has.

RH: Citroën is widely recognised as the vehicle manufacturer with the strongest environmental credentials – with no fewer than 23 cars with CO2 emissions of 120 g/km or less.

We took an early lead in the announcement, some two years ago, that all our diesel engines could operate on up to 30% biodiesel, without any technical modification or effect on warranty.

HDi diesel technology also plays a significant role in Citroën’s LCV green efficiency – these engines deliver class-leading fuel economy and low emissions.

This is demonstrated by the 1.4HDi-powered C2 Enterprise van returning an incredible 82.98mpg in independent tests – making it the UK’s most fuel-efficient commercial vehicle.

Citroën’s green credentials are further strengthened with the introduction of the first vans in Europe to be equipped with an ultra-clean Diesel Particulate Filter System (DPFS), which reduces particulate emissions to virtually immeasurable levels.

FV: Let’s turn to fuel economy.

From Jan 2008 all manufacturers will have to undertake fuel economy tests on all their current models using empty vehicles on a rolling road, but there will be no obligation to make these results public.

So far you are the only manufacturer which has gone on record to say your figures will be made available.

Why did you make that decision and are you disappointed that the others have not followed suit?

Also do you foresee any problems getting your figures sorted by that date – after all it is only a few months away?

RH: We made the decision to publish LCV fuel consumption figures as we believe operators need to have transparency and a regulated way of having comparative figures available to help them in their choice of new vehicles.

Our Euro 4 HDi diesel engines provide class-leading fuel economy and very low emissions so we have nothing to hide.

I cannot comment on other manufacturers’ stance in this matter, but if it is a legal requirement to have these figures available, we will have them available.

FV: We are seeing a huge increase in the power of vans lately. The new Dispatch, for example, has up to 136hp on offer as opposed to 110hp in the old model. Why are vans heading in this direction? Is all this extra power really needed and indeed is it responsible to offer such powerful vehicles when there is an increased focus on road safety?

RH: Citroën has been very responsible in the matter of engine power outputs.

It is true that both the recently-launched Dispatch and Relay ranges offer more power than their predecessors.

There is a good reason for this. Operators require vehicles that provide good acceleration and an ability to cruise on motorways at the highest allowable legal speed.

The HDi-powered Citroën LCV range provides the power to do this – and also to deliver excellent fuel economy.

With the more wide-spread use of speed-limiters, LCVs will tend to follow the path made by heavier commercial vehicles.

FV: This year, despite recording increased sales, you lost your coveted number three position in the UK market to Volkswagen. How big a blow was that loss to Citroën and do you think you can realistically regain your old position in the sales charts – or even overtake the number two player Vauxhall?

RH: Citroën is now selling more LCVs than ever before in the UK.

Our aim is to be the number one choice for customers and operators alike. We have to achieve this target while attaining good profitability and most importantly, for operators, strong residual values.

With the introduction of the new Relay and Dispatch models, Citroën has been working to achieve premium residual values.

We have successfully achieved this and have no wish to adversely affect these higher residual values by incorporating high levels of low-margin sales.

Thus, we have walked away from a number of big, high profile deals, which did not fit in with our strategy of delivering improved margins and premium residuals.

Fact file

  • Name: Robert Handyside
  • Position: Commercial Vehicle Operations Manager
  • Brief career history: After leaving university (with a Business Administration & Marketing degree) I spent over four years with Rover. I then joined Citroën in 1993 where my roles have included area fleet manager for Scotland & Northern Ireland, a position that also included leasing and contract hire responsibilities.

    I have also been fleet marketing manager, national sales manager and have been in my current job since July 2003.

  • Favourite book: Any of Ian Rankin’s works
  • Favourite film: the next one I see
  • Favourite holiday destination: France
  • Which three records would you take with you to a desert island: Aja by Steely Dan, Urban Hymns by The Verve and the Unknown Sessions by Stan Kenton
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