Fleet News

The Fleet News Interview: Vince Kinner

V olkswagen is number three to Ford and Vauxhall in the fleet market with an enviable reputation – a premium brand selling into the fleet market in volume.

It’s the sort of balance to which other manufacturers aspire.

But no-one else has really cracked it.

Vince admits it’s a good position to be in.

And puts it down to the fact that Volkswagen is an engine brand.

Despite this, and all the engineering facets that the Volkswagen badge represents, it’s quite clear talking to Vince that it’s people that count – Volkswagen customers, the staff of Volkswagen Fleet Services and the retailers that sell Volkswagen cars.

Revealing the people behind the brand is the aim of Volkswagen’s quirky advertisements with their deadpan humour.

“In fleet everyone is trying to sell shiny cars, so it becomes a bit like wallpaper,” says Vince.

“What we’re trying to say through the ads is that people are as important as the product. And that people make the difference.

I can’t influence how we build the cars – but I can influence how we sell and service them. We try to deliver this message through humour – I think it captures attention.”

People power is behind Fundamentally Fleet, an award running since 2005 that reflects high levels of customer service provided by Volkswagen retailers.

Fleet News played a role in picking last year’s winners, as did some fleet managers invited on to the judging panel.

“Fundamentally Fleet is about a can-do attitude. Our retailers see themselves as an extension of this company – they reach out for us,” says Vince.

“They try harder.”

If you get the impression that Vince is like a team manager marshalling his players before a big match – where every customer represents that must-win game – then you’re not far wrong.

With this in mind, I ask Vince if there is any company philosophy underpinning the Volkswagen Fleet brand.

“Being Volkswagen,” comes the response.

But what does “Being Volkswagen” actually mean?

“We sat down five years ago with five brands in the one building,” responds Vince, referring to the additional Volkswagen Group brands Volkwagen Commercial, Audi, Skoda and SEAT.

“We needed an internal facing campaign so everyone knew what each brand stood for and to redirect how we did things.

“And ‘Being Volkswagen’ is about doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Am I making the extra bit of difference?

Are we turning from a sales unit to thinking as a customer?

There’s a friendly rivalry between the five brands, and we share backroom processes. But in the end it’s our job to sell Volkswagen, not Audi.”

The power of people. What about the fleet managers that Volkswagen serves?

Does Vince have any team manager advice for them?

“Fleet managers face some big challenges,” says Vince.

“The obvious ones are duty of care and the environment.

But it’s the issue of cost that is really putting them under pressure and to which they need to respond.

This pressure comes from the state of the economy.

Companies want to cut costs.

Clearly the first place to look for cost savings is the company car.

So fleet managers need to be more efficient at running their cars, which means the right vehicles at the right running costs.

“Volkswagens may not be the cheapest on acquisition price, but our strong RVs make a big difference to the rental price and overall running costs. Hopefully that’s where we can ease some of those pressures.”

Vince Kinner CV

It’s not always been glittery new motors for Vince.

He started his management careeer looking after a different sort of sparkler – diamonds and the jewellery of F Hinds, a regional chain of stores.

But the lure of shiny cars took Vince, in 1972, to Walter Scott in Finchley, where he managed retail sales.

That same year he moved to Volkswagen Tax-Free Sales in Baker Street, London, as an account executive.

Eleven years later Vince, now a national account manager and still at Baker Street, helped start Volkswagen Fleet.

In 1989, he took over responsibility for all tax-free UK fleet sales and used cars disposal for both Audi and Volkswagen.

The fleet operation moved from Baker Street to a purpose-built site in Newport Pagnell. 

Volkswagen Leasing was also started at this time.

In 1994 the brands separated and Vince started Volkswagen Fleet as the national sales manager.

In 1996 he became head of Volkswagen Fleet, a position he holds to this day.

Best selling fleet models 2007

  1. Golf 1.9 TDI 105 Match 5dr
  2. Passat 2.0 TDI 140 SE 4dr
  3. Golf 1.6 FSI 115 Match 5dr
  4. Golf 1.4 80 5dr
  5. Passat estate 2.0 TDI 140 SE
  6. Passat 1.9 105 TDI S 4dr
  7. Golf 1.9 TDI 105 S 5dr
  8. Passat 1.9 TDI 105 SE 4dr
  9. Golf 2.0 TDI 140 GT Sport 5dr
  10. Golf 1.6 FSI 115 S 5dr

Tips from the top

What are the golden rules for success?

Having a passion for what you do.

I’m not a petrolhead, but working for Volkswagen really helps.

My first car was a Beetle and that got me involved.

When I recruit people I look for passion and a sense of belonging.

You can’t teach people those sorts of things.

But if you recruit people who have that point of view they can have a huge influence within your marketplace.

In moments of frustration, what do you kick?

I’m guilty of rants to myself, which my PA is good at spotting – she goes off and gets me a coffee.

Otherwise I have a dog that’s fully conversant with the fleet industry because whenever I take him for a walk it’s a chance to educate him!

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

When I was first asked to speak publicly, I was hugely scared of it.

But there was someone I admired who told me this: “You worry too much. Speak from the heart, because millions of Chinese people won’t understand a word you say.”

I understood what he meant and that unlocked the fear.

What keeps you awake at night?

I worry about things that are not completed and things that need to be done.

But none of this disturbs my sleep.

ECO or company car – what do you drive?

I get to choose any car so I drive a Volkswagen Touraeg V10 TDI on the company’s ECO scheme.

It suits my lifestyle. I spend time with my dog training him for agility, which is often in areas where I need a 4x4.

What’s the best car you’ve driven outside the Volkswagen Group?

My pulse gets racing with a Corvette…or a Hummer.

If you were a fleet manager, how would you secure your position in your company?

I’d nail my desk firmly to the floor.

Fleet managers have a hugely difficult task because leasing companies have become efficient at outsourcing facilities for large organisations.

So the role of a fleet manager is to provide an interface with the drivers.

That means being on top of the job – cutting through the huge volume of information that comes their way and deciding what’s important.

The bottom line is an efficient fleet and knowing the legislation that affects drivers.

If you weren’t boss of Volkswagen Fleet Services what do you imagine you would be doing now?

Two things capture my imagination.

The first is property and the other is a motivator, particularly of sales teams.

What qualities would you like to see in your eventual successor?

They should not change the relationship with the people that sell our cars.

It’s hugely important to remember that it’s the retailers that sell our cars.

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