Fleet News

The Fleet News Interview: Maurice Howkins

It’s the week before the British International Motor Show.

The week before the premiere of the Insignia – the car that will replace the Vectra – and, Vauxhall hopes, set the design template for future models.

Maurice Howkins, the urbane, unflappable boss of Vauxhall’s fleet operation, is locked into a serious meeting.

So I have to wait.

Not a problem.

I’d expected him to be busy.

But when Maurice appears he’s relaxed, good humoured.

I ask Maurice why he was detained.

He explains that while year-to-date the industry is up 2%, driven to a large part by Motability sales, and Vauxhall’s own fleet sales are up 1%, there are – and for dramatic effect he pins his eyes on me – “darker clouds on the horizon”.

Given the current economic climate I wondered if Vauxhall was in retrenchment mode – downsizing sales forecasts and the like – just at the moment when they want to be enjoying the success of their new model launch?

“The half-year results did not tell the full picture,” responds Maurice.

“How are we preparing for the effects of the current economic climate?

"The same way we have done for the past five years.

“We will continue to pursue new sales opportunities aggressively.

"We have a whole portfolio to entice buyers, including new product offerings.

"Nevertheless, we’re taking a slightly more realistic view.”

And that’s as much as Maurice will say.

Before launching, understandably, into the new Insignia.

Maurice says Vauxhall has been concentrating on enhancing its business-to-business relationships.

This has involved taking leasing and rental companies, along with the important RV setters, out to drive the car ahead of its world debut.

“The Insignia is a great opportunity,” enthuses Maurice.

“It’s an important and exciting car. It’s a car that will excite the user-choosers. We’ve spent a lot of time making it solid and durable.

"The interior has lots of flair – that’s important.

“And I think the level of standard equipment, including the new technology, puts the Insignia into the executive class and at the forefront of the mainstream brands.”

Maurice explains that the appeal to drivers will go beyond the attention to detail and the comprehensive and hi-tech equipment list.

This includes engines that will have lower CO2 emissions than the current Vectra.

And there will be a greener Ecoflex model.

Although the car was revealed at the motor show, and goes on sale in early January next year – followed by the estate shortly afterwards – the work on getting the fleet appeal right started much earlier.

“We did substantial work with fleet decision-makers.

In August last year we assembled a cross-section of end users, including the leasing and rental companies, and asked them: ‘If we were to start with a clean sheet of paper, what engines would you like to see? What specification? What price/value equation? What trim names?’

“At that stage we still had the opportunity to make changes.

"And the feedback was fascinating.

"It was from that meeting we developed the trim designations: S, Exclusiv, SE, SRi, Elite and VXR.

“They thought these were appropriate for where the car was going to sit in the marketplace, particularly the premium market.

"SE is a trim used by premium brands, where I think we have a great opportunity with the car.
“I also believe our P11D-value trim of Exclusiv is also well understood now.

"That has a lot of appeal for user-choosers. Exclusiv has touched a sweet spot.”

Maurice also explained that sat-nav, which won’t be standard, is now listed as a model derivative: Insignia SRi + SatNav, for example.

“This is to help us on the leasing company quotation systems. It makes it so much easier to order.

“That was something else we found out from our meeting.

"It’s been a real learning exercise.

"We have tried to get as much energy and enthusiasm into launching the car as possible.”

Outlining his plans for bringing the Insignia to the fleet market, Maurice said the fleet department would be organising fleet decision-maker events and company car driver days.

“It’s a new griffin on the grille, a new design direction and people will want to get into the car and have a look,” he continues.

“Beyond that, fleet managers should take the opportunity to test drive it and utilise the three-day test drive facility for their drivers.

"It’s the best in the industry.”

There’s little that will knock Maurice down today – despite those “darker clouds”.

His enthusiasm for the car and its prospects with fleet managers and company car drivers is genuinely infectious.
Maurice again fixes me with those dark eyes.

“You know what this car has? It’s got the ‘want one’ factor, that’s what it has.”

He smiles and nods sagely.

A man who’s confident his new product won’t let him down when it’s shown to the public for the first time.

Maurice relaxes back into his chair with a broad smile on his face. He then makes his apologies about having to leave early.

There’s clearly lots for him still to do.

“Believe me, it’s got the ‘want one’ factor,” Maurice says as he leaves the room.

“Make sure you drive one!”

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