Fleet News

Halfords expansion at the double

The first of 200 new sites has just been opened by the new Halfords Autocentre – the national independent auto servicing and repair operation that is already used by many of the FN50 leasing companies.

The opening of the Swindon site marks the start of the company’s expansion plan that will see 30 new independent centres opened every year until the company has doubled the number of current centres to 400+.

In an exclusive interview, Duncan Wilkes, chief executive of Halfords Autocentre, which was acquired by the retail giant in February, said the ts are already being crossed on contracts that will secure a further five new sites for the company.

A further 35 potential new sites have also been identified with discussions already underway to acquire them.

“Our target is to have six new sites up and running by the end of September,” said Wilkes. “And to have a further 12 and 14 up and running by March 2011. And then broadly to add 30 a year.”

Fleets feature prominently if Wilkes’ plans to double volume as quickly as possible will come to fruition.

Last year it carried out over 175,000 fleet jobs – the bulk of which was servicing cars under three years old.

“Fleet has grown more quickly than retail for us and now stands at 25% fleet and 75% retail up from 21/79,” says Wilkes. “Our forecast is for fleet to get to about 30% of our business over the next three years.”

Such a view corresponds with the BVRLA’s research (Fleet News May 13), which predicts a continuing move by leased cars to independents and out of franchised networks.

“This shift is just common sense,” says Wilkes. “We can exactly the same job as the dealer, exactly the same level of customer service…so the driver notices no difference. The difference is we are much easier to deal with, our lead times are typically three days and we don’t refuse jobs, we provide a single SLA agreement and a single point of contact and you pay the same – significantly lower – labour rate whatever the car is.”

However, manufacturers are not sitting back. Audi for example has entered into three-year agreements with its contract hire customers that commits them to direct 90% of their end-user drivers to Audi dealers for servicing work in the first year, rising to 95% in year three.

In return, Audi commits to nationwide pricing and service agreements levels that all its dealers must adhere to.

“In addition to the fixed pricing for labour and parts and service levels, we have offered the contract hire companies enhanced goodwill up to 100,000 miles over three years,” explains Iain Carmichael, head of Audi fleet sales. “So it is not just a commercial arrangement – it is one where we have gone beyond and looked at the key issues where we can support them.”

*Read the full exclusive interview with Duncan Wilkes in the May 27th issue of Fleet News.

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