The UK’s continuing economic recovery and the boom in internet shopping are placing ever greater demands on the country’s van fleets – demands that van SMR networks have to respond to.
Figures from the DVLA show there were 3.35 million vans on the UK’s roads in 2013, 1.55m of which were registered to companies.
This number is likely to increase. Van sales hit a seven-year high of 321,686 last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 18.7% more than the year before. It expects registrations to grow by a further 3.9% in 2015, to 334,000.
This growth increases the demands on the companies that supply and arrange maintenance, whether it is franchised dealers, independent SMR providers or, in the case of van fleets that lease their vehicles with maintenance included, leasing companies.
“Our customers are becoming more demanding because more demands are being put on to them,” says Tony Grove, LCV manager at Arval.
“They face tight service levels from their own customers and rely on their vans to do business. For this reason, they need to keep their vehicles on the road and, when there is an issue, keep downtime to a minimum.
“Whereas in the past, businesses may have had ‘spare’ vans within their fleet, the current drive for efficiency means that this kind of luxury is rare.
“As a result, there is greater focus on keeping their vans on the road when they need them.”
Grove says there also is a trend for Arval’s customers to operate vans for longer periods, and the greater wear and tear this incurs is adding to a growing demand for out-of-hours servicing. This view is supported by the results of a Fleet Van poll in September, which found that of the 43% of respondents who did not have access to out-of-hours servicing, 69% would like it.
However, Steve Chandler, SMR supplier network manager at Lex Autolease, says that although out-of-hours servicing will eventually become de rigueur, it may not become the norm for some time.
“While many suppliers are willing and able to accommodate specific customer requirements, the vast majority are still limited by the financial implications of extended working hours where sufficient levels of work cannot be guaranteed,” he says.
“As with most service industries, availability follows demand and until demand is established, suppliers are unable to provide service. It’s a typical chicken and egg scenario.
“At Lex Autolease, we see relatively few instances where customers can deliver sufficient demand for out-of-hours work to make this a financially sustainable option for suppliers.”
Despite this, manufacturer networks and independent SMR providers have invested heavily in expanding their LCV product ranges, with several providing out-of-hours services.
Mercedes-Benz, for example, offers Service 24h. This product is available round-the-clock for roadside repair or, if a problem cannot be resolved at the roadside, at the nearest authorised Mercedes-Benz dealer.
Renault’s network of Pro Plus van dealers is to start opening later and at the weekend to offer out-of-hours servicing. Ken Ramirez, Renault managing director, says: “We will extend to overnight receipt of vehicles to consider needs, especially for smaller fleets.
They need the flexibility to work in the day and maintain the vehicle off-hours, so our dealers need to change to be flexible.”
Other manufacturers, such as Peugeot and Ford, aim to offer extended opening hours in their service pledges to LCV operators, but this is not widespread across the sector yet.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles launched a revised LCV service offering in the past year and although its 10 customer service promises did not include extended opening hours, it will be introducing Saturday aftersales servicing later this year across the retail network.
“We have a number of centres that already extend into the evenings,” says Andy Waite, head of sales at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. “Long-term, we see them stretching in all directions: Saturdays and evenings.
“Customers want the flexibility, so we see that as an evolution of our van centres.”
The manufacturer says its 71 van centres and 24 authorised repairers are committed to working with businesses to reduce downtime.
“We understand that businesses rely on their vans, which is why our van centres maintain regular contact with their customers to remind them of key service dates,” says Chris Black, head of fleet at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
“A prime example of how we continue to work in partnership with our customers was the launch of our customer service promise last year.
“This clearly sets out what customers can expect from their van centre every time they visit and ensures that customers are back on the road in the shortest possible time with the least amount of inconvenience.”
The 10 promises include providing quotes before work on a vehicle begins, guaranteeing an appointment within five working days, sourcing a like-for-like courtesy vehicle if the customer’s van is still under warranty, fixed national pricing, and providing an initial diagnosis within one working day following a breakdown.
Vauxhall has also revamped its LCV aftersales offering within the past 12 months. It says its Premier Van Centre programme aims to maximise mobility and minimise downtime for van operators.
Commitments to customers include providing diagnostics without appointment, lead times no longer than three days and a dedicated customer hotline.
All Premier Van Centre sites can carry out Class 7 MOTs and have a five-tonne lift. They are also listed on Epyx 1link for ease of identification and online service booking requests.
Independent SMR providers such as Kwik Fit and Halfords Autocentres have also invested heavily in improving their LCV services.
This has seen Kwik Fit experience a “significant” increase in demand from LCV operators for its mechanical services and the company is forecasting further growth this year.
“We recognise that LCVs are a tool of the trade and therefore it is essential to keep vehicle downtime to a minimum,” says Peter Lambert, fleet director at Kwik Fit.
“That is why we have invested heavily in our centres to cater for the rapidly expanding van sector.”
This investment has seen new specialist equipment introduced in its network of more than 600 centres, ensuring that the majority of the sites can accommodate LCVs. An increasing number of sites can also undertake Class 7 MOTs. Kwik Fit centres also offer a collection and delivery service to some fleets, to keep business disruption to a minimum.
“Where a fleet may require four or five vans to be serviced, our centres will arrange for the work to be undertaken in one day,” says Lambert. “They will then collect and return vehicles individually so only one van is unavailable to the business for a minimum amount of time.”
Halfords Autocentres work with specific customers to schedule maintenance of their fleet across the year and make sure servicing takes place on rest days or weekends where available.
The company is ensuring new sites can cater for large LCVs, including high-roof vans, while a few centres are being relocated to larger premises to allow access for larger LCVs.
All of Halfords Autocentres’s sites have light van capability, while half can deal with heavy vans: one- or 2.5-tonne ramps are fitted in all new centres, while five-tonne ramps are retrospectively fitted in numerous other sites where space permits.
The investment throughout the LCV SMR sector shows that suppliers are keen to be flexible to the demands of van fleets.
“It is important for suppliers to recognise the individual needs of customers – a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work,” says Chandler.
“To this end, the ability of vehicle repairers to flex their operating hours and locations is becoming more important.
“The suppliers who can successfully adapt their services to meet individual customer needs will reap the rewards.”