Not content with award-winning vehicles and rising van sales, Iveco MD Stuart Webster aims to acquire more UK customers by promoting its technology and service
Iveco is on a roll. The Daily won international van of the year 2015 and the new Eurocargo is international truck of the year 2016. Daily sales (up to 3.5 tonnes) rose 56% in 2015 and the company’s UK arm has just moved into new premises in Basildon, Essex.
The icing on Iveco’s cake is the arrival of new managing director Stuart Webster, with a mandate to improve the Italian van and truck manufacturer’s standing among British van and truck operators.
Webster previously acted as head of European marketing operations at Iveco’s parent company CNH in Turin.
“It’s a pleasure to be back in England at such a dynamic time for our company,” he says. “Our move to Basildon has been an easier one than many of us expected. It’s been a catalyst for change in so many ways – new people, new systems, new processes – and a reinvigorated approach to so much of what we do.”
Webster has firm ideas on strategies to improve Iveco’s UK performance. “Consistency remains the name of the Iveco game – consistency, stability and continuity,” he explains.
To succeed in the CV marketplace, Webster believes an in-depth understanding of customers and their needs is crucial. “We need an appreciation of the importance they place on stability and continuous improvement, and an empathy with what operators are looking for – in particular, from a partnership with a supplier, such as ourselves,” he says. “Those are the number one priorities for anyone who’s going to head up a manufacturer in an industry like ours.
“It’s been said many times before that ours is a service industry. People and delivering their needs is what it’s all about – establishing relationships, creating partnerships, building trust and being deserving of that trust.”
One problem facing the manufacturer when it comes to making conquest fleet sales is ‘badge snobbery’. Despite Iveco’s numerous advances in technology and build quality over the years, Webster believes there is still a perception among some fleet buyers that its products are sub-par.
“We perhaps haven’t been active enough in the past in showing people that our technology is the best,” he says. “We must appeal to the heads of the fleet buyers, not the hearts. Some of our sales guys go right through the advantages of Iveco with potential clients and, although those clients are shown that our products make sense financially, they still go for their existing badges.”
Webster fears that the Iveco name has simply “fallen off the shopping list” for some fleets, a situation he is determined to remedy in his new role.
“We are in the process of recruiting 25 new sales people with the aim of putting the Iveco name in front of people who don’t consider us at present,” he says. “Rather than just being considered as an Italian truckmaker that also sells a few vehicles in the UK, we need to be seen as a credible alternative. When operators test our current trucks they are astonished, but I must admit it will take time to change people’s mindsets. We are on the right track now with our new models and we don’t have to feel embarrassed about them in any way.”
By September, all vans must conform to Euro 6 emissions standards, and all manufacturers are currently gearing up for the big change.
When Euro 6 came into force for trucks in 2014, there was a huge spike in sales in late 2013 as operators rushed to buy Euro 5 models, fearing the cleaner engines would be less fuel-efficient. That proved to be the case, say operators.
Webster says: “The big question on the van side is: how will the introduction of Euro 6 affect the van market? Will it be as dramatic as with trucks in 2013/14? Or will we hardly notice?
“In common with other manufacturers, we’re erring towards the latter, although we expect there will be a pre-buy effect of some sort. Legislation rarely has a major impact on the buying patterns and demand for vans, because they are very different beasts to trucks and because the buyers tend to be very different.”
Recently, sales of 3.5-tonne vans have increased, to the detriment of the 7.5-tonne sector. Webster sees this trend continuing. “Reality says that legislation is doing everything it can to push trucks of whatever size out of cities,” he says.
“Five cities – London, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham – are looking at low or ultra-low emission zones, while London seems set on banning trucks in rush hours. There can be little doubt that all this will only encourage the growth of van – and particularly 3.5 tonne-van – demand.”
Two major problem areas in the commercial vehicle industry are the availability of both vehicle bodies and drivers.
“Bodybuilders have been hit by the double whammy of recession – where they lost people and skills – and the advent of European Whole Vehicle Type Approval,” says Webster. “As an industry, they’re short of resources and finding it difficult to respond appropriately. That means restricted capacity and lengthened delivery times, in particular for construction rigids and tippers.
“Also, the truck industry is getting desperately short of drivers. Reality says the advent of the Driver CPC did much to encourage older drivers to retire and leave the industry, while too little is being done to encourage new and younger drivers in.
“The conditions they have to work under put many of them off (see news insight on pages 4-5),” he adds.
“The legislation that rules their lives is a factor deterring them from entering the sector. This is a crisis waiting to happen and the time has come for the powers-that-be to take action at all levels.”
Webster was also critical of the way the UK’s decision-makers fail to understand the importance of the commercial vehicle industry, without which the country would soon grind to a halt. “Local, regional and national legislation is doing everything it can to keep commercial vehicles away from where they need to deliver, when they need to deliver,” he says. “Everyone’s in favour of optimised air quality and maximised safety for other road users, of course, but no trucks means no deliveries which means no sales, no shops, no jobs – and, ultimately, no cities.
“Life doesn’t get any easier for the driver, the operator, the dealer or the manufacturer and there continues to be a lack of appreciation – a lack of understanding – of the role that trucks play in delivering the goods and keeping our economy alive.”
Managing director, UK and Ireland: Stuart Webster
2015 truck sales: 3,237 (7.35% market share)
2015 van sales up to 3.5 tonnes gvw: 4,326 (1.16% market share)
Key fleet models: Stralis, Eurocargo, Daily