March 2012 saw a momentous event in the history of light commercial vehicle sales – for the first time ever, Vauxhall lost its number two slot in the sales chart, to be replaced by German rival Volkswagen.
Vauxhall has been firmly ensconced in its runner-up slot behind Ford since records began so the loss of its commanding position has come as something of a shock to the industry.
But looking at Volkswagen’s sales strategy in the past five years, it’s easy to see how this meteoric rise in sales came about.
The company has quietly but steadily been hitting the UK with a double whammy – a steady succession of top quality new models and the rolling out of a network of special van centres that offer fleet buyers the kind of service only dreamed of a few years ago.
Now with a new commercial vehicle director – Alex Smith – at its helm, Volkswagen is all set to consolidate its new No. 2 sales position.
In an exclusive interview with Fleet Van, Smith says: “What we have been aiming for – and achieving – in the past five years is steady, sensible growth. My predecessor, Simon Elliott, set out a clear direction for Volkswagen to follow and I intend to build on what he achieved. Our products tick all the right fleet boxes and our van centres offer a fantastic service for fleet operators. These two factors put together are the reason why we have been so successful in the past five years.”
In 2007, Volkswagen enjoyed a 9% share of the UK LCV market but this figure rose to 13.2% in 2011. Caddy’s share rose from 9.5% to 21% in that period while Transporter rose from 15.5% to 18.1% and Crafter was up from 4.9% to 5.2%.
Now with the Amarok 4x4 double-cab pick-up on board too, Smith expects sales to remain healthy, even though the UK market has dropped 11% so far this year.
The Amarok was launched last year but has been troubled by problems insofar as VW just can’t build enough of them to supply the worldwide demand.
Smith says: “So far this truck has been a victim of its own success. It is being built in Argentina but demand from South America and other worldwide markets has been so strong that we’ve struggled to get enough of them in the UK.”
However, from June UK vehicles will be built in Hanover, so the supply problem should be solved.
Smith sees the quality of Volkswagen’s products and the development of its van centre network as two hands which fit into a pair of matching gloves.
He says: “You can have a fantastic network of dealers but if the product isn’t right then you are on to a loser. Or conversely, your product could be a good but will ultimately fail if your dealer network is sub-standard.
“Our success in the UK has come about because we have top-quality products on offer and we will only choose dealers who are totally committed to our brand to open
“Staff are specially trained so that they can answer any questions that fleet buyers have.
“They will advise on anything from choosing the right vehicles to selecting the right finance option.”
At present there are 73 van centres across the UK and 27 service centres. By the end of the year Smith is hoping to increase this to 80 van centres and 45 service centres.
One possible fly in the ointment for 2013 is the imminent arrival of the new small van from Mercedes-Benz – the Citan.
At present, Mercedes doesn’t offer a small LCV and bosses have already confidently predicted in the pages of Fleet Van that they will be sitting at the No. 2 sales slot by 2016.
However, Smith is confident that the Volkswagen products are a match for anything the three-pointed star can offer.
He says: “We have the utmost confidence in our products and our dealer network. Feedback from customers on Caddy is superb – it has low running costs, it’s comfortable and it has high residual values. In our eyes, it’s second to none.
“We’re not the cheapest and never will be – but we are in great shape and will be for the forseeable future.”