Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – David George, Director, Mini UK
Earlier this year, David George was named as director for Mini UK, succeeding Chris Brownridge. Mini has always been heavily retail-focused, but fleet is becoming increasingly important to the brand.
QYou’ve been in post for nearly 12 months. How have you found it?
First and foremost I’ve been hugely excited because it’s a brand everybody has a place for in their hearts. It’s been incredibly exciting to be able to represent it and at a time when the range is the strongest and tightest it’s been. One of the really big pieces we’ve been working on this year since I came in has been to try and simplify access to the Mini brand. One of the key things I noticed was that even though we’ve only got five cars in the range, it’s actually quite difficult to specify your own Mini product so we’ve been working really hard to simplify it.
MINI’S GROWN UP MESSAGE
One challenge for the Mini brand in 2019 is ensuring the corporate market understands just what it offers.
“Too often we might not get onto lists because of that preconception of Mini as a small car, so I think just getting onto more lists will naturally lead to us improving our penetration in the corporate market overall,” George told Company Car Today.
“We know we’ve got unfinished business with our current range. Clubman and Countryman are fantastic products, we just need to get greater exposure in the corporate marketplace and get them in front of more people, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do. I think exploiting the offer we have is on the agenda.”
“We’re continually working on the brand, but there’s no doubt the brand has grown up from its early years. It’s become more premium; you can see that with the product, but it still appeals to the broadest range of people you could imagine,” he continues. “It’s a totally classless brand, which we are really proud of. It’s the first car everybody wants, it’s the car people want to downsize into from bigger premium brands, it really is a brand that transcends age.”
QWhat does that mean for the way the range is set out?
We still have that really fine balance of making it easier for you to understand what to order but also giving you the level of personalisation you’d want, so that’s been a really big change for us. It sounds like quite a simple thing to do but actually internally it’s a lot of work.
The corporate perspective was a really import aspect of this as well, A company car driver with a list, isn’t just looking at Mini. Mini customers tend to be very loyal, they know what they like and it’s relatively easy for them to order a car. For a company car driver we’re trying to conquest, there was probably terminology and combinations they wouldn’t really understand, and even with things such as the Chili pack, the name didn’t help describe what was in the pack or what benefit you would have as a customer. So now we have a Navigation pack, Comfort pack, for example, and they’re a little bit more obvious to someone who’s looking at a list.
QWhere does fleet and corporate business sit in terms of the priorities of a historically retail-focused brand?
I think it’s growing and it’s growing because of the way the product offer has grown. Countryman, for example, has a fantastic opportunity in the corporate marketplace and we’ve started to see that really happening in the past 12 months. I’m a huge Clubman fan and I think Clubman is a misunderstood product that again, given the right exposure, will be really popular among a number of corporate customers.
To give an indication of the growing importance of fleet and the opportunity we see in the corporate marketplace, we introduced the Clubman City edition, which was specifically introduced for the corporate marketplace. That’s not going to immediately fix our performance in the corporate marketplace, we’ve got plenty more work to do on that, but it is just an indication of how seriously we take the corporate marketplace that we would put a product like that in specifically with corporate customers in mind.
QIs the Clubman a specific opportunity for you in the fleet sector?
Clubman isn’t considered as much as we need it to be. There are some really good cars in that segment but we think Clubman gives the driver something unique and we needed to make sure that from specification, CO2 emissions and price perspectives, it all matched its competitive set in the corporate marketplace. And one of the major things we’ve been doing in both retail and corporate is pushing the 48-hour test drive, because we’re absolutely convinced that anyone that gets into a Mini that hasn’t experienced a Mini before, whether that be a hatch, Clubman or a Countryman, will immediately feel what it’s like to drive a Mini product compared to other brands. All of the cars have that unique characteristic, they’ve all got that core element, Mini go-kart handling-like feel that you don’t get from other cars.
QHow is the Countryman plug-in hybrid being received in the corporate sector?
PHEV has been a big shift for us with corporate customers. We sell more PHEV Countryman in the corporate market than we do into retail; the demand for the product has been quite overwhelming. We’ve had huge demand all year and our biggest challenge has been keeping up with customer demand, which we hope to be able to do more of next year. We were through to about a five-month lead time, but that’s improving as we get more production through towards the end of the year. It’s becoming an increasing focus for us and then as we move forward the next big step on the horizon is the full electric Mini.
I had a white Peugeot 205 GTi, which was at the time the hot car to have. I couldn’t believe I was in it, the car is one of the original hot hatches.
QThat’s around 18 months away, so when does your build-up start?
The mid-part of next year is when we will be having some serious conversations. We’ve already got a lot of interest in the product and we’re hugely excited about it. I think there is a lot of good electric product out there in the marketplace, but there’s not many products that are really exciting and electric, and will really capture the emotions, and that’s what this Mini will do. It’s everything you’d expect and everything that was promised and delivered in the original Mini but in a modern-day package, so there’s huge excitement for us within the brand.
QWhere will Mini’s place be within the electric car sector?
We look back to 1959, Mini came about because of a big environment change with the fuel crisis; that’s why it was designed with its engine turned around to create more space for a fuel efficient but large family car. This is perfect timing for Mini once again to be picking up. And I guess the way I would look at it is that everything people have loved about Mini over the years from right back then – its size, its manoeuvrability – will be enhanced by the addition of an electric powertrain. It’s going to handle like no other car in the segment and will feel from behind the wheel like no other car in the segment. There are lots of good products in the marketplace, there are very few that really drive your emotions like a Mini will. It will take all of the great stuff people know and love about Mini, and package it with an electric powertrain.
People buying electric are probably doing so on a rational basis; with the Mini they will because of rational, but the emotion will play a large part in the process, as it does with the cars today.
QDo you think diesel has levelled off, or is there further decline to come?
I think we’ll probably see a more stable environment now for diesel going forward, but it’s dependent on PHEV, and I think the plug-in hybrid now is becoming the first choice for those people that historically would have chosen diesel.
But just from a Mini perspective, in our small cars we’ll get to a point potentially next year where in the hatch, there is no diesel offering, but for the foreseeable future we definitely see a future for diesel in our Clubman and Countryman. We think there’s a great place for it, particularly in the corporate marketplace.
The 2019 market and Brexit
We’d expect to see a continued disruption to the market, but to a lesser extent, and who knows what Brexit will bring, if anything. It’s a complete unknown at the moment and pretty much impossible to plan for because there are just too many scenarios to think about.