Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Graeme Jenkins, head of fleet, Suzuki GB
Suzuki’s recruitment of Graeme Jenkins (pictured) to lead its fleet team at the beginning of this year marked an important development for a brand that hasn’t ever truly embraced the company car sector. The former Maserati national corporate sales manager initially cut his teeth during 17 years in Toyota’s fleet sales operations.
QWhy did you take the decision to leave Maserati and join Suzuki, given it’s not a brand that has ever had any real corporate presence before?
I was approached and presented with the opportunity, and after numerous meetings it was very easy to identify the potential if one looked at Suzuki’s product range and where they were going in terms of product. I joined at the beginning of January with the remit to head up the fleet department and give natural growth in the profitable fleet channels for our dealer network. The key message to the network was that we would do two things for them – we would create incrementality and those incremental units would be profitable units.
QSo nine months in, how is that working so far?
Last year we did 5,226 cars in what we call the real fleet marketplace – true end-user business – which excludes short-term distressful channels. At the end of September this year we’ll be on around 6,500 and we’re hoping to finish the year between 8,000-8,500 cars.
It’s being driven by a couple of things – new product in Ignis, our new city car that was launched earlier in the year, followed by the new Swift that came to market in June. The second thing is that we’ve been looking at the right channels and sales mix. For example, Motability is a very strong area, and we’re now starting to have a meaningful relationship with the contract hire and leasing industry, having recently taken on a contract hire and leasing manager, so we’re getting natural business coming through from that area.
In addition, we’ve launched some channels into public sector, and our dealer network, which currently stands at 158,is gradually understanding that fleet is a profitable area for them and that it develops genuine incrementality.
QHow does that break down across your model range? Is there a core fleet model?
The key to our growth has to be with a balanced approach across our models. Most important of all, when following a path of aggressive growth, is to have a number of models that are delivering consistently high volumes, as opposed to just relying on one model. In that scenario, one is, of course, exposed to any changes that might come along. Suzuki has seven models, six of which are fit for fleet, and of course we also have the longstanding Jimny, which after many years is being changed for a brand new model next year.
QWhere are your best opportunities within the fleet sector?
We know the fleet industry is made up of many different sectors and channels and it’s foolish to think that one can win every battle in every segment. We’re very much addressing and promoting Suzuki in the channels that are right for our brand and our models. They include the local SME market; and without question our cars are naturally suited to the public sector. And there are some that are not relevant, and those include major rental or short-term distressful channels.
QYou launched the Suzuki Business Charter in the summer. Is that to give focus internally or is it aimed at giving customers guarantees?
It’s both. It’s focusing our internal team on what is important for our customers, and at the same time it’s assuring and reassuring our customers that we are very customer-focused. The Suzuki Business Charter is a way of us setting ourselves standards that we want to achieve, and it’s built on five pillars: our people, our brand, our products, our cost of ownership and our dealer network.
QHow important is it to prove that the company is able to offer a coherent fleet offering, as it hasn’t really been in the sector before?
For us, being new entrants into the major fleet market, it’s important for us to be able to reassure the leasing industry that we and our dealers are more than capable of offering a service level that would exceed their requirements, not just from the product perspective, but for the people working here as well.
QWhere is Suzuki’s natural position in fleet, especially with the current product line-up that comprises only small cars and crossovers?
The business goal for Suzuki in fleet will, I’d suggest, plateau out between 15,000 and 20,000 cars. However, it’s important to state that the segments we will work within are the segments that happen to be showing growth at the moment in a very challenging marketplace. If you look at the A-segment, B-segment, small crossover and SUV segments, they are areas that are still growing.
QIt feels as if Suzuki has finally got serious about fleet for the first time, after numerous false starts over the past few years?
Yes, and there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, the investment in experienced people, and secondly, Suzuki has never been in a position where we can say we have a number of models that are fit for fleet. In the past we had a vehicle that was fit for fleet. What’s different this year and in forthcoming years is that we have a number models, up to six different models, that you can all see attracting new customers for Suzuki in the fleet marketplace.
And it’s very exciting to be part of a brand overall, retail and fleet, that is growing in every way and breaking records. This year, Suzuki will do more than 40,000 cars in the UK for the first time ever, and the medium-term goal is to get to 50,000. And by doing so, I would suggest that fleet will represent between 17,500 and 20,000 at that juncture.
Impact of new WLTP efficiency tests
“We do benefit maybe more than other manufacturers in that we have a limited number of derivatives in each model, so the demands that it puts on may be somewhat limited for us. There are a few accessories but our derivatives are in the main fully specced.”