Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Honda UK Fleet Sales Operations Manager, Marc Samuel
Marc Samuel is approaching his third anniversary heading up Honda’s fleet operation, in which time the brand has launched the double CCT100 Award-winning Civic, has the new CR-V coming and has an exciting new electric car on the horizon.
QWhere is the Honda line-up in terms of where you would like it to be in fleet, and where are your targets?
ON YOUR BIKE
Honda’s UK operation concerns more than just cars, with motorbikes and power products (from boat engines and quad bikes to generators and lawnmowers) also in the same stable.
But it’s the motorbikes in particular that Samuel says has an opportunity to cross over with the fleet operation, although the power products division also now has a corporate manager.
“We’ve seen people, big companies, move into smaller premises with fewer car parking spaces, and suddenly they want to talk about bike-to-work schemes. We’re supportive of that because if you bring them in to the Honda brand, they see the rest of the product line-up as well,” Samuel tells Company Car Today. “With Honda being the number one in the UK in bike sales, there is a natural crossover, and it doesn’t take away, you tend to find people still take a company car and they might want a company bike as well.”
QWhat did you mean when you said there are some public sectors you won’t choose to work with?
Framework-wise, we’re not really concentrating on central Government. We have a lot of contacts within local Government so we’re going to be going to the individual public sector entities; there is a focus on speaking to the end user rather than getting tied up in the frameworks. We’ve got a very competitive proposition, I just wasn’t convinced how much of that proposition was getting through the noise of those frameworks.
The new CR-V, specifically CR-V hybrid because of the green credentials that central and local Government need to have, is viable, and that sector likes those cars so why shouldn’t we talk to people?
QAre there any other areas you feel you are under-represented?
We tend to focus where we’ve had a win; we look at other businesses in that sector, because you can take the learning you have had in that sector to other businesses.
We’ve been under-represented in companies for quite a while, so the industries we work in are still everywhere; we’ve just got a more viable proposition to talk to them about now because we’ve got case studies and examples of companies that have taken our cars.
We now have a bank of testimonials we didn’t have 24 months ago. Customers are happy to give us their recommendation, and that means a lot.
QHow has that Platinum Programme gone in terms of increasing fleet business through the dealers?
We’ve seen an increase a growth in our local business sales, the SME sector, which is complimented by the SME programme we have got with our virtual account managers, so we’ve seen an uplift in contact with the virtual account managers through the network. We’ve also seen the number of contracts we’ve got in that sector increase. But what we have seen as well is that because we have had two major account managers in situ (one for the north, one for the south), for nearly two years as well, we’ve started to see growth in major account business, which has all come through leasing company interaction and network interaction. The likes of Wurth, we’ve just got onto their business need cars so we’ll be delivering nearly 200 cars over the next two years.
QWhat are your ambitions in the company car sector for this year?
We’re taking a conservative view on next financial year, because there are still businesses out there that haven’t made a buying decision because they are waiting to see what will happen at the end of March. We also know some of the leasing companies have been both informally and formally extending contracts out. Those cars are going to come back into marketplace and we want to make sure we are well-positioned to deal with those, but I’m not going to spend the next financial year trying to blow the doors off the industry.
What I want to focus on is what we’re doing with our network, focus on the systems and processes we have internally to make sure we are dealing with the SME businesses, local businesses, as well and major account business through our major account managers, and that the customers are getting the kind of service and experience they want. I think at a grass roots level we have got a real opportunity to go to local business with an affordable product line-up.
QWhat would be a successful next 12 months for you? What are the key goals going forward?
Dealer profitability is key to where we are, and that means being able to supply them with the right car at the right time for the customer that is walking through their door. It’s about making sure that our true fleet and end-user customers have got the right car at the right time. We have got sales targets to be agreed, but I know what those channels look like and I want to make sure that my team and the network are armed with the right tool kit to go and speak to customers in the way they want to be spoken to.
We’ve just taken on a new dealer programmes manager for the south, and his main function is to help dealers from a coaching function, so he’s out with the platinum programme dealers, working with them on end user customers and making sure that when you walk into a dealer you are getting the level of corporate experience that you are expecting.
We’re trying to craft a network of consultants – not someone who’s just trying to sell you a car, but someone who is listening to your needs for that car. Do you need 400 litres of boot space? What’s your normal commute? What kind of fuel do you think you should be using? Where is your BIK level? What does CO2 mean to you in your back pocket? We’re going to listen to customers.
QLooking at the electric city car coming early next year, it must be exciting to have a product that the whole industry is extremely interested in?
It is a fantastic-looking car; it’s markedly different to most things in the marketplace, you really do sit up and take notice of it. What I want, and I’m on our electric vehicle steering committee, is to make sure that it has a viable use for business users. It’s making sure we know what the range is, we’ll know what the price is going to be, we’ll know what the lead times on the car is going to be, and all of the technologies that go in it.
I’m also really aware of making sure that that car is viable for use, so there will be a charging system, there will be support structures in place to make sure it happens correctly, which is why I wanted to be involved with the steering committee in the first place.
Meeting emissions regulations
A lot of people have said they won’t have a diesel car in their range, but if you look at the facts and figures as we go into RDE2, I think some people will have to have a diesel car to get to their Corporate Average Fuel Economy target figures.