grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Jules Tilstone, Managing Director, DS Automobiles UK.
It’s a big year for the premium French car maker DS Automobiles, with a pair of new models to boost the brand’s attempts to establish itself in the UK. Jules Tilstone was appointed as UK MD late last year, and talks Company Car Today through its plans for the corporate sector.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE FLEET SECTOR TO YOU IN TERMS OF BUILDING THE BRAND, AND ITS PRESENCE AND VOLUME?
Very, I would say. User choosers are an opportunity for us, particularly middle and upper management levels, and also important is educating the leasers and making sure that the DS is on the right policies, and that we are providing cars for people to drive. The touch and the feel of our product and driving the product is clearly a USP in the marketplace that you need to experience first-hand.
And then B2B SME is a big opportunity for us in the UK; that small or medium enterprise, architects, doctors, solicitors, single owner-drivers through to small businesses who have management cars. That’s really a big opportunity for us and we need to work harder on getting the product in front of that audience. I think it’s educating in terms of where the brand is, what the brand is doing and how we’re evolving, and most importantly, offering 24- or 48-hour test drives to that audience can really make a big difference between recognising us, and actually then having a real understanding of what we offer in the marketplace.
HOW DOES DS WORK ALONGSIDE THE CITROEN AND PEUGEOT FLEET TEAM?
The fleet team have that benefit of being able to talk to major fleets about our portfolio of brands, which is an advantage. There are a number of fleets where you’ve got restricted badge situations and we need to have a premium offering for those groupings.
In parallel to that, for about a year and a half now we’ve had in place our dedicated DS virtual fleet concierge. That’s someone who talks specifically to major fleets and mid-range fleets about DS. It’s not just about group offering, it’s about which fleets match what we have to offer. And the fact we were already operating virtually through that concierge was
great and proved its worth in the past 12 months in terms of having direct conversations with those specific fleets.
WHERE DO YOU SEE A PARTICULAR GROWTH POTENTIAL? ARE THERE SOME AREAS THAT WILL FUEL THE NEXT PHASE OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT ON THE B2B SIDE?
If we look at 2021; SME is probably the biggest short-term opportunity because it’s easier to reach that audience. And then we need to continue to do what we’re doing in the major fleets and the leasers to introduce our products. One of the opportunities we have is to have more interactions with the leasers of the major fleets in our stores, so that they can see what we offer to their drivers, and talk about the services that we offer. Because we’re not just about products, we’re about the customer, the services and how we look after our customers as individuals, which is where we can differentiate ourselves from some of our competitors.
WHERE DO YOUR TWO NEW CARS FIT IN, AND HOW IMPORTANT ARE THEY TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAND?
DS 9, obviously it’s our flagship. It’s an important segment for us, but it’s not a huge segment. If you look at what Lexus and Volvo are doing in that E-segment, for example, it’s not going to be a huge volume for us. And the idea is not to push for huge volume. We’re more about organic growth than pushing for volume and market share because it’s about establishing the foundations of the brand, having everything in place that makes us credible. And if we get it right, then we’ll bring new customers to the group, which is what we’re here to do. So, DS 9, clearly, the volumes will not be huge, but will align with the segment.
DS 4 is clearly a bigger segment with bigger opportunities; some of our competitors are very successful in that segment and retaining or bringing customers to their brands. We expect to have good success with DS 4 and to again bring more new customers to DS.
It’s difficult to say on the volumes; we won’t push to achieve a number but we see it as a step up in terms of the type and volume of customer coming to us.
But we’re not writing numbers and working out what are we going to do to achieve that. It’s not the priority for us.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR NETWORK OF DS STORE RETAILERS? WILL THAT EXPAND?
There are a lot of areas that we need to evolve in, including coverage. With regards to physical stores, it’s about getting that piece of the jigsaw right, linked with the selling online piece too, being more accessible and bring in more customers into the DS brand.
We’ve identified 13 priority points which would take us to 45. If we look at the map we can see obvious regions where we’re not represented. Take, for example, Aberdeen, or Leeds or Liverpool, and we’ve identified areas where we feel we need representation, because we need to be closer to the audience in those areas.
I strongly believe that there is really a demand for that. We don’t need to be on every corner with a physical presence, but a lot of customers still want that reassurance from a relationship, in and around their area. It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes’ drive away, it can be longer, but they want that relationship not only with the brand but the retailer.
The individual that is representing brand is a key piece that won’t change overnight, even if buying habits generally have obviously accelerated, in terms of online purchases, in the past 12 months. People still value that relationship with a retailer and an expert advisor. We’re not pushing to become a 200-store brand across the UK, we think mid-40s is about right for us.
WILL COLLECT AND DELIVER AND CONCIERGE SERVICES FOR CUSTOMERS OUTSIDE THOSE AREAS APPLY TO FLEET DRIVERS?
There’s no restrictions; I guess the only question with some leasers is that servicing etc is taken care of by those companies directly, but anyone that uses the DS network for servicing, then the concierge service will exist and the plan is to have national delivery and collection.
Even for test drives, if a user-chooser is considering DS and wants to experience the product, then we should take a car to them and let them have a proper 24-hour test drive, or 48-hour test drive. Because I think living with a low-emission vehicle is important, rather than just having an hour around the block and then being expected to make a decision on whether it suits what you need from your car.
The key for us now is to put in place a mechanism that can enable us to take the right car to that person, and that’s what we’re working on at the moment.
AND WHERE ARE YOU IN TERMS OF RESIDUAL VALUES? ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH WHERE THE CARS SIT OR IS THERE MORE WORK TO DO WITH THE LEASING COMPANIES TO GET THEM TO UNDERSTAND THE BRAND?
There’s always work to be done on residual values. The job is never done. When we look at some of the residual values on some of the models of our competitors, we can see that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Some of those models that have been around for 20 years are well positioned in the used market, those clearly attract a very positive residual value.
Am I satisfied with residual values? The DS 7 Crossback’s is very close to the Audi Q3, which I think is a positive sign of the reception of that model. And we need to continue to work hard, and part of what I’m doing now is sharing the strategy, making sure that everyone understands what we’re trying to achieve.
WHAT WOULD BE A SUCCESSFUL 2021 FOR YOU, AND LOOKING TO 2022 AS WELL?
First and foremost is the omni-channel thing, so it’s a physical network, upgrading what we’ve currently got, launching new stores, getting that customer experience from a physical perspective. And at the same time, we are young in the selling online piece, we need to evolve that, we need to get the remote test drive and delivery and servicing all set up as national coverage. And that will give us a really strong platform which gives the customers the choice in terms of whether they go down the online route, the physical route or a mixture of both.
The second piece will be around the launch and the message that we send with DS 9 and DS 4. How we use those to reinforce the brand positioning and the momentum that we’re picking up in the market is fundamental. How they change and evolve people’s perception of how the DS brand is positioned in the UK, and the direction that we’re heading.
THE GOVERNMENTS EV GRANT CHANGES
“It’s disappointing isn’t it? We’re certainly not ahead of the wave in terms of EV adoption in the UK but there’s a lot of people now seriously considering that move from a combustion-engined vehicle to an EV. This kind of change doesn’t help.”
This will be a big year of new product for DS Automobiles, which will double its model line-up to four by the end of 2021.
First up is the DS 9 saloon (driven on page 30), which is a new flagship for the French premium brand that will be on UK roads in late summer. Launching in high-powered petrol or plug-in hybrid form, the DS 9 is already on sale from £40,615 for the 225hp petrol model, and from £46,100 for the 360hp plug-in hybrid, which has an official electric-only range figure of up to 34 miles.
Following later this year is the DS 4 hatchback, a bigger-volume model that arrives by the end of 2021. That car will be offered in petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid forms, as well as two distinct styles giving a more sporty or more SUV-style appearance.
Tilstone selects his stand-out cars
I’ve always been mad about cars and design. I loved ‘The Return of the Saint’ in the 1970s!
DS X E_TENSE
This is what we coin a dream car and one I was fortunate enough to have driven. It embodies everything I love about working for DS and where the brand is going. It has avant-garde style, a pioneering design, and pushes new boundaries showcasing French luxury at its best.
The first of the next generation of DS products, it shows why I’m so confident about the journey we’re on.