Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Neil Wilson, Fleet Director, Ford
Ford is embarking on its EV journey, with its first full electric model – the Mustang Mach-e – now on sale. Fleet boss Neil Wilson talks us through the brand’s next steps in electrification.
QHow important is Mach-e from your perspective? From a fleet point of view, how influential might it be?
We’re tremendously excited to launch Mach-e this year; we’ve seen over the past nine-to-12 months a significant acceleration of the adoption of EVs in fleet, and to be fair fleet is adopting faster than any other channel in the UK.
Clearly that’s driven by the Benefit-in-Kind, and all our fleet customers have been looking at how to adopt EV technology.
With Mach-e, with the range it has, most of our customers realise they can use it day to day. That, couples with the charging network improving – we announced earlier this year that we effectively tripled our FordPass network with BP Pulse, and you notice when you drive around in Mach-e that there are charging points all over the place. The ability to travel is far improved over the past 12-24 months, and Mach-e is absolutely the right vehicle at the right time for the fleet market.
Order-take is exceeding expectations; we’re getting significant orders from a number of different industries. The Mach-e has really captured the imagination of a lot of our fleets and a lot of their drivers because of its styling, the range, the practicality, and Fords are known for driving tremendously well.
LIVE DATA TO TRANSFORM FORD LCV OPERATION
Ford has recently announced that its LCVs are to benefit from new developments in connected vehicle technology applicable to models built from the middle of 2019.
“We are committed to using the technology, there is power in the data,” Ford fleet boss Neil Wilson tells Company Car Today. “ We have more than 100,000 vehicles in the UK with a modem fitted, and that is increasing. By the end of the year it will likely be more than 200,000.”
“Those vehicles will have the ability to give customers the ability to make informed decisions on maintenance of those vehicles, which ultimately should lead to improvements in up-time; we are absolutely committed to minimise downtime,” he continues. “Clearly if the vehicles aren’t working then the business is not working.
“We have a cohesive approach where we can work together to connect the customer to the car to the dealer and to ourselves,” he says. “We can see what’s going on with the vehicle at any point to take actions to ensure that one, if there are any issues with the vehicle they get fixed, and more importantly, get proactively ahead of those issues and avoid downtime incidents.”
QWhat is supply like? Are you going to have significant waits for the car, or have you got a good level of UK supply?
You’re looking at three to four months from order to delivery. The first units will be arriving April/May, so if you place an order now, you’re probably looking at three to four months. We have no issues at the moment.
QYou said you’re seeing a mix of customers. Is the Mustang Mach-e opening doors to businesses you weren’t talking to previously?
We are selling to a number of customers that we haven’t sold to before, or haven’t sold to for a while, and that is across a variety of industries.
I think what Mach-e is doing is making them look at Ford in a new light. We are committed to our EV strategy, we have
a great range of products, including Kuga PHEV, which is getting great traction on a lot of our key fleets as well.
And of course we still get great response to Focus diesel; a number of our fleets still buy that, and it’s probably class-leading in its range. Even on passenger vehicles, EV isn’t necessarily the right solution for everyone and we get great feedback on Focus in the market. And that’s also not to forget that Puma has won many awards and is getting great traction with a number of fleets. But Mach-e is opening doors with customers we haven’t had before.
QThe changes to the plug-in vehicle grant happened overnight in March. What’s your reaction to that?
We had no warning at all. Clearly, we’re disappointed by that change. It’s not the right thing at the right time, given the growth of EVs required for us all to hit our CO2 targets and the UK to move to a greener environment.
Going forward, clearly the grant will not apply to our EV products we have in the market today. From a Mach-e perspective, it’s still really well priced, the RVs are still tremendously strong and the SMR is still really good. It’s still a great proposition for our customers who want to buy an EV. And of course it will still have the low BiK. We have some challenges to overcome with the unexpected announcement of a dramatic change to the grant, but we’re still confident we have a fantastic product.
From our Custom PHEV perspective, we’ll look at what the impacts are. And we have e-Transit arriving in March 2022, and that will get full benefits on the grant.
WILSON selects his stand-out cars
I had the poster on my wall as a kid and walked past one every day on my 12-month degree work placement year at Jaguar Browns Lane.
FORD MUSTANG SHELBY GT500
It’s the ultimate muscle car, I just wish we were selling it in the UK!
FORD MUSTANG MACH-E GT
The current Mach-e is amazing and the GT version coming this summer accelerates as fast as the XJ200, but with zero emissions
QWhat has been the reaction to the e-Transit announcement?
We’re so excited about the launch of e-Transit and lots of our customers are too. What we’re working with is how an electric Transit will fit in with the blend of their fleet, and all their requirements, because one size probably doesn’t fit all. And mostly, they will need a blend of our diesels and our EVs going forward.
QWhat about the expansion of your electric car range?
We’ve made some quite exciting announcements on electric vehicles. We will introduce our first European-built full production EV in 2023 with the option to build another vehicle on the same platform. The car is being built in Cologne and is the first one from our partnership with the VW Alliance.
And our entire line-up will soon have full zero-emission capability. By 2024 with vans and 2026 with cars; every model will have a zero-emissions capable vehicle.
Q Where are you with Kuga plug in hybrid now, after the battery replacement issues on it late last year?
We’ve been replacing all those batteries. We’ve still got few more to do, but we are taking orders for Kuga PHEV and we will start building again from Q2.
We’ve worked hard to fix this issue for our customers. We’ve done everything we can and taken the right steps to make sure that we can communicate well. We’ve had really positive feedback from a wide variety of customers across fleet, retail and Motability for how we have handled it and communicated through a tough period.
And again, Kuga PHEV is a really good story for BiK, it provides another good alternative to full EV and has no problem in terms of day-to-day range capability.
QAnd you’re also moving into self-charging hybrids across several models too?
Some fleets are very much interested in hybrid technology. It provides an alternative to the diesel in many cases.
We’ve got that on Kuga, and also S-Max and Galaxy. And those products have seen a little bit of a resurgence from some customers, having a people-mover with full hybrid capability has driven interest.
Again, it shows that we are committed to EVs in all forms and have a range of powertrain technology to offer customers. One size doesn’t fit all and different customers make different choices.
QWhere does the FordPass app fit in with the plug-in vehicles, especially following the recent addition of BP Pulse charging points to your network?
It gives our drivers a one-stop solution to understand where the charge points are in the country. And it gives them the ability to pay for those charge points with one payment facility.
It also gives you lots of information and notifications around how that vehicle is being used, driver profile, and also, if required, maintenance alerts.
QAnd then specifically the linking up with charge points. Will you bring other networks into FordPass for EVs?
I think we continually look to expand our network of EV charge points. We haven’t made any announcements, but you’ve seen the progress we’ve made already and tripling the number is a clear indication of the direction of travel. We’re not going to stop there.
QIs the single charging from a invoicing point of view the appeal, or do fleets appreciate being able to use different networks on the same card?
The big benefit for fleets is the same as any driver of an EV. When they drive the car, they know they have the ability to charge that vehicle on any journey, and the key to that is knowing where their charge points are, and then be able to interact with those charge points sufficiently. What FordPass does is enable that. Our fleet customers appreciate it and really crucially so do the drivers. It takes away the mystery of running an EV and I think when people get in the vehicle and start using the network, it is actually very easy, very simple. And sometimes it’s actually simpler than a petrol station.
QWhat are customers asking your team about the transition to electric?
Many of our customers are pretty advanced around electric vehicles, but some customers are asking us questions.
I think for a lot of our fleet customers, questions, particularly around commercial vehicles, are how that electric vehicle fits within that profile. And depending on their usage requirements, how they use it day to day, whether their drivers return to depot, what charging facilities would they need at home, and the options for customers around that. And also charging solutions for them as well.
WILSON ON… the increasing popularity of the company car
“A lot of fleets are looking to adapt. We are seeing a renaissance of the company car, and a renaissance of the salary-sacrifice scheme, moving away from grey fleet. Which is really great, because it is beneficial to the drivers and the best option for them.”