Paul Barker grabs a cuppa and a chat with one of fleet’s most influential figures – Volvo Car UK Head of Business Sales, Steve Beattie.
Steve Beattie has now spent more than 18 months heading up Volvo’s corporate sales channels, and is enjoying a 2019 in which the brand has claimed a 45% rise in true fleet sales.
QWhat impact do you think you’ve had since you joined Volvo?
When I came in, my brief was that we needed to drive true fleet sales. We had a product range coming, certainly with XC40, that was going to be suited to the fleet market so my major brief was that we are not selling enough cars to enough corporate customers. So, the biggest change was the team and how they go to market; they need to add value to every customer meeting they go to because there’s no point in going to a meeting, doing a presentation of the new car we’ve got coming but not getting any information from that meeting about how we position the car to best enable drivers to be able to choose it.
DIESEL ISN’T DONE
Despite Volvo’s announcement that it won’t be developing any more diesel engines as it moves to electrification, the fuel is still an important part of its present, if not its future.
Year to date, diesel accounts for around 55% of the brand’s corporate registrations, with 30% petrol and the remaining 15% plug-in hybrid. But fleet boss Steve Beattie says the numbers shift in terms of placed orders, showing plug-in hybrid up to 27%, petrol remaining static and diesel dropping away to well under half of registrations.
“Although we always think of fleet as being a high-mileage driver, with plug-in hybrid you’re going to see perk drivers come back in, where they’ve gone away,” Beattie told Company Car Today. “But for us, certainly diesel is important next year.”
For Volvo, 2020 is a quiet one on the product front, with the big news being the PHEV XC40 launching at the beginning of the year, and then the full electric XC40 build-up beginning in late 2020, ahead of a 2021 launch. Apart from that, increased mild hybridisation of the existing engine line-up is the main thing on the product line-up.
QWhat will constitute a successful 2019 for you and the brand?
Finishing the year with growth. Volvo’s total sales will be a growth on the previous year, and with true fleet as a real major element of that now from a growth perspective.
And also by launching the XC40 PHEV into the fleet market. That’s a really important car for us next year, with our increased battery supply and with that the XC40 winning a number of awards, having a PHEV variant of that car is really, really important to us.
QDoes the new S60 PHEV make the car more fleet-relevant given that there is no diesel in that model, or does the price still make it prohibitive?
I think it does make it more relevant because clearly CO2 is very important. Where our car is positioned differently from the BMW 330e is that our car has 390hp, therefore you’re going to look at the 293hp BMW as a completely different car. We’re not going to want to be pushing the volumes BMW are with that car, it’s bit of a niche car for us, hence why it’s a bit more of a cult, iconic, fast car.
QWhere are your growth opportunities as you move forward and exhaust the pool of fleet and SME customers new to Volvo?
We have been growing in a declining market and our real growth is true end-user customers. I think next year I’d imagine we’ll be in a similar position for numbers; I would like to always grow slightly year-on-year. But I still think there is an opportunity with large corporate and SMEs.
There has been a drop in company car drivers, but in that decrease we’ll sell another 2000-2500 cars into that market. We’re a third of the size of some of the big boys so there are still opportunities. I’m still coming across fleets today that don’t have a Volvo on fleet, so we’re still in that period – it takes a longer time for cars to end up on people’s fleets. Volvo is a very different proposition from what it was five years ago, and there are still restricted badges out there that we are not on; there are still opportunities for us to drive at. We’re going to open more doors again because all of our range has a plug-in hybrid now and that’s something we can go and talk to people about.
QHow receptive are people to that message for plug-in hybrids?
I think everybody’s fleet policy is different. You have people that are engaging and want plug-in hybrid and you have people that haven’t put it on their policy. But this year, particularly the past six months, since the announcement with Government BIK, we seem to have seen an acceleration in people asking ‘have you got a plug-in hybrid; we need to know, we now need to get this on the company car list’.
QWhat is the fleet market’s view of plug-in hybrids and their acceptance on company car lists?
I think clarity is always a driving force, For me, the Government grant needs to be put back in on plug-in hybrids. It’s an important step to allow people to understand electrification, we need to make those cars more accessible and plug-in is a way of doing that. Maybe there needs to be a stipulation on how it is charged but for me we need to be looking at making those cars more accessible. Because it’s that step-change, it’s very difficult to go suddenly from a pure diesel or petrol engine and say I’m going electric tomorrow. You’ve got to take people on that journey – mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid are part of that journey to an electric and autonomous future.
QWith your recent growth, is there still some headroom for you to penetrate? And where in the company car sector is that?
From a sales perspective in fleet, where we need to drive is SME and true fleet. I think it’s getting people to experience a Volvo car. You can still go and talk to a number of people that haven’t been around a Volvo for some time and when they really see the car, the conversation then is that I never realised about this car. It’s like the Pepsi challenge, there have been so many people that haven’t tried a new Volvo that have a very different view of it. Our big thing next year is to continue to drive change.
The thought of autonomy is what it can do for the driver. Imagine being able to do all your prep on the way to a meeting because you’re in a cabin where you can experience autonomy. Giving time back is so important to Volvo, to be sustainable and we’re all about people, so giving time back is really important, and that’s a great way of doing that.