This month Steve Banner paid another visit to Milton Keynes, but this time it was to catch up with Robert Hazelwood, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK director.
We sold 26,829 vehicles — a record figure — making us number one importer for the first time. We broke a couple of other records too. Last year was the first in which we sold over 15,000 Transporters, including models such as the California, and the first in which we sold over 6,000 Caddys.
Clearly product has had a major part to play in what we've achieved and continue to achieve. Caddy, Transporter and the new Crafter launched in 2006 are all pretty much at the top of their cycle. The other advantage we have is the strength of our dealer network. Remember that we work through dedicated specialist van centres staffed and run by trained people who understand the needs of commercial vehicle operators. We've got 84 outlets — 67 handle sales and service while the remainder are service only. We aim to expand the number of sales and service sites. There are about 80 to 90 towns and cities in the UK with a density of population that's sufficient to justify a major sales point, so we reckon we need to get to around 85. We should be able to do that within the next 12 to 18 months.
More and more of our van centres are looking at recruiting dedicated finance and insurance managers who can, for example, talk about all aspects of leasing and contract hire. So far as insurance is concerned we're now offering everybody who acquires a new vehicle complimentary drive-away insurance for the first seven days of ownership. Obviously terms and conditions apply. During that time customers can either sort out their own insurance or opt to continue cover through us. Half a dozen of our dealers are piloting service while-you-wait programmes and a number of them are looking closely at extending their workshop opening hours. We're also doing a lot of detailed consumer research to help us better understand what van customers are looking for in today's market.
We're looking at developing a programme during the course of this year under which almost every single one — possibly all — of our dealers will offer rental vans. Most of the bigger ones do so already.
Yes, we're introducing a conversion scheme that will include all three and they'll be appearing in our brochures and price lists. Customers will know exactly what they'll be paying, it will be easy for Volkswagen Financial Services and other finance companies to quote finance rates on the vehicles and easier for the price guides to take a view on residual values. We'll be using well known, high quality bodybuilders Ingimex and Boalloy.
They'll be in the next stage of development of the programme.
We already offer a nine-seater Transporter and we're testing a 15-seater Crafter minibus produced by Advanced.
We sold 1,101. Our target was 1,000 so it was encouraging to see how well Crafter was received. The first demonstrators appeared at dealerships in late July/August but sales didn't really get going until September, so everything we sold was accounted for in final quarter. Our target for this year is 4,700.
Yes, and it is likely to be fitted to around 10 per cent of the Crafters we sell. It should appeal to anybody who does a lot of stop-start delivery work in conurbations, and especially to anyone who is on home-delivery work.
Really well. We sold 4,352 in its final 12 months with about 20 dealers accounting for 80 per cent of the volume.
Those of our dealers who come from a truck background are comfortable with it, but if I'm honest we have others who are still on a learning curve. It's an area where we need to make further improvements.
Not for another three years, but there will be a facelift before then. In the meantime we've just introduced a passenger-carrying Kombi version of the Transporter Sportline. We sold around 230 Sportline vans last year — deliveries started to come through in September/October — and each one carried around £1,000 worth of accessories. A lot of Transporter buyers — Caddy buyers too for that matter — want bespoke vehicles and are specifying optional extras such as air conditioning and satellite navigation.
Don't know yet. However, our colleagues in Sweden did a special edition Caddy in conjunction with Harley Davidson in black and with plenty of chrome not so long ago and it looked really good; just the way a Caddy Sportline might look. So it's a thought and in fact we've had one mocked up for the accessories roadshow we do for our dealers. I think we might struggle a bit with a Crafter Sportline though.
It accounts for about five per cent of Caddy volume. An example of a DSG Caddy will be on our stand at the British Commercial Vehicle Show along with a Shiftmatic Crafter and the Atacama concept vehicle. It's a futuristic design study based on a 4x4 Crafter.
We hope it will appear here in early 2008. A seven-seater Caddy Maxi is also a possibility.
That's likely to appear in 2009.
At present we're not finding that lots of UK customers are asking for vehicles that will run on alternative fuels, but it's becoming a hot topic. So we're looking at a lot of different technologies and we're focusing on the next generation of biofuels in particular. At the same time we're trying to make our diesels as fuel-efficient as possible and we believe that on that front they're as good as anything else that's on the market today.
I'm optimistic. In January we did 110 per cent of our original target and we're currently sitting on 7,144 orders. That compares with 4,859 orders 12 months ago. This means that we're not chasing registrations so we don't have to distress the produce (ie start discounting heavily – SB). We can instead concentrate on continuing to build the brand, although we are prepared to be competitive when we need to be. We originally told the dealers that we wanted to sell 27,000 vehicles this year — we're certainly hoping to sell over 15,000 Transporters — and I'm confident we'll do significantly more than that. If we can get the production from the factories anything between 28,000 and 30,000 is eminently achievable in a total market that will probably be about the same size as the van market in 2006.