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Star Treatment

By / 2 years ago / Interview / No Comments

With over 200 vans available to test drive, both on and off the road, this year’s Mercedes-Benz Van Experience Live welcomed more than 2,000 visitors over a two week period. It provided a chance for customers to try the full LCV line-up and an opportunity to find out more about Mercedes-Benz Finance and the many aftercare services that the company has to offer.

“We’re moving away from being simply a transactional manufacturer, to being a partner. Customers are looking to see what Mercedes-Benz can do for their business,” said Andy Lawson, strategic accounts manager at Mercedes-Benz Vans.

“We’re helping our customers to serve their customers better.”

Up to 75% of the company’s vans are sold to fleets, in the UK with Sprinter in particular a popular choice for business users. Indeed nine of the top 10 parcel delivery companies use Sprinter and every UK ambulance trust has Mercedes’ biggest van on its fleets.

On a warm summer’s day, Mercedes-Benz Vans’ managing director Steve Bridge was also delighted to report that apparently eight out of 10 ice cream vans are now based on a Sprinter chassis too. More importantly, Sprinter is also making in-roads into construction, plant hire and a number of less traditional market sectors.

Mercedes remains keen to push both new Vito and Citan into the fleet sector too. Improvements in fuel economy are seeing growing interest in the new Vito in particular, but there are plenty of opportunities for the company.

“We’ve still got a lot of customers buying Sprinter, but not Vito and Citan,” said Mr Lawson.

“Citan is still an area of focus for us. But benefits in fuel economy are making whole life costs more competitive and there is a lot of high profile interest in new Vito. Even rental companies are saying that the fuel economy is good and that puts us in a market that can compete with Transit Custom and Transporter.”

However Mercedes’ focus is not just on the vehicles. The company, which has put all of it’s LCV staff through the FTA’s Van Excellence programme, is set to partner with the Freight Transport Association to offer a range of driver training packages. These would start with e-learning modules, with one-day training lessons available at a later date.

“I can see a driver package, a company package and a market segment package being available,” said Mr Lawson.

Mercedes has already sponsored a driver training academy at frozen food provider Iceland, and Lawson would like to see this eventually leading to a food distribution ‘passport’ that would allow drivers to move between providers without having to re-train each time.

Mercedes’ dealers are also very much involved in providing this improved service to customers. Many of the dealers are working towards the firm’s VanPro Centre accreditation, with seven market areas covered at present and up to 14 areas due to be covered by the end of the year.

Mercedes-Benz Finance now funds one in three of the company’s vans, lending more than £253m to UK customers in 2014, up from £53m in 2007. In April of this year Mercedes-Benz Vans also took used van sales in-house, away from the firm’s truck division, delivering improved budgeting for customers.

The company is building upon its repair and maintenance service across the UK too, with parcel delivery company DPD recently putting 3,500 Sprinters into service contracts thanks to the improved levels of back-up on offer.

“It’s been a bit of a shock to the system for dealers, as historically they were just retail or big fleet businesses. Now they have to be more proactive,” said Mr Lawson.

“But dealers are really embracing it. We and the dealer network are making the initial investment, but we’re seeing added loyalty and we will see additional sales. Now we need to take that to the next level and increase our ‘share of wallet’.”

Alex Grant

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