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Interview: James Douglas, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

James Douglas, head of sales operations at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, tells Dan Gilkes of LCV growth opportunities and aspirations.

James Douglas, head of sales operations, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles
James Douglas, head of sales operations, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is looking forward to a year of growth in the UK, despite industry predictions that the overall van market will continue its slight decline. The company, which sold more than 41,600 LCVs in the UK last year, or 46,300 when you add in people-carrying Caravelles, retained its number two position behind Ford, with a market share of 11.5%.

“We’re quite bullish about this year,” said head of sales operations James Douglas.

“Our order take in January was ahead of target and our volume is forecast to be slightly up this year, with more Amarok, more Caravelle and new versions of Crafter. Crafter is the big opportunity.”

In contrast to the coming 12 months, Volkswagen had predicted a drop in sales last year, as it pulled back from the fast turnover rental market with Caddy and experienced restricted supply with Amarok. It was also a changeover year for the firm’s biggest van, with new Crafter variants arriving throughout 2018. However, while the company had expected a drop in Transporter registrations, a number of opportunities resulted in T6 growth, in retail and SME markets, as well as in fleet. The RAC, for example, recently ordered 300 Transporters, all equipped with Volkswagen’s DSG automated transmission.

“We’d always planned to sell fewer vehicles in 2017 and our performance was strong and extremely controlled. But we had an opportunity to do more Transporters,” said Douglas.

“We will grow in 2018, but we won’t chase sales.”

Volkswagen will however be having a lot of discussions with large van buyers, as the broader mix of Crafter models, with front and rear-wheel drive, will allow dealers to target new customers and market segments.

“Crafter is a huge focus for us, even though it’s a sector that is not currently growing,” said Douglas.

“The opportunity is huge and we have aspirations. We are an 11-12% market share brand.”

The company has been preparing for Crafter’s arrival with a growing network of converters ready to work on the new van. As around 50% of Crafters will have some form of conversion work, Douglas sees this as critical to the van’s success.

“We have built the infrastructure to supply pretty much whatever the customer wants,” he said.

“Conversion work is the most striking area of complexity that the fleet market experiences and it’s important the customer can see what the commitment from us is. We need to adapt our sales proposition to meet the needs of the customer.

“The network is good, but I need it to be excellent.  We want to be a supplier of choice for every business,” said Douglas.

Volkswagen currently has 71 Van Centres, plus 26 after-sales sites, across the UK. While that network offers strong geographical coverage, Douglas is keen to develop bespoke after-sales packages to suit individual customers and has appointed a fleet aftersales manager to develop this area and to offer national-grade sales support agreements. Volkswagen has also created an uptime focus team in Leeds, working with its roadside assistance team, to further improve the company’s response times.

There are currently ten mobile service vans operating in the UK network and that number will double by the end of 2018. They won’t all be Crafter-based either, the company is looking at service technicians in Transporters and even Caddys, to suit operating areas and customer needs.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is certainly putting in the work behind the scenes to support the arrival of new Crafter and to meet the needs of its customers in a diverse range of business sectors. Further growth in 2018 is perhaps not so surprising as a result.

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Written by Dan Gilkes

Dan has been a commercial vehicle and construction equipment journalist for almost 30 years. An automotive engineer and former fleet manager, he has driven almost every van, pickup and truck that has been launched in Europe over that time. As editor of VFW, his aim is to keep readers up to date with the latest developments in the light commercial world.

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