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Interview: Richard Chamberlain, UK country manager for Fiat Professional

Conversions top the list of priorities at Fiat Professional, Richard Chamberlain tells Dan Gilkes.

Richard Chamberlain, UK country manager for Fiat Professional
Richard Chamberlain, UK country manager for Fiat Professional

The chassis conversion sector, in particular the market for ready-built vehicles, looks set to be a major focus for Fiat Professional over the coming months. With most of the firm’s competitors already well established in the drive-away bodied van arena, the company is looking to steadily build its presence.

“We currently offer a three-way tipper, a dropside and a utility cab from the factory. I want to have a full ready-to-go solution and an engineered solution,” said Richard Chamberlain, UK country manager for Fiat Professional.

“That’s going to become increasingly important for us.”

Of course, Fiat is no stranger to the conversion sector, with around 40% of UK Ducato chassis heading straight to motorhome manufacturers. Indeed, Chamberlain claims that Fiat currently grabs around 56% of the UK campervan sector with Ducato and up to 80% of the European market.

There is still room for growth in the light commercial van sector though and he is keen to expand Fiat’s off-the-shelf range. He also wants to establish an approved list of conversion specialists, to meet more specific customer requirements.

Ducato remains by far the most important model in the Fiat line-up at present, taking around 60% of UK sales, if you include motorhome chassis. Doblo Cargo comes second, followed by the Fullback pick-up. Talento and the Fiorino compact high cube van complete the line-up.

Overall the company’s sales are up this year, well ahead of the market as a whole. To the end of July, Fiat Professional volumes had risen 12% year-on-year, in a van market that remains relatively flat. As well as Ducato, this has been partly driven by the Fullback pick-up, which is based on Mitsubishi’s L200. Having a 1-tonne pick-up in the range was certainly a good addition that is paying dividends.

Talento, a reinvention of the Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro, has perhaps yet to realise its full potential. Though accepted by dealers and customers as a worthy replacement for the old Scudo mid-weight, Talento sales have been slow to take off.

“There is still a big job to be done in terms of awareness for Talento,” said Chamberlain.

With regard to the growing call for an alternative to diesel, Fiat Professional is in some ways just standing back to see which way the market will turn. Both Fiorino and Doblo Cargo are offered with petrol options, indeed Royal Mail has 500 petrol Doblos on its fleet, but there is no news of an electric van on the horizon yet.

“We need to ask what is the right vehicle for your operation,” said Chamberlain.

Having inherited a recently shaken-up dealer network, Chamberlain is confident that the mix is now right to push the firm’s vans across the UK. There are 40 Fiat dealers selling Fiat Professional vans, along with 20-30 truck dealers that carry the Fiat brand.

In addition, there are now more than 150 service outlets that can provide back-up for Fiat vans, including some of the firm’s car dealers that are not sales outlets.

“We’ve got a good spread across the country,” said Chamberlain.

“We have a nice balance between car-based dealers for the SME market and heavy truck businesses for those customers that require 24-hour back-up. Our USP really is our dealer network.”

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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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