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Interview: Ricky McFarland, Mercedes-Benz Vans

Mercedes-Benz Vans’ head of fleet Ricky McFarland talks Dan Gilkes through some of the company’s plans for the future.

Mercedes-Benz Vans will introduce mobile servicing, fleet management, connected apps and ready-bodied LCVs in the coming year. With the launch of the X-Class pick-up in 2018 and a revised Sprinter in 2019 – to include front-wheel drive versions for the first time – plus the possibility of various electric vans like e-Sprinter on the horizon, the company certainly has plenty to be getting on with.

First to arrive will be the Mercedes PRO Connect app later this year, which will allow customers and fleet managers to connect directly to vehicles, to show fluid levels and a wide range of operating data. A group of connected apps will deliver maintenance management, theft and asset management, vehicle management and fleet communication.

It’s not all about the fleet manager though, there will also be driver apps, for safety coaching and monitoring, eco coaching and monitoring and digital driver’s logs. The aim of PRO Connect is to bring together drivers, management and the vans, to minimise downtime through more effective preventative maintenance.

Using the data from PRO Connect, combined with the increasing popularity of fixed service and R&M deals, Mercedes will then offer to actually manage fleets for customers. The company already provides a fleet management solution to DPD and Asda, with guaranteed uptime clauses. The new service will be run through a central facility at the firm’s Wentworth Park vehicle preparation centre near Barnsley.

“Once we release PRO Connect we will be able to see the vehicles live,” said Ricky McFarland, head of fleet at Mercedes-Benz Vans.

“Our service contracts have increased 400% from 2013 to 2016 and now we are looking at fleet management. When you put fleet management together with R&M, you maximise uptime. When you take all of the services that we offer as a brand, it all adds up to a complete vehicle solution.”

Continued growth

Mercedes-Benz Vans sold over 35,000 LCVs in the UK in 2016, along with around 2,000 V-class people carriers, in its seventh consecutive year of growth. Managing director Steve Bridge is looking for up to 42,000 registrations in 2017. Sprinter remains the big seller of course, but Citan and Vito are building their market shares and X-class will join them next year.

“The growth just keeps going,” said McFarland. “The biggest opportunity is in the Vito sector. That particular sector is the biggest in the UK.”

There is certainly plenty of fleet opportunity for the firm’s mid-weight van. Where 80% of Sprinter vans are sold to fleets, along with 90% of Sprinter chassis cabs, the figure drops to 65% of Citan sales and just 57% of Vito vans. That’s despite a 14% increase in Vito fleet sales in the last year and the fact that Vito is the only van in the sector to be offered in both front and rear-wheel drive.

Mercedes is not taking its eye off the Sprinter line-up though. With many of the firm’s competitors offering an off-the-shelf, ready-bodied range of vehicles to meet customer demand, Mercedes is responding with the launch of its own single-source programme.

“We are working on a Drive Away Solutions project, that will include a tipper, dropside and Luton,” said McFarland.

The company hopes to have the programme running by the end of the year and is currently looking at how it will offer the single-point warranty that many customers want.

Dealer progress

Work continues on the development of the Mercedes’ Van ProCentre network. Currently 40 of the firm’s 64 van sales outlets meet the Van ProCentre standard and a further three dealer partners are going through the process this year.

“The ambition is to get all of our dealers into Van ProCentres,” said McFarland.

One bonus for those dealers that do enter the programme, is that the upcoming X-class pick-up will only be sold through the Van ProCentre network. Although X-class will initially be offered as a luxury premium truck, there will be more basic working models to follow.

Merc’s van dealers are also set to offer mobile servicing, at the customer’s premises. Already launched by Ford and Volkswagen, and available from specialists like BT Fleet, mobile servicing helps to reduce downtime and cut costs for fleet operators.

“There are pilots happening right now,” said McFarland.

While mobile servicing is growing in popularity, it’s worth remembering that as most of the Van ProCentres are also truck dealers, so they offer extended service hours way beyond those of most van dealers. This means that customers already have the opportunity of overnight servicing, reducing downtime.

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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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