Service and support lead to fleet success
Europe's fleet market is highly competitive, with brands vying for a key role in the lucrative B2B space. One company that has pushed hard to find the right offering is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which has not only brought out new models of vehicle to fill the gaps in its fleet offering, but also developed a keen sense of what fleet managers, and the finance teams behind them, need from a fleet partner.
"The fleet market has become increasingly relevant as part of our performance in Europe in the past 18 months, thanks to the new line-up we have introduced. We have brought several new models to the market under the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep brands, which are helping us to expand our B2B business," says Gianluca Italia, managing director for Italy, and EMEA fleet and business sales director, at FCA.
"Our strategy is based on three pillars - product, people and place. In terms of product, we cover almost 80% of the potential business market with our brands, compared with no more than 55% only two years ago. This gives us a lot of opportunity to reach out to new customers.
"In terms of people, we have completely reorganised our internal structure and dealer network. We have a selection of 220 dealers that have become centres of excellence for business customers across Europe. As we speak, we have 50 of them up and running. In terms of place and customer journey, we also developed several service products within FCA Bank that offer complete opportunities for our partners."
Italia is responsible for all of FCA's sales in the Italian market and handles all B2B activities in the EMEA region. In his two years at the company, he has seen it achieve record numbers in the B2B sector outside of Italy, where it has grown 40% year on year in 2017, as well as maintaining its dominant position in its home market.
"Innovation is the key for us and the industry as a whole," he says. "It varies from technological to service innovation. We have developed a lot of ideas that we are presenting to potential and existing customers, including a whole range of new platforms for Alfa Romeo and Jeep. We are launching new models, with new engines and new technologies, every six months. But innovation in services is also important, so we work closely with FCA Bank to have all kinds of services to meet customers' needs, particularly for Alfa Romeo and Jeep, which are the perfect user-chooser brands."
A complete portfolio for the business customer
Evidence that FCA's brands are perfect for the user-chooser market comes from the fact that more companies are seeking out its vehicles, rather the company having to be aggressive in its marketing.
"Our cars are sold more on pull than on push. We have a lot of enquiries from managers requesting to join the company policy, because they want to drive our new cars. That helps us, because we get to meet fleet managers to explain that maybe there is an opportunity to make their colleagues happier by driving one of our new models," says Italia.
The Fiat Tipo is now the leading model in Italy and it continues to extend its presence in the B2B field across Europe. The new Alfa Romeo Giulia, the latest addition to the portfolio, is a sports model that blends design and performance to compete with the German brands that dominate this part of the market. In only three months, it has been added to the fleet offerings of more than 600 companies. The new Jeep Compass is the final piece in the SUV portfolio.
"The Giulia and the Compass are providing a real alternative to our main competitors in the premium sector. Today, Europeans can test a different approach," Italia says. "Alfa Romeo brings passion, driving dynamics and power along with Italian style and design. For fleet customers, we offer all the features to suit the user-chooser driver and the fleet manager. We asked these customers what should be standard in the business version of these cars, and our engineers managed to meet nearly all of their requests.
"The Jeep range is crucial to our growth. The SUV segment is growing like crazy in the B2B sector, and Jeep is the world's biggest-selling brand in that sector. It is a very credible brand for top quality and the Compass gives us the chance to enter the compact SUV market, which is the largest segment in Europe - including in the fleet community. We now cover the full range from the most compact version, the Jeep Renegade, up to the Grand Cherokee."
FCA's aim is to bring more choice to fleet managers through new and established models. "If you add these to the smaller models from Fiat, like the Cinquecento, and the new Alfa Romeos, then we can really offer fleet managers a broad range of vehicles. This is our value add, compared with most of our competitors. Fleet managers choosing FCA can offer everything from a small car for the city to a very strong SUV model, or a stylish and powerful Alfa Romeo. Many companies are now going 100% FCA," Italia says.
Fleet for finance
FCA has thought carefully about how it can bring people into its family, in part by bringing the families of corporate users into the showroom.
"Cost is very important. Fleet managers, finance managers and HR managers care a lot about keeping the cost low. They want good cost of ownership and high standards of safety," Italia says. "So we developed very specific plans. For example, we have a programme called Privilege that gives employees who choose an FCA model the opportunity to enter the Fiat Chrysler world on a private basis. So the day after they choose one of our models through the company policy, their wife, husband or children can go to an Alfa Romeo, Fiat or Jeep dealer to purchase, rent or test drive a vehicle, with very exclusive conditions that are almost comparable with those we give to FCA employees."
He adds, "The concept that we are extending is that when you choose one of our cars, you become part of our family and we want to treat you very well." As well as looking after the individual corporate customer, the company also understands the growing role of the finance team in making the final decision on fleet matters.
"Fleet managers are always the first point of contact, but when we are talking figures, the CFO is always involved. The results we are getting are very positive, as we are very flexible, especially with new customers. We give them the opportunity to actively save money if they choose FCA," says Italia.
"Companies need to have medium-term planning when they choose a fleet partner, so we have to help them by providing a medium-term picture of what we will offer, not only in terms of products and technologies, but also in terms of cost-of-ownership and residual values. These have to be clear and credible, and we also note that it is important to look at how to manage the fleet, so we work to develop programmes like corporate car sharing. Cars need to be used as much as possible, especially pool cars, so they should not be sitting around. So we have a specific platform to ensure the most effective use of vehicles."
A good fleet services provider has many diverse qualities, and FCA is showing that it is an increasingly credible partner beyond the small car and commercial vehicle segment. It has filled in the gaps with its new line-up and, more importantly, its understanding of the needs of fleet and finance managers.