Skoda: Fuelling change - Pavel Hlavacek

Finance Director Europe talks to Pavel Hlavacek, responsible for global fleet and used car strategy, Skoda, about the company's latest fleet-mobility innovations, including GreenLine models that focus on CO2 reduction and the latest Fabia that ticks all the right boxes.

Fleet managers are under pressure from their CFOs to deliver lower cost of ownership and reduce CO2 emissions. How can Skoda help fleet managers tick the boxes for these requirements?

Pavel Hlavacek: I am convinced that Skoda - with its current range - can offer a great-value proposition for the fleet industry and our clients. We carefully observe the trends, and we always deliver what we are asked for in terms of product as well as services. Our engineers are constantly working on the reduction of the CO2 output of our vehicles, which is to comply with the environmental strategies of our clients as well as the taxation benefits that vary country by country. Therefore, we offer - beside the standard-model range - our GreenLine models, which further focus on delivering the best CO2 values where necessary.

We currently offer six models under 90g of CO2 and 12 models under 100g of CO2 in order to satisfy the increasingly demanding CO2 policies of our clients, and there is more to come next year.

Another benefit is that Skoda positions its cars between segments; so, for the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the mid-size cars like Superb or Octavia, you receive the value and space proposition you'd have one or two classes higher.

To what extent does Skoda work directly with fleet managers compared with the outsourcers contracted by fleet managers? What are the key advantages of fleet managers working directly with OEMs?

Our intension is to always be as close as possible to our fleet clients, whether it is via our key account managers on an OEM level, or in the respective markets where we constantly reinforce the fleet teams. We cooperate and enhance the overall VW Group fleet approach and its team, which is in direct contact with the most important international corporate clients - which represent Skoda as well. The customer needs to stay in our focus, not only when we talk about the car, but about the overall package of the additional services as well, like financing and after-sales services, in order to offer the complete mobility solution. There, we cooperate closely with our leasing company, Volkswagen Financial Services.

What are the newest Skoda car models that would be of most interest to fleet managers; would you say the new Fabia? Why would this model be of particular interest to fleet managers?

We are bringing our third-generation of the very successful Skoda Fabia to the market, and, from January 2015, the Fabia Combi (estate version). With this model, which has proved its quality since 1999, we would like to provide for our current customers and touch on the younger generation as a target group as well. With regard to young professionals, we know that this car will be appreciated as it offers a very good mix of attractive design, functionality, outstanding spaciousness and clever solutions, topped by our connectivity like 'MirrorLink' and 'SmartGate'.

How does the SmartGate function in the new Fabia help fleet managers that want to monitor driver performance?

The SmartGate is another 'simply clever' solution by Skoda, though it is still under testing. It is an interface that will allow the end user to monitor and analyse further data coming out of the individual car. We need to find the proper way to evaluate this data, so that all the involved parties will get what they need; what the individual driver needs, looking at his driver efficiency performance, challenging other colleagues on the way home from the office; the fleet manager, who is interested in the running costs of his current fleet; or the other fleet operators, linking the cars directly to the authorised services for the repair.

The new Fabia also supports fleet clients that want quick and enhanced smartphone connectivity for business and infotainment purposes. How does MirrorLink work and what is the value proposition?

Smartphone use and car connectivity is the right step for the future. The application allows the collection of data about the car location, style of driving and fuel consumption, for example. It is a very handy tool to support the fleet manager.

Can we expect the MirrorLink and SmartGate innovations to be rolled out across the Skoda range?

Based upon the overall VW Group strategy, we will follow the implementation of these innovative features in our upcoming model lines. There must still be added value for a reasonable price, helping to reduce risk or TCO for the fleet segment, while still needing to be accepted by the driver and the fleet manager/management company or leasing company as well.

What enhanced safety features do Skoda cars now offer?

Beside the TCO-focused approach, for Skoda, safety - in more than just fleet management - is the highest priority.

We understand that the driver is the highest asset for the company with his know-how, contacts and abilities, and our cars will protect them in all possible situations.

The five-star NCAP (according to the new rules) are now with the new Fabia standard for the whole Skoda range, together with ESC system. We even enhance small car models like the Fabia with systems preventing crashes and collision, like front and city break assistant; and fatigue sensor and electronic differential lock, in order to still handle the critical situation while driving.

When it comes to the crash impact, our systems - like the multicollision brake - reduce risk for the passengers and the potential second impact after crash, which is usually more harmful than the first.

How do you see corporate car fleets evolving over the next few years?

I believe CO2 strategies and the TCO approach will have the most impact on fleets. The main trends are well identified as the reduction of brands in fleets and downgrading in terms of vehicles.

TCO reduction is key to success in the fleet corporate world. With that, we are on a good track when the new Fabia and Octavia were marked as 'best in class' in terms of residual value as a significant part of TCO. This is not just our own calculation or perception; we measure this with independent and reliable institutions, such as Eurotax. The challenge for the future is the overall cost of mobility, which is now more in focus of the clients, and we need to centre on that, improving our overall services offer.

What further innovations do you have down the road?

We are carefully looking at alternative powertrains, while CNG is, at the moment, beside the normal, fuel-efficient combustion engines in our focus. It is not just about bringing the product to the market; there must be the adequate infrastructure for that, like fuel stations for CNGs or charging stations and the grid, to be used by the companies. So far, we see that companies are first testing and checking the internal processes to see if it could be a solution for the mobility needs of the company/client, but we are aware of that. We still have some highlights to come next year and, especially, in 2016.

Pavel Hlavacek is responsible for global fleet and used car strategy at Skoda.
The new, balanced proportions suit the new Skoda Fabia Combi particularly well; precise lines and sharp edges are proof of the high-quality manufacturing and accurate workmanship.