More articles

FCA maintained focus as COVID-19 pandemic hit UK

Coronavirus and the resultant lockdown polarised the fleet sector. In one corner were the businesses whose staff began working from home or were furloughed, resulting in company cars and vans sitting idle on driveways. In the other, were the essential services, bluelight, utilities and home delivery, which faced unprecedented demand on their staff and vehicles.

Their need for support from key partners never diminished.

Manufacturers also faced huge challenges, as production plants fell silent and some team members were furloughed – yet they also recognised the need to keep key workers’ vehicles on the road and to continue supplying new vehicles where they could.

FCA was one of the first manufacturers to recognise the severity of the situation as its home Italian market was the first European country to be affected by the virus.

“It very quickly became evident that the prospect of lockdown was inevitable,” says Iain Montgomery, FCA fleet and remarketing director. “So, our focus became how we could keep the business relationships and communication lines open, and how we would work with bluelight and key workers to keep them running from both supply and maintenance perspectives.”

Mirroring scenes across the country, FCA furloughed where the impact on customers would be least felt. Here, Montgomery outlines the company’s response to coronavirus and how it was able to maintain its support for fleets.

How did you and your team stay operational during lockdown?

Like most businesses, we had to look carefully at balancing the needs of our business with the need to keep our customers supported and to maintain a pipeline of enquiries and orders ready for when restrictions were lifted. Our sales team worked hard to support key customers during this challenging time; especially the ambulance trusts, by actively keeping communications open. They also responded to incoming enquiries which were relatively consistent, especially for commercial vehicles. We identified our key staff at an early stage and our business centres remained available throughout to allow us to continue to offer a continuity of service and support.

What actions did you take to support fleets during the Covid-19 crisis?

We maintained our central business centre operations, allowing us to field enquiries and respond to customers. Our team was able to keep in good contact with our customers to update on any delivery delays and rescheduling these. During this time, we ran a daily video conference allowing prioritisation and re-planning to react to the situation across the whole department. Many of our retailers remained open to service essential vehicles and we were able to ensure that any urgent requirements were met.

What processes did your dealers put in place to protect customers?

Our retail network went through a phased reopening, implementing a detailed and extensive action plan to ensure the safety of customers and staff. Strict social distancing measures with clear floor markings and sanitising stations were installed in all showrooms, while disposable personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and facemasks, were made readily available for all staff members and visitors. We have even removed all brochures, leaflets, toys and magazines, instead distributing all promotional materials digitally, to ensure our customers are able to visit us and transact safely.

Could Covid-19 have a bigger and longer lasting impact on our industry than the financial crisis in 2008?

There is no doubt that the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for months, if not years, to come and the financial impact presents our customers with challenges. Logistics for goods, services and staff travel has been high on the agenda and the market has been changing rapidly over the past few months and this is now likely to come under more intense scrutiny as organisations consider the financial and environmental costs. The past few months have demonstrated that working from home and remote meetings are viable alternatives to office working so the company car market may see some dramatic changes. This fits with the current imperative to reduce CO2 so fleet manufacturers will need to provide flexible solutions.

Please outline your recovery strategy and how you believe the way business is carried out in future might change – the so-called ‘new normal’.

FCA have recently overviewed the services we offer and made some dramatic changes to how we engage with our customers and present our fleet solutions. Remote working and virtual account management is a cornerstone to our customer strategy and FCA are well place to deliver a great level of remote service to our customers. It is likely that for the medium term, as a solution for the pandemic is sought, home working and essential travel only is likely to be the ‘new normal’.

How soon do you think fleet sales will recover after the coronavirus threat diminishes?

During the pandemic, we saw a reduction in enquiry levels for new company cars, we saw contracts extended during the uncertainty and we worked closely with our customers to ensure that vehicles that needed replacing were in place to change over once restrictions lifted. Logistics operations continued during the pandemic and, in many cases, increased the mileage covered as home delivery demand surged. We see that demand will return quickly as organisations look to catch up on their fleet requirements.

Will we experience a break on the development of MaaS and fleet electrification?

We believe demand for MaaS and electrification will accelerate as cost becomes a driver to organisations as they build recovery plans from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Major investment decisions such as fleet and logistics are likely to be highly considered from a cost perspective and it is likely that alternative solutions for company car and commercial fleets will be sought. We are confident that our product range – especially with the new electric E-Ducato, Fiat 500 and our hybrid range across Fiat and Jeep – as well as the changes in how we operate, put us in a strong position to support our partners and prospective customers.