CV Sector Features & Interviews Van

Interview with Carl zu Dohna – Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

25 February 2015 #CV Sector #Features & Interviews #Van

Carl zu Dohna (pictured right) took the helm of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) as Director last September – the number two player in the UK van market behind market leader Ford.zu Dohna, Carl small

With new Caddy and Transporter set to arrive this year, a Crafter replacement set to appear towards the end of 2016 and a facelift for the Amarok pick-up in the offing, things should only get better, says the company.

Last year saw VWCV register 40,238 light commercials up to 3.5 tonnes in the UK – the van manufacturer’s biggest export market – according to figures compiled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). That was an 8.97% rise on 2013’s performance, giving VWCV a 12.51% share of the sector.

Models grossing at above 3.5 tonnes added a further 386 registrations. Throw passenger-carrying derivatives into the mix and the total reached 44,297.

“We might have done even better if we’d been able to get all the Caddy and Transporter models we wanted,” zu Dohna says. That helps explain why the company’s market share up to 3.5 tonnes dipped a little he suggests, from the 13.62% notched up in 2013.

The ability to deliver quality products with rock-solid residual values underpins Volkswagen’s strong underlying growth in Britain during the past seven years but is not the only reason behind it. One of the key reasons is its decision some years ago to create a dedicated network of dealers separate from the passenger car operation.

“We’ve got 71 Van Centres plus 24 authorised repairers,” says zu Dohna. “The Van Centres achieved an 89.67% customer satisfaction score in 2014 as far as sales are concerned, up from 81.6% if you go back to 2011.”

He believes the network is about the right size and there are no plans to add many more outlets. Instead, the needs of what he hopes will be a steadily-expanding vehicle parc will be handled by expansion at existing locations, with extended workshop opening hours a possibility.

Another key to growth is VWCV’s approach to marketing. Last year it launched a business mentoring programme in conjunction with YO! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe OBE and The Times. Around 500 businesses pitched for the opportunity to learn from the former Dragon’s Den investor and Woodroffe mentored 10 of them for a month.

It was an initiative calculated to appeal to the SMEs that represent much of the bedrock of VWCV sales in Britain. While VWCV sells vans to a number of major fleet operators including British Gas and Scottish Water, it has always been wary of pumping out large numbers of light commercials to the big self-drive-hire fleets on short-term deals simply to grow registrations.

“We could have done a lot more fleet deals involving Crafter but it wouldn’t have been profitable for us,” says zu Dohna.

SMEs will welcome a new telematics package VWCV has launched in co-operation with the RAC. Using a dongle that plugs into the van’s diagnostic port, it allows the operator to do everything from tracking the vehicle to monitoring the driver’s on-the-road behaviour. If the firm concerned runs a mixed fleet with makes of van other than VW then it will plug into their diagnostic points too, all at a cost of around £12.50 per vehicle per month. VWCV is getting its message across in a variety of ways.

“We’ve redesigned our website with an online vehicle configurator that can be used on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as well as desktops and we’re starting a TV advertising campaign this month,” says zu Dohna.

Nor is VW neglecting the secondhand van market. The Das Welt Auto approved used programme is being modified to make it more readily applicable to light commercials that are more than three years old. They will be covered by a six-month warranty rather than the 12-month package that embraces new vehicles.

While May’s general election and the difficulties experienced by the Eurozone may have an impact on the UK van market, zu Dohna is not expecting a drastic decline in demand. He anticipates it will remain similar to 2014, which was almost 322,000 according to SMMT figures.

VWCV increasingly expects to work with MAN and Scania – both Volkswagen AG members – when putting together packages calculated to appeal to fleet customers. This approach allows the group to offer commercial vehicle customers everything from a light van to a 44-tonner; a breadth and depth of range that few other suppliers can match.

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