FLEET AND REMARKETING DIRECTOR, FCA UK
FCA Professional has made great strides forward in the public sector, but it is not resting on its laurels, it’s time to press on
FCA is looking to build on the success of Fiat Professional in the public sector following a restructure of its fleet team.
Success for the van business has not happened overnight. It’s been part of a long development plan over several years to engage local authorities, according to FCA fleet and remarketing director Andy Waite.
The biggest wins have come from the ambulance sector. Eleven out of 13 ambulance trusts now operate Fiat Professional vans, primarily Ducato, but also some Doblò. Initially, the trusts were attracted by the Ducato’s payload advantages, but key to the on-going relationships are reliability and the aftersales service.
“Over time, we have proven our capability from a product point of view, but also our ability to focus on downtime through our Fiat Professional network which is open for extended hours so we can get vehicles back on the road as quickly as possible,” Waite says.
“They need to be confident we will keep them running.”
FCA has held ambulance user forums to understand product requirements for the future and also ensure the aftersales services meet user needs.
“There’s an urgency from a Government perspective with pressure on public sector fleets to move away from diesel,” Waite says. “We now have a better understanding of their needs for hybrid and plug-in vehicles.”
FCA will start to meet those needs later this year, with the launch of its first electric van, the Ducato Electric. Orders will open before year-end with the first deliveries scheduled for early 2020. The UK, says Waite, is “a prioritised market”.
With full electric capability available across the entire range and multiple configurations to match the diesel engine line-up, the Ducato tops out at 4.25 tonnes with a payload up to 1.9 tonnes.
“There will be no compromise over the capabilities offered by diesel,” says Waite. “This is FCA product that is certified by FCA engineers and made in Sevel (Italy).”
Two range options will be offered thanks to a modular battery configuration. The shorter-range version has the full 1.9-tonne payload, while an extended range model that uses more batteries will travel further, but it means a lower load capacity.
However, FCA has also taken weight out of the van to compensate for the weight of the batteries. The cubic capacity is unchanged from the diesel variant.
“The electric Ducato demonstrates our future thinking,” Waite says. “We expect a lot of interest, especially with the modular approach that gives flexibility so we can talk to any potential customer and meet their needs.”
“There’s an urgency from a Government perspective with pressure on public sector fleets to move away from diesel. We now have a better understanding of their needs for hybrid and plug-in vehicles”
Nevertheless, full electric does currently create some challenges for the front-line operations of ambulance fleets.
“The nature of their operation means there are limitations to the technology that is available today. It will, instead, be a transition through the internal combustion engine (ICE) to elements of hybrid orientation in the future,” says Waite. “Whether it’s the vehicle or the equipment that progresses in this way remains to be seen.”
He hopes that the confidence among public sector fleets built from the positive experiences with vans will cascade across FCA’s car brand, including Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep. He has also put in place a new structure within the fleet department to maximise the opportunities.
Previously, public sector responsibility sat with several teams; now it has been brought together under newly appointed national fleet sales manager Matt Niles, giving a clearer remit and enabling FCA to better target its communications.
“This restructure will improve the service we offer through the dealer network as well as through my team,” Waite says.
Public sector business should also grow after FCA was appointed to the CCS buying framework for the police this year.
“We already supply all bluelight fleets in Italy so we have a wide range of product, from armoured Jeeps to Tipo as a standard police car,” says Waite.
“We will work with HQ to see how we can support the forces in the UK like we do from a product perspective in Italy where we have proven solutions.
“This will be our focus in the second half of the year.”
Looking ahead to 2020, FCA’s focus moves to electric, as more models come to market. All will be designed and engineered in-house, a source of considerable pride for the company. “It isn’t a third-party solution,” stresses Waite.
FCA has not wavered from its publicly-stated position that electric vehicles would only come to market when the market was ready to accept them. While sales levels might remain modest across Europe, interest and demand are steadily rising.
“From the fleet driver to the fleet manager, momentum is building,” says Waite.
However, he is also mindful that petrol and diesel still have a role to play and FCA is not letting up in its research and development of the traditional ICE.
“We have no strategy to be internal combustion engine-free in the next few years. We will continue to improve our core combustion engine products,” Waite says. “And it is still worth looking at our CNG products where we are the market leader in Europe.
“The evolution of alternative fuels has many directions and there is a place for the different powertrains with the choice dependent on the use and needs of the individual fleet.”