It’s over 60 years ago that the Volkswagen Transporter first went on sale in the UK, making it an older nameplate than the Ford Transit; one of many surprising facts in the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) story.
Here’s another one. Last year VW was the second biggest selling van brand in the UK. Ahead of the likes of Vauxhall, Peugeot and Renault but behind Ford, which has dominated the sales leagues for decades.
Volkswagen operates its van retail network as a standalone franchise. That means you won’t find a Caddy tucked away in a distant corner of a car showroom as the brand operates 71 dedicated sites around the UK. They’re staffed by commercial vehicle specialists who can talk customers through the latest products and conversion options, as well as funding and tax.
It’s not alone in doing this as Mercedes also has a dedicated network and Ford, in recent years, has moved its commercials out of car showrooms and into dedicated Transit Centres. This separate but equal treatment resonates with buyers, who appreciate dealing with specialist sales and technical staff with an appreciation of their business needs.
VWCV operates under the “Working With You” banner, a statement of intent aimed at building close relationships with its customers at both local and national levels. An important part of its business is to SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and it has been working hard in recent years to deliver services specifically geared towards this important sector.
Leading this move is David Hanna, head of fleet at VWCV, who spoke to The Van Expert about how the brand is developing its dealer offerings for van buyers running 1 to 100 vans.
“We’ve built our model around local dealers selling to local customers. The challenge for us is to become a supplier that helps them to run their businesses, so if they have a problem with a vehicle it’s important that it’s seen straight away and we’ll provide them with a courtesy van while we work on their vehicle.”
Servicing on site
A recent innovation saw the introduction of Mobile Service Clinics for servicing, maintenance and repair jobs, saving operators the hassle and downtime associated with having a vehicle off the road. It’s currently run by ten sites, although the intention is to roll it out to others.
The mobile service features a fleet of Crafters specifically kitted out for technicians to be able to conduct full services, inspections, air conditioning servicing, MOT repairs, minor warranty work and software updates.
With commercial vehicle owners needing to meet schedules for their own customers, the VW service ensures that vehicle uptime is maximised. The work is carried out by qualified technicians from the participating dealerships, who will undertake service and repair work at a time and location which works best for the customer.
The vans also carry common parts so if a technician notices that brake pads need replacing then it can be done there and then, rather than the driver visiting a workshop when the red light comes on.
Hanna said some of the mobile service vans are currently piloting augmented reality kit, enabling the technicians to connect directly with VWCV’s technical support centre in Milton Keynes to help diagnose and repair faults.
Technicians can hook up to the virtual support team who can then guide them through complex repairs by beaming images, wiring diagrams and repair suggestions to the screens on their special RealWear glasses.
According to Hanna, the trial is going well and proving to be particularly valuable for technicians unable to access all the information they would typically have back in the workshop.
VWCV centres also offer extended workshop opening hours to further help minimise vehicle downtime.
“All our Van Centres have extended opening hours with some workshops opening early in the morning and others operating until 10pm, depending on what the dealer chooses.”
Vehicle conversions form an important and growing role in how VWCV addresses the needs of its customers. It operates an “Engineered to Go programme” covering standard conversions such as tippers, drop-sides and Lutons.
It also has an “Engineered For You” programme, offering services customised to specific customer requirements using approved converters who work with the supplying dealer with the buyer benefiting from a single warranty and single invoice.
VWCV prides itself in offering a more joined up bespoke conversion service than before, having invited all converters to re-pitch for the business in 2017 based on strict criteria, which included how quickly they could resolve any faults which occurred during usage, while using the dealer as a single point of contact.
“An off the shelf solution is not appropriate for everyone and that’s the beauty of having a standalone dealer network because they get it. They understand these vehicles earn income for their customers and in many cases are racked out for specific usage, so it’s all about managing and minimising downtime.”
eCrafter on its way
As for future models, VWCV gave a sneak preview of the forthcoming eCrafter electric van at this year’s Commercial Vehicle Show. The plug-in van is already being piloted by UK fleets, including Heathrow and Gatwick airports and a pair of London local authorities, although it won’t be on sale here until 2020 at the earliest.
The eCrafter is aimed at customers whose vehicles typically cover between 40 and 60 miles a day, involving many starts and stops; VWCV reckons these parameters apply to around 85% of trips made in urban areas. The eCrafter has been tailored to these typical city operations with its 100kW power output and range of around 100 miles.
Best of all though, its lithium-ion battery is completely integrated into the underbody, meaning the standard vehicle’s entire cargo volume (10.7 m3) is fully usable. A maximum payload of between 1.0 and 1.75 tonnes is available.
With more and more van buyers looking seriously at alternatively-fuelled vehicles, the eCrafter’s range and load potential look certain to make it a contender.