Well, largely yes, it seems. Smith says Citroen “hits” fleets of up to 500 units as well as smaller firms through the ability of its 90-strong Business Centre network to win business at a regional level. “It comes down to the relationships the Business Centre has with customers locally,” Smith says.
He says customers tend to deal with their local dealership for ease of servicing, regardless of the badge on the van, and claims that, when it comes to platform sharing (such as the Dispatch, Expert and Proace, for example), “many people don’t realise it’s the same product”.
Citroen has been prominent among manufacturers establishing a footing in the conversion market with its Ready to Run programme, which is based on the Relay large van range.
Smith says the brand has 150 Euro5 conversions left in stock and is now starting to produce Euro6-bodied Relays.
Since the introduction of European Whole Vehicle Type Approval legislation in 2013 manufacturers have muscled into the conversion sector as some independent bodybuilders have found the administrative burden of compliance with the regulations prohibitive.
Smith says Citroen sold 750 Relay-based conversions in 2016 compared to just 100 three years previously. He claims sales were up again by 13% year-on-year to the end of May 2017.
The latest addition to the Ready to Run ready-bodied line-up is a car transporter. Based on the Relay ‘back-to-back’ cab, it was built by body builder Advanced KFS and boasts a payload of 1,541kg. Revealed at the CV Show, Smith claims Citroen has sold 12 of the car transporters already.
KFS has also developed a body for carrying plant machinery upon the same platform, and Smith explains: “We can do variations upon a theme but within an off-the-peg offer.”
He adds, however, that Citroen tends to steer clear of the most bespoke conversions due to the lack of financial viability with such limited demand. “What’s a niche big enough to explore?” is the question that must be answered, he reasons. “We constantly look at the market [to determine] where is there an opportunity big enough?”
Smith says the brand is currently considering introducing a low-loading Luton body based on the Relay. As yet he says there are no plans to bring the Dispatch or Berlingo into the Ready to Run scheme. He notes that Fiat Professional offers a dropside version of the Doblo Cargo but does not think the numbers would make it worthwhile for Citroen to take a similar path.
The next generation of the Berlingo light van is due in 2018 and, although not confirmed, it would be no surprise to see it revealed at the CV Show. Citroen is a strong backer of the NEC event and debuted the current Relay there in 2014 and the Dispatch two years later.
Smith points out that the current Berlingo is still holding its own and was, in fact, the best-selling light van in May on 1,254 registrations, ahead of both the Peugeot Partner on just over 1,100 and the Ford Transit Custom on more than 1,000.
Moving down the line-up, and the Nemo city van, which like Peugeot’s Bipper is based on the Fiat Professional Fiorino, is expected to be phased out within the next couple of years. While it took the Fiorino’s Euro6 1.3 turbo diesel engines, it did not adopt the Italian model’s styling facelift.
Citroen will expect the new Berlingo, which Smith says makes more sense to contract hire customers, to cover for the loss of the Nemo, of which it had sold just 351 examples in the first five months of the year.
In contrast to the small van sector, Citroen is aiming to up its game in electric vans. In March it added an L2 Berlingo Electric to the shorter L1 that launched in 2015.
Smith points out that while the PSA brands dominate diesel light van sales with the Berlingo and Partner, their share of the EV sector, dominated by Nissan with the E-NV200, is negligible.
“We are massively underachieving,” Smith admits. He says the market for EVs is still miniscule – totalling about 1,000 in the UK last year, with about half of these, he claims, accounted for by dealer demonstrators. But he thinks the “tipping point” for take-up is getting closer with the spread of low-emission zones and the anti-diesel lobby gathering momentum.
The Berlingo electric has an official range of 106 miles, but Citroen admits this reduces to around 88 miles in real-world conditions. Smith argues that if an operator covers less than 80 miles a day and can charge overnight an electric van can make economic sense.
He claims: “In EVs now we have a product on a par with the best”
Put together, the Berlingo and Partner take a combined share of about a third of the light van sector and Smith says: “We want to match this proportionate share in the electric van market.”
But with a stronger line-up in conventional, converted and electric vans, Citroen reckons that whatever questions operators put to the brand, it now has the answers.