Fiat Professional’s UK boss, Alejandro Noriega, who stepped into the role in May 2016, believes he has taken the reins at a point where the brand has the product line-up to make a real impact on the market, although he admits the business has ground to make up on its operations elsewhere in Europe.
Noriega has worked for Fiat in nine countries serving 50 markets across three continents and has been involved with LCVs since 2001 – including stints overseeing the markets in Germany and Spain.
Noriega welcomed Fiat Professional’s success at the What Van? Awards where the Fiorino took the Small Van prize and the Doblo Cargo, a previous multiple winner of What Van? accolades, once more came out on top in the Light Van category.
He describes What Van? as the “most prestigious [LCV] magazine” and stresses the importance of gaining third-party recognition for Fiat Professional products.
“The Doblo Cargo is the best in class, there’s no doubt about that,” Noriega says. “We have to make people understand that. People trust a third-party endorsement more than our own.”
He says the focus now for Fiat Professional is on strengthening its position in the retail market and with small businesses as well as moving away from short-term rental towards longer-term deals.
The way to grow SME business is through the dealer network, Noriega explains – as the big fleet deals are handled for the most part by the manufacturer: “There is no margin
for dealers in big fleet deals so it’s more for volume than profitability.”
He adds: “Retail customers go back to the same dealer – it’s not always cheaper, it’s more based on service.”
Fiat Professional currently has 77 LCV outlets in the UK, but Noriega says the aim is to develop dedicated van centres in key areas along the lines of those developed by VW and Citroen.
This is a UK initiative to attract SME business, according to Noriega, rather than one replicated in other markets.
“We are not strong with one-man bands – we are taking our own path in the UK,” he explains.
Noriega is committed to expanding contract hire business as he claims this will result in owner-drivers taking on more highly specified vans.
“We’re customer profiling now – there is less focus on corporate.” An advantage Fiat Professional can already offer LCV operators through its network is extended opening hours for servicing at 50% of its dealerships due to its corporate links with Fiat Group truck brands Iveco and DAF.
Fiat Professional is hoping to replicate the success Citroen has had in attracting small and medium fleets with its Enterprise retail strategy by targeting local, individual needs through its dealerships.
An area where the two brands’ paths are apparently diverging is in small vans. Citroen’s Nemo and its PSA partner Peugeot’s Bipper are built on Fiat Professional’s Fiorino platform, but the French manufacturers declined to take the latest revisions to the model and are to withdraw from the sector within a year.
But Noriega insists the Fiorino still has a role to play. “There is still a place in the market, especially now in big cities,” he says. “It’s not as important as the Doblo Cargo, but we have a future there.”
He claims the impending withdrawal of the PSA pair means there is room for the Fiorino to grow, although he admits Ford, with its Transit Courier, represents a considerable obstacle to progress.
When it comes to the pick-up sector Noriega acknowledges the tax breaks offered on the vehicles have driven expansion in the UK market, where double-cab lifestyle models remain much in demand.
And in the Fullback, Fiat Professional now has a contender. Noriega recalls that it was two years ago that the brand decided to expand its line-up to compete in all sectors and, if possible, to have the best models in the market segments.
Hence, says Noriega, to complement its LCVs produced in-house, Fiat Professional based the Talento on the critically acclaimed Renault Trafic and the Fullback on Mitsubishi’s sector-defining L200.
Questions have been asked about how a newcomer like Fiat Professional will be able to muscle its way into a segment populated by such established players as Mitsubishi, Nissan, with its Navara, Toyota, with the Hilux and, in the UK of course, the ubiquitous Ford with its Ranger.
Noriega explains the brand’s two-pronged strategy to gain a foothold in the pick-up sector.
Firstly, employing a strategy also used by Mitsubishi, it is taking the Fullback to agricultural shows like LAMMA, the UK’s largest such event, held in East Anglia in late January, where it displays the truck alongside farming machinery and tractors from the Fiat Group company New Holland. Secondly, the firm is promoting the Fullback to the consumer, user-chooser, small business market.
In this way it aims to attract buyers from both the farming community – a stronghold for not only Mitsubishi but also for Isuzu with its D-max, and also from the leisure sector – the natural habitat of the upmarket Volkswagen Amarok and flagship double-cab models from all the other pick-up brands.
Noriega says Fiat Professional wants to capture about 5% of the pick-up market, which equates to 2,000 sales based on last year’s 40,000 total. He points out that this remains a fairly modest number compared with the total LCV market of 380,000 and insists the brand’s core models are the Doblo Cargo, Talento and Ducato.
Out of this trio the medium-sized Talento offers the best opportunity for conquesting new business, being a far stronger proposition than the Scudo it has replaced.
Noriega says he will target the Talento at the retail market as he admits Fiat Professional cannot compete with Ford and Vauxhall for the big corporate deals in the mid-sized segment. Noriega names the Ducato, in the large van sector, as the manufacturer’s only big fleet player.
But he claims: “Retail sales stick with customers; corporate volume does not influence retail buyers.”
A further key area where the brand aims to catch up with competitors is in conversions. In the second quarter of 2017 it will launch a programme targeted mainly at SMEs, much like Citroen’s Ready to Run scheme.
Noriega says there is room for improvement in the provision of Lutons, dropsides, tippers, ambulances and minibuses as part of the firm’s “everything for every need” philosophy. He promises the 10 most popular conversions will be on the LCV price list.
With a strategy in place to put the brand on operators’ radars, third-party recognition of its strongest LCV line-up ever, and a retail network that is now better set up to support the product range, Noriega is confident Fiat Professional is finally in a position to break into the mainstream of the UK market.