Renault and Toyota's efforts to attract fleet customers are beginning to pay off

Importers are increasing their efforts regarding their customers

Bruehl/Cologne. Renault and Toyota's efforts to attract fleet customers are beginning to bear fruit.

It is the custom in German fleet parks to give priority to German products. Vehicle brands from Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Munich and Ruesselsheim dominate the list of brands used as business vehicles. More than 80 percent of all fleet cars are made in Germany.

So far, importers only had a small share of the business. But that is changing now.

French carmaker Renault tops the list of importers. Despite an economic slowdown within the fleet market, Renault managed to increase its sales in 2002 by 9 percent.

With a market share last year of 4.2 percent, the French company is Germany's No.1 importer. In the first half of 2003, Renault even managed a market share of 5.1 percent.

"Nevertheless, the potential is still very big," said Holger Boehme, director of Renault's fleet- and large-customer sector at the German headquarters in Bruehl, near Cologne.

Renault's share of automobiles sold as business cars is only 35 percent -- on the general market nearly 51 percent of cars are registered as company cars or bought by self-employed people.

In its advertising campaign, Renault points out that its vehicles received five stars in the Euro-NCAP crash test, that they have a modern diesel technology and high residual values. All of this has positive effects on the leasing business.

The light commercial vehicle sector is also important to Renault. The company reached a record number of 21,000 new registrations and recently increased its market share from 10 percent to 11.4 percent. And that's despite the fact that the commercial vehicle market as a whole decreased by 6 percent due to Germany's economical slowdown.

German Post AG is Renault's largest customer. Only recently it ordered a further 5,000 Kangoo Rapids and by the end of 2003 it will own a total of 20,000 Renaults.

It is not only the model range that is important to success within the company car business -- demanding customers also want to be looked after in an appropriate way.

Therefore, Renault has created so-called business centers, the first of which opened in Cologne two years ago. There are now 40 centers nationwide and the plan is to have a total of 100 by the end of 2003.

"In each of the centers there are two salespeople solely responsible for assisting our business customers," Boehme said.

Another importer, Toyota, with headquarters in Cologne -- has also got big plans for the fleet market.

"We are not aiming at totally changing the German fleet market," said Gerhard Jungbluth, director for large customer sales at Toyota Germany.

However, Toyota is aiming to significantly increase its market share "In the past four years we have doubled our sales to fleet customers," said Jungbluth.

In 2002 approximately 22,000 Toyota cars were sold to business customers.

The aim is to be selling a minimum of 30,000 cars to business customers in 2005.

Toyota wants to grow in Germany, but not at all costs.

"We will not be buying any market shares," said Jungbluth. "Our focus is on long-term profitability."

Toyota believes in cooperating closely with its dealers. Out of 700 Toyota dealers in Germany, 120 to 150 will eventually be qualified -- according to the Japanese carmaker"s fleet and business standards -- to undertake nationwide sales to large customers. This year the first 50 have qualified.

The plan is to have all partners on board by 2005.

In order to guarantee the professional support of business customers, Toyota dealers will be bound to 10 key standards. The most important one: an additional sales person will be employed for business customers, who will work solely on this sector. In order to find the best possible employees for those positions, Toyota will help its dealers to choose the right personnel and will also take over part of the staff expenses for one year.

Further standards include publicity events, longer opening hours, pick-up and delivery service, and additional demonstration cars. Last but not least: fleet and business dealers will also have to increase their stock of components in order to keep repair times to a minimum.

Toyota said it will spend about 1.5 million euros a year on its business-customer program.