SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS

Why is it that a loan vehicle is available during a car service but not for an LCV operator that has to make a living from that vehicle? Stuart Martin finds that all is not equal when it comes to customer service.

“Time is money on this job” is a phrase often uttered in frustration and never is it more of a problem than when you are without a key component of your equipment.

Whether it be a light truck, van or ute, the vehicle that gets you to the job or helps complete the task needs to keep going, so maintenance is vital to help with reliability.

Time off the road is costly, and organising a replacement from a local rental operation provides an additional cost that needs to be factored in to the overall operating costs through the life of a vehicle.LCV-Servicing_2

So what are the brands doing to minimise downtime, streamline the process of repairs and maintenance, or keep you on the road while your workhorse is getting some TLC?

Delivery Magazine has found that while dealerships are keen to promote replacement vehicles for passenger car owners using their service facilities, the same option for operators of light commercials is, at best, extremely rare, or, at worst, non-existent. The other glaring omission, is that unless the commercial vehicle in question is part of a model line-up that includes medium and heavy truck products, service options are going to be confined to 8:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. and not available for evening, overnight or weekend servicing.

The big truck manufacturers have service and maintenance operations that work to support the customer and the business in which the vehicle is involved. Not so with the passenger car dealerships where light commercial vehicles are often regarded as being “working class” and therefore not worth the effort of tailoring service times to suit the vehicle operator.

How often it has to go back to the service department is a key factor – the service intervals now are extending and the market seems to be leaning towards 12 months or 15,000 km as a yardstick.

Ford, Citroen, Hyundai, Isuzu Trucks, Renault’s Kangoo, SsangYong, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, LDV (in the case of the V80) are all offering that interval.

An extra 5000 km can make a difference, and 20,000 km intervals are now on the service schedules of Hino, while Fiat and Iveco have opted for 12-month/30,000 km (for the Fiat Doblo and Scudo models) or 40,000 km (for the xDucato and Iveco’s range) service intervals.

Mercedes-Benz has mandated 12 months and/or 25,000 km intervals for the Vito, and 30,000 km for the Sprinter, with Renault’s Master and Trafic matching the Sprinter.2014 Hino High Horsepower 300 Series Engine

Some are still lagging behind the market mean – Suzuki and Nissan’s utility range remain a 6-month/10,000 km proposition, as does the Toyota ute and 4WD range, while the likes of Hyundai’s iLoad and Foton require scheduled maintenance every 12 months or 10,000 km.

Few brands are not offering some sort of capped-price servicing regime or a service plan contract.

Hino has a two-stage service agreement, with a standard and premium care package, which adds replacement of certain wear and tear items, fan belts, hoses and key drivetrain components.

The brand also offers three years of warranty with roadside assistance, together with the option of extending to five years of warranty.

Isuzu too offers three years of warranty with the opportunity to extend to five years, as well as three years of Isuzu’s own roadside assistance service – it’s not subcontracted to the nation’s motoring clubs.

A three-tiered service plan starts with scheduled servicing but can be expanded to include some wear and tear items; the brand also has a “Heritage” plan to cover maintenance costs for older examples of the Isuzu breed.

Italian brand Iveco is also offering roadside assistance, a three-year warranty that can stretch to 200,000 km and is in the process of putting together capped-price servicing options over the coming months.

Mitsubishi Fuso has a four-tiered service regime, ranging from a basic service plan through to complete maintenance schedules that include wear and tear items.

Loan cars – and specific models to suit light-commercial workhorse applications – are far from the norm in the Australian market, but some brands are making it part of the dealer set-up.

LCV-Servicing_P1Fiat is backing a loan van programme for its network, and Ford’s loan vehicle programme has expanded from passenger into the light commercial realm. Pre-booking will offer the best chance of getting an appropriate machine.

The importance of aftersales and service plans to better fit the needs of fleet owner/operators and small businesses is an increasingly important part of the automotive sales business as brands look for a point of difference from the competition.

Ford Australia marketing and sales manager for aftersales, Ambrose Henderson, said the Ford dealers were encouraged to register a mix of loan cars.

“It’s difficult to ensure that every customer gets like for like, but we aim to have that ability to keep our customers moving, particularly if they have requirements for a van or a ute.”

Provision of loan vehicles for light truck customers is a more difficult proposition, according to Hino technical and service support manager, Gus Belanszky.

“It’s the variety of product that is the challenge. It’s hard to have a vehicle that suits everybody’s needs, for certain customers we may loan vehicles.”

“A lot of the Hino truck dealers are running late-night shifts but we don’t have any overnight, it doesn’t appear to be something that caught on, late-night and Saturday is being done,” he said.

Mr. Belanszky said evening or weekend servicing – as well as reducing the time required – was all part of an effort to improve the aftersales side of the business.

“That’s why we’re getting services done quicker, where a customer can drop it off at 5:00 p.m. and then pick it up at 5:00 a.m. the next day – it’s one of the most important areas of the business in keeping the customer happy, the experience is number one,” he said.

Mazda has capped-price servicing and has also initiated Quick Smart servicing at many of its major metropolitan dealers, offering its trade and small business BT-50 owners a standard scheduled service (and a vehicle wash) in an hour.

Selected Mazda dealerships also offer loan vehicles as an alternative or a vehicle pick-up service for its business customers, as well as a growing number of dealers who are offering early drop-off and late finish service centres.

Renault has yet to offer a brand-wide late-night service, but, under its PRO+ package at a handful of dealerships, if an LCV is off the road for under 24 hours a loan vehicle of some type will be on offer, but over 24 hours a similar vehicle will be supplied where possible.

Late-night servicing is – for most of the brands in the light commercial realm – a dealer-specific issue, with only a few brands mandating such set-ups for their respective dealer networks.LCV-Servicing_5

Buyers of commercial vehicles that are part of a brand that produces heavy-duty trucks may benefit from service practices normally reserved for larger machinery.

For example, Isuzu Trucks, the sales leader in the truck market for 27 consecutive years, offers mobile service vehicles from selected dealers, in addition to late-night servicing at selected truck dealerships.

Ford is also instituting an electronic service booking and check-in system to streamline its booking and report processes.

“It’s an electronic check-in and online booking system which is a convenience item for a small business, you can online select the service time and day, the service advisor, and choose to book a loan car,” Mr. Henderson said.

The new Ford service scheduling system is aiming to be more transparent with costs, as well as using email or SMS for updates on the car’s condition, any additional work required and invoicing.

“It’s fact-based, which we think is important for customers in small business spending their money where they need to,” he said.

A series of phone calls to service departments of the major passenger car and light commercial vehicle dealerships produced the response that passenger cars were usually available as a loan option but light commercials were in short supply and could require at least one month’s prior notice.

One of the major light truck suppliers acknowledges that different vehicle bodywork is yet another hurdle to jump over when trying to source a suitable replacement, but that it is currently researching whether it would be a viable alternative to establish agreements with local rental operations already using their brand in their rental fleets.

When selecting a future light commercial vehicle, there’s an obvious benefit in looking further ahead than simply determining the service intervals. Despite the attraction of small and medium-duty vans that are sold through passenger car dealerships, those operators running medium and large vans could be well advised to include light trucks in their selection criteria, where service schedules accommodate the customer, rather than the dealership.

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