While politics, fuel prices and tax laws can be relied upon to change with some regularity, one thing can be relied to remain largely consistent in the UK commercial vehicle market; Month in and month out, the brand sitting on top of the sales charts is the same, as Ford’s various models outsell those of their rivals several times over.
Nathan Sanders is responsible for the brand’s CV sales operations, specialising in retail and smaller customers – SMEs and one-man bands.
You started in this role in February 2018. Tell us about your background.
I am a bit of a lifer, having done 23 years at Ford now – I joined at 18 in 1995. I did various roles in finances and accounting, then moved over to be a CV zone manager, which is where I had my first view of the CV world and the dealers, covering buses and CVs.
I then moved on to Ford Rental, our internal rental opportunity, then had the great opportunity to run our end-of-life operation, known as Environ. Then I did aftersales as a dealer district manager. That was both parts and service, which was a great insight into what was the launch of mobile service vans.
After all that, I moved from there into the position I hold now, as national commercial vehicle manager.
What was the main challenge when you came in and what are you hoping to achieve in the coming months?
Personally, I think it is to build on the experiences and my knowledge from the dealer world. The biggest challenge is working out how customers are going to buy in the future. We must understand how they are going to want to buy – not how wewant them to buy.
Is the lack of a rival to the new Ford Fiesta Van (with the Vauxhall Corsavan no longer on sale) an opportunity, or does that hamper awareness about the sector?
I can assure you, we will be striving to sell as many of these vehicles as possible to the right customers because the product is absolutely superb.
We will be identifying the customers that will be coming out of Corsa but also the opportunities that they may see as a new market area for them. Being a Sport Van, the Fiesta is going to be greatly appealing. I remember when we had the previous Sport Van I was doing show duty at the CV show and people absolutely flocked to it; they loved it.
The brand message should be as it is with the new Custom, Connect and Courier. We are here, we are on sale and these are great vehicles. We know customers like them, so I would expect it to be customer-led.
How do Fiesta Van and Courier sit alongside each other?
They complement each other. It is quite easy to say that the same customer could have one or the other, but in reality there are very distinct advantages to both and there are different customers that will be attracted to each. They will sit alongside each other and complement each other – we won’t be losing Courier customers to Fiesta Van; it will be a growth opportunity.
Who do you see as the main customer for the Ford Fiesta Van?
People expect more and more equipment, so that is where the Sport Van is going to sit, and it will give the driver the car-like drive. But, if you drive the new Courier, Connect and Transit, they give you those driving dynamics, too, so the gap to Focus and other cars isn’t there any more.
If you think about the time that a customer, and owner-driver or a fleet driver, spends in his vehicle, it is more than they spend at home so it has to be comfortable and safe.
We are trying to keep the spec list as simple as possible, there is not going to be the long list of options. It is going to be kept to a minimum.
Is there any chance of a Fiesta Van ST in the future?
With the spec that is coming on the Ford Fiesta Van, let’s see how that goes, and is there the challenge for us a market to say ‘we could do even more on that’ and be even more sporty for those drivers?
There is a market for everything, but it is the cost and volumes that will decide. The engineering, too, because we are not going to do it if it makes the product unsafe.
With the sport perception around the brand at Le Mans and RS, it is bringing that over to commercials and making sure it is safe and functional but what is the business case behind it? We are always looking at opportunities, and it is where we take the brand over the next decade, plus what the customer wants.
I am all for neon lights and big subwoofers, but that is the 18-year-old in me. We’ll see what comes along. I am all for looking at things differently, I don’t mind that, it’s a challenge.
The state of the market
The overall market stats have taken a bit of dip, so what is the thinking on that? Is it seasonal? Is it the ‘B word’? What is the feedback from the market?
I would like to think it was just the hot weather, but our market share is up in retail, and rental and fleet are doing well. The one-man-band share etc is up about three points, driven by a strong first half of the year.
Total Ford CV sales are up eight percent year-on-year, and 2017 was a record CV sales year for the company. We’ve already sold more than 100,000 CVs year to date in 2018. September onwards will be an interesting time. We are going into Q4 with a healthy order bank, led by the new products we have got, like the Ranger Wildtrak X, which they are doing really well at getting into the retail sector.