A new order

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Martin West is Scania Great Britain’s new Sales Director New Bus & Coach. Drawing on almost a quarter of a century’s experience with the company he started with as a trainee salesman, he has clear views on how he wants to develop the customer experience and take the business forward, as he outlined to Andy Izatt

“It was September 1994 when I started working for Scania Bus & Coach as a trainee salesman at Worksop,” explained Martin West who was appointed Scania Great Britain’s Sales Director New Bus & Coach last July. “Before that I’d worked for Refuge Assurance and Combined Insurance selling endowments, pensions and accident insurance. When my mates were in the pub of an evening, I would be visiting my customers at home, sitting down to a cup of tea with them and collecting that month’s premium. I enjoyed it because of the people I was meeting.

“While we lived in Retford, my Dad worked in Worksop and used to visit the jobcentre on my behalf to see what might be available. He spotted a trainee sales job at Scania. I was interviewed by Ian Hall who was Sales Manager at the time, then Ian and Managing Director Don MacIntosh. What Ian and Don understood was the value of bringing in someone enthusiastic from outside the industry who would then find a place within the business and I was offered the job.

“I knew nothing about coaches when I joined Scania. James Morgan had been the previous trainee, but had been promoted to Area Account Manager for the South West. James showed me around the Worksop site and there was a Van Hool Scania in the workshop. Remember the old style Van Hool badge? I asked him what a Van Tool was.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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“Being a trainee at that time was great grounding. Back in the 1990s operators used to tour the dealerships to see what was available. There are customers now who I remember first meeting back then when I used to show them what we had in the yard. I did that for two years, during which time I passed my PCV test in an old AEC Reliance. A guy called Brian trained me who took great joy in showing me how easy it was to change gear without using the clutch by getting the revs just right – how vehicles have changed!

“Being able to drive the vehicles was very important. All sales people at Scania can do that. If you recruit the right people, the first thing they’ll ask is when they can gain their licence and be able to drive our products.

“James left Scania to explore a new career so after two years I was promoted to Area Account Manager in the South West area. I was 23 at the time and both my then girlfriend who is now my wife, Danielle and myself were living with our respective parents. I still lacked the industry experience so Ian and Don were putting a considerable amount of trust in me.

“Danielle and I started by renting a property in Kingswood on the edge of Bristol. We drove down in a van with all our donated possessions in the back, but we didn’t go direct to our new home. I had a set of padded headrest covers for a new Scania Irizar that Stones of Bath had bought that I wanted to personally deliver.

“What this industry is all about is the relationships you build. Coach operators are family-run firms and in the business of making memories for their customers. That is what’s important to them. They’re passionate about what they do and I don’t think there’s another industry quite like it. When I was out making calls, it wasn’t just about the Scania product. It was about the people I was meeting and the friendships I could build.

“I made some great friends in the South West. I’ll particularly mention Blue Iris Coaches of Nailsea because of the banter with Tony Spiller and Phil Hatherall, the two ex policemen who owned it. They used to give me loads of stick and tell me how they would never buy anything from me, but eventually when they wanted to buy they would ring me. I went in, we had a chat and made something work – it was great fun! I made so many friends in the South West and still have such an affinity with those operators down there.

Nottingham City Transport is the biggest operator so far of gas-fuelled Alexander Dennis-boded Scania double-deckers. CALUM MACLENNAN

“Geoff Bell took over as Managing Director of Scania Bus & Coach at the beginning of 2001. He had previously been Managing Director of Scanlink so came from within the Scania dealer network. At the time ‘bus and coach’ still reported direct to Sweden, as did Reliable Vehicles in Scotland. That changed in 2002 when integration with Scania Great Britain started.

“Geoff took time to analyse the business. We’d all been doing our own deals, but he decided we were going to have separate new and used departments run by Bob Nevitt and Steve Lambert respectively. Salesmen on the road would sell new while used would be based at Worksop, and Steve would be assisted by a Used Sales Manager. I had been selling a lot of used in my area at that time so was asked to take on that role – a move back to the East Midlands.

“Including stock we’d taken on from the now closed Reliable Vehicles, there were around 160 vehicles to sell. Some were in poor condition and most were out of MOT. We needed to find homes for all of them so that’s what we did. It was hard work, but Steve and I had a great time doing it.

“We were selling a lot of new Irizar product and there was greater opportunities to deal, get the part exchanges in and then out again. It got to a point where Steve and I decided we needed to park vehicles long ways in the yard to make it look like we had more. We even bought in some vehicles to increase our stock.

“I worked with Steve until 2007. I learnt a lot in that five years and got a friend for life. Geoff used to joke about cutting the umbilical cord between us, we worked so well together. When either of us sees him now we joke about it still being there.

“Bo Martinsson had been appointed General Manager, Fleet Sales, Bus & Coach and as a result we were selling a lot more buses as well as coaches. Yet we only had one person looking after administration, Felicity Stiff who’s still here today.

“I thought that we could enhance the new vehicle delivery experience for customers, as when a customer came to collect a used vehicle, Steve and I always made sure they had a quality handover. I said to Geoff I thought as a business we could do more with the new delivery process. His response was to ask me whether I’d like to take on the responsibility of making that happen and I became Administration and Logistics Manager. I went into the role knowing what I wanted to achieve.

“In 2005 Scania Bus & Coach was fully integrated with Scania Great Britain at Milton Keynes where Geoff, Bob Nevitt and Paul Chapman (Product Development Manager Bus & Coach) relocated. Various functions moved there or to the training centre near Loughborough. The Worksop site which had been owned by Scania Bus & Coach became the responsibility of aftersales. By that time I felt I’d got the right systems in place. Scania was selling 500-600 bus and coaches a year and Rachel Fox had joined Felicity in the administration team to strengthen that support function.

“Geoff became Regional Executive Director of the North East in 2008. During his time at Bus and Coach he had been a great mentor for me. His successor, Mark Grant came in with a lot of energy and new ideas. He brought his truck experience particularly in contracts and repair and maintenance to bear. Mark stayed just over two years before becoming Aftersales Director for Scania Great Britain. I was starting to deal with ‘the factory’ more on pricing and stock control.

“Tony Tomsett took over as Bus, Coach & Engines Sales Director in October 2010. A very knowledgeable and clever man, and another fantastic person to have as a mentor. Again, he was someone who took stock before deciding what he wanted to do.

“Bob Nevitt had remained General Manager Retail Sales throughout this time. He pointed out to Tony and me that we were selling a lot of coaches, but could better integrate the customer deal with the Scania dealer network. He saw a role for someone to make that link so in late 2011 he was made General Manager (Customer Support). He knew the operators, their expectations and understood the Scania network.

“The fleet department had continued to be Bo Martinsson’s responsibility supported by Dan Barwick, but Bo went to work for Scania in China and Dan moved to Volvo. Mark Oliver was appointed UK Bus & Coach Fleet Sales General Manager. With Bob having new responsibilities, Tony asked if I would like to run the retail coach sales team.”

Building retail coach

“My first full year in charge of retail coach was 2012,” Martin continued. “Following the recession sales had fallen, but by that time the market had started to recover. Operators were playing catch up, but we still had to make it happen for Scania. I worked closely with my sales team and wanted to give them the tools they needed.

The two-axle Touring was initially offered with 49 seats, but can now accommodate 51. ANDY IZATT

“What I knew was that 60% of our registrations were in March, April and May so created a timeline for every vehicle, changed the build programme and when they were due to be delivered. Instead of getting say 20 vehicles arriving in one go, end delivery would be much more evenly spread with pairs of products arriving at a time. That meant that when our salesmen were sitting in front of customers in September/October the year before, they could see what was available, at what point it was in the build process and when it was due to be delivered. Being able to give customers that detail and the flexibility to specify and order accordingly transformed our business.

“The percentage of new build we were selling when I took over went from around 20% to 75%. The problem it gave us was, when we got to March, April, May, there was nothing in the yard because our stock-build had been sold before it was delivered to Workshop.

“The change from Euro 5 to Euro 6 was during this period. Operators were looking to avoid Euro 6 which is why we built quite a few Euro 5s that were certified through IVA (Individual Vehicle Approval). If we knew then what we know now, we may have done things differently, but it’s what the market need was at the time. It’s about that partnership with customers, and always striving to do what was right for the customers’ growth. Putting them first is a core Scania business value and one that we’re passionate about delivering.

“At the time I took over there wasn’t a Scania Irizar with more than 49 seats. Straight away it was obvious that we needed a 53-seater with a toilet. That’s when we introduced the 12.5m on two axles and the sales followed. The 12.5m i6 is still extremely popular. It’s good quality, looks good, is well put together and simple to maintain.

“Yes, Irizar UK is a competitor and its entry into the market made winning business more challenging, but it has grown the market for Irizar. It has looked after the product very well and secured Irizar in the UK as a hugely popular marque.

“We didn’t take Touring from China until we felt the specification was absolutely right. Tony’s style was to have open discussion with his team and we knew that we’d only get one chance to introduce it properly. With the introduction of Kiel seats we were able to offer a 13.7m tri-axle with 57 seats. We made sure that the training and aftersales support was in place and parts availability was good before the first coaches arrived.

“What I’ve found with new products is that the sales team is enthused by something new because it’s something exciting to talk to customers about. We initially brought in 18-20 Tourings, but ended up selling 23 in the first year. When we introduced the two- axle version, it was a 49-seater, but that’s now increased to 51. We sold 35 Tourings in 2016 and the same last year. I think we’ll do similar numbers in 2018. Even now, three years on from its initial introduction, I don’t think the market knows the product well enough. The customers that have them are using them on tough work and they’re performing really well. Drivers love driving them.

The Lucketts Travel of Fareham fleet includes this 63-seat Scania K440EB OmniExpress. ANDY IZATT

“At the time I took over, the OmniExpress was selling mainly to repeat customers. It had a deeply sunken gangway, which was sometimes perceived as an issue and narrow windows, but that was all addressed with the Interlink.

“I really enjoyed how we made the transition from OmniExpress to Interlink. The factory had availability during 2016, but its introduction would have been about half-way through the year. Therefore we decided that 2016 was the last year for the OmniExpress and introduced the Interlink at Euro Bus Expo in November.

“We offered the OmniExpress Finesse with an enhanced specification. It had leather seats, USB ports and a few other extras. The initial order was for about 20, but that soon had to be increased because of demand. I think we ended up selling around 28.

“My thinking was to increase the profile of the OmniExpress so that when we brought in the Interlink, customers would already see its replacement as a high-end fully-specified coach. The Finesse specification was retained and we also managed to change how we ordered so there was more flexibility over the body specification during the build process giving customers more choice.

“We couldn’t get enough Interlinks. We planned to sell 20-25 initially, but it ended up being close to 50. Nearly all of them were 12.8m two-axle vehicles. Anderson Travel in London bought 10 while six went to Fareham-based Lucketts Travel. Johnsons of Henley-in-Arden had five. A 14.1m tri-axle is also available and we’ve now added a new 11m length that could have 41/43 seats. We’ve got quotes out for that and I think it will sell.

“There are at least a dozen different product options now with Touring, Irizar and Interlink in two or three-axle configurations and with different seating, door and engine specifications. Our retail sales in 2016 were 126 – around 20% of that market. It was a similar number in 2017 although additionally there were 12 Caetano-bodied double-deckers for Translink in Northern Ireland.

Stagecoach has been a good customer for ADL-bodied Scanias including this N250UD delivered last year for operation on the Cambridgeshire Busway. ANDY IZATT

Those figures don’t include chassis bodied by Caetano for National Express. We won’t know until mid-February what percentage of the overall retail market we had in 2017, but I think it will be about 18%.

“It’s too early to say how sales will be in 2018, but I would still like us to place over 100 new retail coaches. My feeling was that the market would remain quite strong until at least 2019 because of the requirement to meet the Euro 6 ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) in London.

“Also, following Brexit, and the impact that has had on exchange rates, the number of incoming tourists and people staying in the UK to holiday would increase, so demand for coach travel we hope will remain strong. We have seen consecutive strong years since the Olympics in 2012.

“We have stock available – both two-axle Touring and Interlink – and in the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of activity. We’ve also been looking to see how we can give operators a bit more comfort. Perhaps that could be to shorten contract hire periods, but we’re looking at several options as we have so much flexibility with our in-house Scania Finance operation. Used coach stock is around 30 vehicles so that’s under control. Around 18 were sold in January so we’re turning vehicles quickly.

“If there is a dip in the retail market it will be because of the uncertainty created by the impending introduction of low emission zones, not least the impact that has had on demand for Euro4/5 product. When we get to the key March, April, May period, we know that operators will have seen their diaries fill up and will have the confidence to invest. We’ve got the right product with the right spec and options to suit all manner of customer needs. We just need to make sure they know all that we can offer their business.”

Strengthening the team

“When we’ve gone to the factory and asked for something, it has given us what we want,” said Martin. “I’ve really enjoyed being in charge of retail sales, but Tony Tomsett became Scania Great Britain Used Vehicle Sales Director last June. I had the opportunity to succeed him in what would be a new role, Sales Director New Bus & Coach. It would be based at Worksop where I’d continued to work and I would be responsible only for bus and coach.

“I asked myself whether I was up for the responsibility. The previous roles I’d taken on, I’d been ready for the challenge, but I was doubting myself this time. I’m a private, down to earth, straightforward sort of person and I didn’t see myself as a director. I thought of the people I’d worked for and with over the previous 24 years and what they’d brought to the business. I’m just me, but Scania Great Britain is a great company to work for.

“I know I’ve kept a low profile since I started in July, but there has been a lot going on, not least in terms of staffing. Retail coach is my baby and I wanted to stay close to it. However, Regional Account Manager Lee Wale was promoted to UK Retail Sales Manager and the sales team reports to him. Lee has been with Scania for 15 years and is passionate about the business. He knows the coach industry inside out and will be very successful.

“Jamie Macintosh had gone to Plaxton in April so when I was offered my new job, we were already recruiting his replacement. That’s Kristian Bell who lives in Barnsley. The area he’s covering is slightly smaller than Jamie’s was, but he’s also involved in marketing and general retail business development.

“General Manager Customer Support, Bob Nevitt retires on April 5 after 24 and half years with Scania. He will be greatly missed, but will leave a fantastic legacy and some great memories. We’re going to evolve his role slightly and we’ve already appointed his replacement. John Rogerson, who is currently General Manager of Scania Normanton, will become General Manager Customer Services.

“John’s role will include the administration and logistics responsibilities I used to have and he will be responsible for the whole process from order to support after delivery whether it’s providing training, dealer support or parts. The focus has to continue on improving the customer experience. I’ve known John a long time and he’s one of Scania’s most well respected general managers. Bus and Coach Support Coordinator, Steve Dunk will report to him as will Felicity and Rachel.

“Mark Oliver continues to be responsible for fleet supported by James Thorley as Fleet Sales Manager and Tanya Neech who joined us in March 2016 on a two-year contract as Senior Advisor Sustainable Fuels.

“Tony had heard that a similar role to Tanya’s had been created in Sweden by Scania and felt it would be good to have someone supporting the gas double-decker that was in development. Her role has mushroomed beyond biogas which she’s passionate about promoting into one where she can talk with authority on sustainable solutions generally. She will be joining us full-time in March 2018 as Sustainable Solutions Manager.

“Going forward we need to obtain the best information we can from our customers’ experience, decision and policy makers and our own research and development team. That’s so we can make the most informed decisions about introducing alternative technology to diesel going forward, whether it’s gas, hybrid, electric or something else. We want to make sure that we can give customers the best advice possible and Tanya has a key role to play in that.

“It’s about looking beyond the short-term and learning what the landscape will be 10-15 years ahead, all the more complicated because politicians can change the direction at any time. Scania in Sweden’s goal is that 33% of the vehicles we deliver will be low carbon by 2020. Our estimate for the UK is 25% so we have some way to go. The target will increase beyond 2020 to drive the shift towards a low carbon sustainable future.

“The rest of the bus and coach team remains unchanged, as has the way we handle used sales which continue to be Steve Lambert’s responsibility. The sales team still sells both new and used and the philosophy still remains to allow them full autonomy with their business.”

Difficult landscape ahead

Talking about the challenge going forward of introducing new low carbon technologies, Martin was joined by Mark Oliver, UK Bus & Coach Fleet Sales General Manager.

“Scania has a full range of options, but we want to give our customers as much certainty as possible whether it is data on daily operating costs or the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership),” said Martin. “That’s why it’s so important for us as a business to be properly informed. Our remit from Sweden continues to be that if we put a product into the market, it’s commercially viable over the period of its life.

“From what we can see, the best use of hybrid would be in coaches, commuter coaches or high speed interurban operation. At the moment we’re talking to the factory about what would be the best application for us in the UK and what would be the right body. Hybrid is a good option available now, but the business case has got to be there for the operator.

“We’re well down the road with trialling electric, but what Scania in Sweden is determining is the implications of different charging models. I’m making the same point again, but we need to be as sure as we can before launching commercially.”

Said Mark: “If it’s a gas or a diesel combustion engine, we can already give advice on what’s the best commercial fit for a particular operation, but with electric, we’re still looking at it blind. That’s why we’re talking to customers and authorities to get their perspectives and what they’re planning to do, which is then fed back to the factory. Again, Tanya is helping with all of that.

“What’s advantageous in being involved with the introduction of gas buses is we understand the infrastructure implications and the importance of looking long-term. We have a very good relationship with our bodybuilder, Alexander Dennis. We talk from knowledge and experience and what we offer is proven. That why a customer like Nottingham City Transport is looking to take a further tranche and First West of England has a proposed 110. They’re prepared to invest.

“When we undertake a trial with a potential customer we’re not just able to sit down and explain what we know. We’re able to give precise performance data, what all the costs could be and who they’ll need to work with going forward. In other words, all the implications are explained and quantified before we even start talking about the price of a vehicle.”

“While the focus has been on buses, we know that LowCVP (Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership) is talking about decarbonising coaches next,” Martin explained. ”Every coach we supply has an engine that is capable of using a range of fuels including HVO and biodiesel. Whether or how they’re used is a question of cost, supply and whether they deliver service and commercial benefits.

“A LNG-fuelled Interlink, for example, is available now and it might be right for certain operations in the UK, but we would need to think through the luggage and seating capacity implications along with everything else. Again, it’s about doing the ground work.

“Alternative fuels and propulsion, autonomous vehicles and looking at platooning. They’re all being trialled by Scania. Everything is there, but it’s about trying to put together technologies that are right for different markets around the world. What we want to know is what’s right for customers in the UK. Our approach might frustrate some, but we have to do our best to get it right. Also, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that if everything was changed to Euro 6 diesel, the emissions problem would be nigh on solved.

“Scania Bus & Coach did nearly 300 registrations last year which is up around 30% on 2016. It would be easy for me to tell you that my vision is that we triple that in three years, but we’re not forced by the factory to grow at a particular rate. We work closely with it to look at a long-term growth that’s sustainable.”

Said Mark: “We could sell a lot of vehicles, but would we be able to support them properly? We have key customers that trust us to deliver the support they require and order again because of that. The growth in our National Express business is a case in point. A big conquest for us was Travel de Courcey which ordered 14 coaches. We gave it the bespoke support it needed and secured a further order. We subsequently secured at least another four new conquest customers by the end of last year.”

“We’re always asking ourselves, what else we could do,” said Martin. “As I’ve outlined, our strategy is to reduce risk for our customers as much as we can because businesses like certainty, and to add value where we can. We try to listen and learn. It might not be immediately apparent how we can help, but we find out by talking to people and redefining how we work in those partnerships I’ve been talking about. Whatever we do, we want it to work long-term for everybody.”[/wlm_ismember]