Honda's Hodgetts - car and bike dealers could learn from each other
Honda UK managing director David Hodgetts is one of the few car chiefs who sells motorcycles as well (BMW is another) and, while his dealers do not sell both, they could learn from each other, he said.
Hodgetts has been MD for just seven months, moving from the carmaker's UK car factory which he headed until earlier this year.
"I have managed to get around a few dealers, both cars and bikes, and there are distinct differences. There is much more of a ‘clubby' atmosphere to motorbike dealers and their customers. Biking is much more of a social activity and customers will often just pop into their dealer for a chat.
"Car dealerships are a lot more clinical and the relationship with the customer is not so comfortable, but maybe it's something they could learn from our motorbike dealers - a closer relationship with the customer."
He admits it's not something that could happen overnight and he ruled out the possibility of sharing dealerships with cars, bikes and power tools.
"That's definitely not a move in the right direction," he added. "Such a move could be to the detriment of any of them. People looking to buy tools or generators would not go shopping in a car dealership - they would perceive it as too expensive."
The reliability of all three strands of the business is good for the Honda image, though. "There is a consistency of message through - quality," Hodgetts said.
The car business, however, has been tough during his short tenure. A downturn in car sales generally along with a hiatus in new products. Hodgetts said: "We are hitting our targets but this does not necessarily sit neatly with where we want to be."
Apart from some mid-term refreshments, there is no new product coming through until the end of next year which will see the start of a range renewal of the CRV, Jazz and Civic, the company's core UK models, all built at Honda's Swindon plant.
He said: "We will probably end the year with around 65,000 UK sales, down from 74,000 last year, but we always knew this would be a lean period.
"The increase in VAT [aka sales tax from 17.5% to 20%] in January will pull forward a few sales at the end of the year and while retail customers will be looking for this, as an industry we must be careful that the market doesn't die on its feet in the new year."
Hodgetts has been making his first dealer visits and the feedback from these is that they can't wait for new models to boost sales.
"They would certainly like an injection of new models and the launch of the Jazz hybrid at Paris will give them something to work with. Longer term, as well as replacing all our models we will have a new small diesel engine in 2012 which will be right at the forefront of the new Euro 6 emissions regulations.
"Overall the spread of dealers is good and the network is strong and loyal."