Car dealers are ‘critical’ to help customers make switch to EVs – Vauxhall boss

  • Local representation is very important for customer trust, says Vauxhall chief
  • Multi-powertrain choice is ‘scary’ for some buyers, he says
  • Dealer network is in good shape after Stellantis wielded axe on its representation over past year

Time 10:25 am, December 20, 2023

Franchised car dealers are ‘critically important’ to help consumers make the switch to electric, the boss of Vauxhall has said.

The British car brand’s dealer network has been in sharp focus over the past 12 months, as its parent company Stellantis sought to slash the size of the overall UK structure.

In October 2022, Stellantis announced that 138 UK dealers across its brands, including Vauxhall, would get the chop – mostly due to offering poor customer service.

Vauxhall managing director James Taylor has now said the brand will have ‘the best network coverage we’ve ever had’, and insisted dealers are important despite the rise of online car sales.

‘We went through a recontracting process quite recently and we’ve come out of that with good network coverage,’ he told Car Dealer.

As of April 2023, Vauxhall has 222 dealerships, an exclusive Car Dealer report revealed, which was a drop of two compared with the previous year.

‘We’ve still got a few open points to fill in places like Brighton,’ Taylor added, ‘and by the time we finish 2024, we will probably have the best network coverage we’ve ever had.

‘We have lost some representation, but those have been more satellite sites rather than core sites.

‘I think, ultimately, our network is one of our biggest strengths. We’ve got a lot of good partners who have been with us for a long time and we’ve got a good balance.’

Taylor was speaking a day before new Stellantis UK boss Maria Grazia Davino sat down with Car Dealer to explain the mistakes the carmaker has made in recent years, and how she’s delaying the roll-out of agency sales to its brands in the UK.

He added: ‘Any future changes [to the dealer network] in the coming year or two will be organic. I don’t see any wholesale changes.

‘The network is of the right size for us to go forward in the medium term. I think it’s important to have local representation.’

Vauxhall MD and James Batchelor

Dealers are ‘critical’ in electric transition, James Taylor told Car Dealer

Taylor explained that having ‘local dealers’ is ‘crucial’ to help customers make the switch to electric – especially as carmakers will need to sell more electric cars in 2024 to meet the strict ZEV mandate.

‘Local representation is very important for electric. It’s critically important. Having a multi-powertrain choice [for customers] is scary for many people. Having a brand you can trust just 10 minutes away? There’s real value to that.’

When asked if new car prices were too high and if Vauxhall would slash them to stimulate demand in 2024, Taylor said: ‘We’ve had a double impact of a rise in the cost of manufacturing, and secondly – and particularly when you talk about electric – the increase in monthly payments, which has been caused by interest rates more than it has by the list prices of vehicles going up.

‘What’s challenging now is that as used car prices start to edge down and new car prices remain where they are, the cost-to-change gap gets wider. You need interest rates to come down to bring it down in parallel.

‘I think we represent good value with our petrol offering versus our direct competitors. But what’s going to come from the ZEV mandate? We have to keep [its pricing] under review. Will electric cars get significantly cheaper? Will everybody start chasing the 22% [to meet the ZEV mandate]?

‘I think we have a good chance of being able to do it [hitting the mandate] without having to radically alter our business.

‘What’s going to be fascinating is will everyone be in the same position? Will ICE pricing get more expensive next year and will supply of ICEs be reduced?

‘It’s going to be very interesting in January 2024 and this change from “pull” to “push”. There might be a bit of push now but without that electric element [mix and supply] in January it will be really difficult to push.’

Picture credits: Stuart Price

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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