Stellantis UK boss Maria Grazia Davino has admitted the manufacturing giant has urgent work to do to fix its relationship with dealers.
In a wide-ranging interview with Car Dealer, the new Stellantis UK group managing director – who took over from Paul Willcox at the end of the summer – admitted the brand had made some serious mistakes.
She apologised for late payments of bonuses to dealers, admitted urgent work was needed to fix profitability and said agency sales would be delayed again.
Davino was parachuted into the role by chief Carlos Tavares in September who has given her ‘clear direction’ and the ability to run the UK ‘how she wants to’.
Her first drastic move will be to postpone agency sales until ‘the model is ready’ which will be until ‘at least the end of 2026’.
Previously, DS and Alfa Romeo were set to move to fixed price, agency sales agreements in the middle of next year but that has now been shelved.
Stellantis will now work with a council of dealers and outside experts, including the ICDP, to ensure the new sales agreements work for everyone.
Speaking about the troubles the brands have faced, she told Car Dealer: ‘I do apologise sincerely, but people don’t care about apologies, they need actions, so I am putting myself in line to lead by example because we need to fix this.
‘You can’t imagine how many roadblocks we need to overcome to solve this, but with determination we go through and we have to do that.’
The determined Italian was moved from her role as head of sales and marketing in Europe to tackle the troubled UK organisation. There she had been in charge of the new agency agreements for the brands across Europe. Previously she ran the Austrian and Swiss markets.
Ahead of this interview, Stellantis dealer partners spoke anonymously to Car Dealer about their frustrations at representing the car maker.
Some slammed its ‘poor management’ which has led to large bonuses being missed while others criticised the decision to force them to register cars to customers while they were still stuck in ports.
Others questioned the relevance – and need – of so many brands in the face of stiff Chinese competition with some admitting it was ‘embarrassing’ seeing big Stellantis brands fall behind the likes of Kia and MG.
Davino said a large part of these problems have come as a result of PSA and FCA merging to become Stellantis. She said this caused many issues in the back office that have been hard to overcome.
Stellantis was formed in January 2021 after the merger of Groupe PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It bought together 18 brands including Peugeot, Citroen, DS, and Vauxhall along with Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Maserati, among others.
‘We have done a big merger and this had implications and disruptions, mainly on systems,’ admitted Davino.
‘This mix of things generated such complexity of problems that one after the other have had to be tackled. My list of things to fix is very long.’
Davino said she was confident, though, that logistics issues had been solved.
This time last year, Car Dealer reported that some new car buyers were being forced to pay three months’ worth of finance payments, insurance and tax for cars that they were still unable to collect as they were stuck in ports.
Stellantis was said to be ‘strong-arming’ its dealers at the time into registering cars stuck in ports to hit their end of year targets.
Davino said: ‘I admit that everything that is hurting customer satisfaction is a mistake. We do make mistakes. But the important thing is to react to those mistakes.
‘Now, on retail distribution, I am able to distribute a car in four days. From day one I have been attacking this problem.
‘I have a retail background and am conscious about the operations that are affected by this problem.’
Stellantis partners also criticised former UK chief Paul Willcox for his ‘invisibility’ in the network.
In October last year he announced a plan to reduce the Stellantis dealership network by 138 and ‘was nowhere to be seen’ after that, said retailers.
Davino said: ‘I will be doing things my way. Don’t compare me to the past. I am fully dedicated to this market.’
Davino spent her first few weeks in the job visiting more than 60 dealer partners across the UK and heard first hand about their problems. Many dealers we spoke to had huge respect for her for making the effort to atually go and see them.
‘I wanted to understand the geography and understand the distances involved between dealers in this country,’ she said.
‘I have also seen the consequences of our own decisions.
‘The termination process has been a tough one,’ she added. ‘But all our dealer contracts have now been confirmed and this Stellantis contract is a very good one.’
Davino appeared to have some regrets at the savage cuts, explaining that on her travels around the UK she saw empty former Stellantis dealerships that had been shut down.
‘I have seen the consequences of our decisions,’ she said.
‘I would never like to lose a dealer. I sometimes saw an empty space that had been left and the territory uncovered.
‘And this is something that no one tells you because you don’t start from the holes and open points so you don’t understand the geographic locations that are not covered as a consequence of dealers exiting.’
She said she was not surprised by the ‘passion’ she found in dealerships she visited, though, and said this was something she could ‘build on’.
Davino, pictured fourth from right below, also confirmed that Stellantis’ network restructuring was now complete.
Davino confirmed to Car Dealer that the manufacturer was delaying its agency sales yet again. DS and Alfa were due to go agency next year, but these will be pushed back to the end of 2026 along with all other brands.
‘We are going to postpone,’ she told Car Dealer.
A working group was set up at European level to discuss an agency model and Davino said this was ‘not representative of the UK’. She would know, as she ran it.
As a result she will be setting up a working group with dealers and outside experts, including the research firm ICDP, to discuss how an agency model could work in the UK.
‘There are benefits to both parties, but we need to find a middle ground,’ she said.
‘We have a long way to go. We have to discuss this with dealers and find our own way in the UK. We will launch a study in March and then look at the results.’
Are all brands safe?
Some dealers questioned whether there was any point continuing with all the brands under the Stellantis roof when some are seriously struggling for sales.
Davino said she had asked herself the very same question.
She explained: ‘But then I also asked myself, has everything been done for these beautiful products to make them work? My answer was it had not.’
In the face of tough competition from Chinese challenger brands, Davino admitted that some of her brands have a big job on their hands. But, in her grand plan, Vauxhall will become the star.
‘I take decisions and the potential is there with Vauxhall and there is no reason why I will not use it,’ she said.
‘In my plan, Vauxhall must be the star.’
She said the brand will help her position the UK as the ‘number one’ Stellantis market on a global scale.
And it needs to be. She might currently have the backing of boss Carlos Tavares, who picked her personally to improve the UK market, but he wants to see results.
‘We have to grow market share and we have to improve the customer experience,’ she explained.
‘Carlos Tavares has given me clear direction on the results he’s expecting. The way we get to those results with integrity is left to us.
‘I am here to inject energy and confidence in my team. We have to stay cool because when you race, you have to have tough nerves.’
As to how long it will take to improve relationships, Davino said dealers can expect to see immediate changes, but to give her ‘half a year’ to really see the impacts of her work.
‘We will for sure be in a better place next year,’ she added. ‘But you’re a journalist and I don’t want to make myself look stupid by giving you dates.’