NFDA’s Driving Digital 2023: Special Edition took place at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London on Wednesday 6 December.

The event started with a warm welcome from NFDA Chief Executive, Sue Robinson, who provided an introduction to the event and the key speakers. NFDA are at the centre of this evolving landscape and it is important that retailers remember that their trade association is here to support them, whether this is through transitioning to new manufacturers, electric vehicles, recruitment, legal issues and more.

The event was host to key figures within the industry as well as representatives of new car manufacturers to the UK market (BYD, MG, Vinfast and Omoda).

AUTO RETAIL NETWORK’S NEW ENTRANTS REPORT AND SIGNIFICANT CHINESE BRANDS

The conference talks kicked off with Richard Aucock, Editor of Auto Retail Network who discussed the company’s New Entrants Report which examines the most significant Chinese brands and their aspirations for the UK and Europe. First published in 2022, the report lists critical information for each brand including production volumes, current and future models, powertrain information, company size, group structure and history.

Richard then delved further into the observations made from the report and discussed how ‘Chinese brands are forging ahead’. He noted the participation of many Chinese brands at the Munich International Motor Show including BYD.

Richard then commented on how retailers are welcoming these new entries and how these new entrants are unanimously producing EVs. Those new entrants from China were said to be a broad mix of private and state-owned companies. Additionally, whilst a lot of these companies are ‘new’ to the UK and Europe, they do have rich histories with many being developed from joint ventures and having considerable high-tech expertise. The new entrants are not just Chinese companies, with US entries such as Tesla, Vinfast from Vietnam and even companies from Japan.

Furthermore, Richard expressed how Auto Retail Network can help retailers in contacting new entrants and discussed some tips on how to liaise with Chinese new entrants.

Finally, Richard noted how the New Entrants Report was available to buy online and that a podcast on the topic was also available.

THE RISE OF CHINA DURING THE TRANSITION TO ELECTRIC

Ian Plummer, Commercial Director of Auto Trader was next to take the stand and built on Richard’s talk, discussing the rise of Chinese new entrants and electric vehicles. Ian provided a few interesting statistics around the topic including the following:

  • China produces more cars and electric cars than the USA and EU combined – 3 in 5 EVs are built in China as of 2022.
  • 24 million passenger cars built in China in 2022.
  • 77% of the world’s battery production capacity is in China.
  • China has overtaken Germany as the world’s number two car exporter and is set to overtake Japan by the end of the year.

Ian then discussed how there is a ‘yawning gap’ for affordable EVs in the UK market and there is a perfect opportunity for brands with cost advantages. Whilst UK consumers are interested in the Chinese new entrants, this has not translated into conversion and there are early signs that they are facing a familiar challenge for ‘unknown brands’. The new Chinese entrants have also not been as aggressive on price in the UK and have launched with a ‘brand premium’.

However, despite this, with huge regulatory pressure on brands and retailers, for instance through the ZEV mandate, Ian accentuated how 1 in 6 new cars sold will be new entrants by 2030. Indeed, the transition to EVs has proven difficult for traditional brands, which have already seen a loss in their market share.

Ian concluded the talk saying that there needed to be more choice and more affordability for consumers from the manufacturers and that retailers had the choice to give the new entrants what they need.

BYD ENTERING THE UK

Following Ian’s talk, this event of NFDA’s Driving Digital was pleased to welcome Simon Bisp, Head of Sales at BYD.

With the previous two speakers discussing Chinese new entrants, it was great to hear more from one brand which has managed to enter the UK and European markets.

Simon gave an overview and history of the company noting how 1/5th of the world’s phones has BYD technology and also produce iPads.

The company entered the automotive market in 2003 and in 2022, ended the production of pure ICE vehicles to focus on plug-in electric vehicles. Simon gave some further statistics on the company including:

  • BYD entered the European market in 2022 through Norway.
  • The company is presently in 70 countries and 400+ cities.
  • BYD is China’s number one global new electric vehicle (NEV) brand.
  • 90% of London’s electric buses are BYD produced.

Currently in the UK, there are three BYD vehicles on sale which include the ATTO 3, the Dolphin and the Seal.

Simon mentioned that the company has an ‘incredibly aggressive’ product plan for the UK and look set to introduce seven passenger cars and two vans on sale.

The talk also featured videos which demonstrated how BYD vehicles still function normally even when the battery has sustained considerable damage.

THE NEED FOR RETAIL STRATEGY TO EVOLVE AND ADAPT – ‘THE HUMAN TOUCH’

After a quick tea break, Kim Costello, Chief Marketing Officer of Pendragon, was next to speak and discussed how the ‘industry is experiencing profound change’.

Kim looked to how large and small fleet vehicles were driving Q3 of this year and how the global economic impact was being felt by businesses, governments and consumers ‘in a different way than ever before’.

Kim built on this by elaborating how Pendragon have adapted their marketing strategies from the research they have conducted into the market.

Pendragon found from their research that for consumers’ barriers to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) remain high with price, range of miles and time to charge the battery being the top three most cited reasons as to why consumers would not consider buying a BEV.

From this research, Pendragon were able to identify gaps in the market and as companies are becoming more digitalised, there is still the need for that ‘human touch’ and incentives. Kim referred to an instance where with a Porsche Taycan being purchased, a complimentary EV charger would be given with it.

Additionally, Pendragon found in their research that there are certainly barriers to new brands with 52% of respondents saying they are already with an established car manufacturer that they know and trust.

Kim concluded with the following points:

  • Customers are being more brand agnostic and we will still be discussing alternative fuels in the next 10 years.
  • Customers still need physical retailers – retail strategy and culture needs to evolve and adapt.

The talk also featured a video of the launch of the BYD Pendragon flagship store in Mayfair.

CURRENT DEALERSHIP AND CONSUMER STATISTICS ON VARIOUS INDUSTRY ISSUES – JUDGESERVICE POLL

Neil Addley, founder of JudgeService, featured after Kim and discussed the results from a poll launched by the company in November 2023. The poll was done on YourPoll and featured 1000 franchised and independent consumers with also 100 franchised and independent dealers online. Neil talked about various results of the poll including:

Dealership Results

  • 74% of dealers did not think the 2030 ICE ban was achievable and 69% think Rishi Sunak was right to delay the ban to 2035.
  • 80% of dealers did not want to see a return to the 2030 deadline whilst 65% think it would slow EV adoption.
  • 78% of dealers thought the EV charging infrastructure was inadequate particularly in rural areas and highly metropolitan cities.
  • 72% of dealers would favour a scrappage scheme.
  • 87% think EV costs are still too high.

Consumer Results

  • 34% of consumers said they would move to a hybrid as their next purchase whilst 12% would intend for a battery electric vehicle (BEV).
  • 54% of consumers list charging points and upfront costs as barriers for a BEV.
  • 80% of consumers are not aware that there are new entrants coming into the market from China or elsewhere.

Having gone through these results, Neil summarised that franchised dealers need to develop charger relationships, grow local businesses/fleet teams and overcome consumer concerns. On the flip side, it was noted that there needs to be more government investment in infrastructure and a scrappage scheme.

SUMMARISING 35 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE INDUSTRY IN 15 MINUTES

The final speaker of the conference was Jason Cranswick, Chief Operating Officer of Marubeni who summarised the lessons he has learned over a 35-year career in the industry with the help of some interesting diagrams!

Jason’s key points were:

  • To embrace change and learn from ‘disruptors’ – see them as ‘frenemies’.
  • Prioritise simplifying your business, including the system, process and ways of working.
  • Let data inform your decision making.

Q & A PANEL DISCUSSION

The conference then concluded with a star-studded Q & A panel discussion which as well as the previous speakers (Ian Plummer, Simon Bisp and Jason Cranswick), included:

  • Guy Pigounakis – Commercial Director of MG Motors.
  • Callum Wood – Sales Director of CitNow Group.
  • John O’Hanlon – Chief Executive Officer of Waylands.
  • Matthew Banks – Network Development Manager of OMODA UK.

The panel discussion took several questions from the audience in which each panellist gave their thoughts. Topics of discussion included:

  • Pressing the Government to introduce incentives for EVs, as well as the need for consistency from government messaging.
  • The state of charging infrastructure in the UK.
  • Callum discussed the need to educate the consumer base so that people can understand the EV and alternative fuels market.
  • Guy discussed how MG are faring during the transition to electric.

The conference was a resounding success and brought key industry figures together during this transitionary period to pitch their ideas. Do not miss your opportunity to be a part of NFDA’s next Driving Digital event and save the date – 2 May 2024 at Westminster.