Mumbai based dealership FortPoint Automotive has emerged stronger from the pandemic. Ashish Bhatia visited the Eicher Truck and Bus dealership to see how it is ticking all the boxes for customer satisfaction.

Dealerships have had to face a spree of the tough quarter on quarter with slack in business when the pandemic was at its peak. Even so before the pandemic forced businesses to shut shop, literally! They were no exceptions when it came to businesses being hit hard, onwards March 2020. Daily operations were sent into a spin for most with cashflows severely impacted as a result of the order pipeline drying up. Matters became only worse with lockdowns enforced, rendering dealerships incapable of conducting daily operations including sales, aftersales and managing spare parts like they were used to. In-person. Physical meets were at the heart of their business operations pre-Covid-19.

The pandemic for FortPoint Automotive

Mumbai-based Fort Point Automotive Mumbai Pvt. Ltd. (FortPoint) is regarded amongst the top VE Commercial Vehicles Pvt. Ltd. (VECV) dealerships. For Eicher Truck and Bus, it happens to be an important touchpoint for the commercial vehicles business from the Thane, Bhiwandi and Kalyan belt. The pandemic is known to have made it difficult for FortPoint to interact even with its regular set of customers where business was assured. Service bays lay empty with vehicles unable to reach in time for regular service and checks as signed up.

To give a perspective of the dealerships contribution to VECV sales volumes, according to Jayant Pagare, Chief Operating Officer (HD), in booming times, the company would register Heavy Commercial Vehicle (HCV) sales of ~ 6000 units, on an annual basis. “We witnessed good traction in the Heavy Commercial Vehicle (HCV) tractor-trailer segment which witnessed a steep decline owing to volatility with the onset of the pandemic. From 5000 odd sales volumes, every month, volumes nose-dived to 500-600 odd vehicles,” he mentioned.

The challenges only mounted with the rollout of Bharat Stage VI (BSVI) in April 2020. FortPoint found it hard to touch base with customers for closures. Explained Pagare, “The need of the hour was to create a greater customer awareness around the new rollout of the technology. Without which it was difficult to make closures.” The need of the hour was to convince customers of the superior offerings and Unique Selling Points (USPs) of the VECV BSVI compliant range. BSVI sales took time to take off given the initial reluctance to switch to new technology including the uncertainties about onroad operability and cost economics.

Alas, FortPoint benefitted from the much-needed demand from the outgoing BSIV range. FortPoint was able to deliver on clearing the BSIV inventory at its dealership but not without support from the Federation of Automobile Dealerships Association (FADA). The latter is known to have come to the dealership’s rescue. Through FADA’s assistance, the dealership is known to have registered its BSIV inventory in the nick of time, seen as a big plus by VECV customers earning it their goodwill in return.


The silver lining

For FortPoint, the burden of those 15 months initially was eased to an extent with its exposure to fleet owners operating for essential services. Turning front line warriors, team FortPoint left no stone unturned to fight back and offer assistance sought by its customers. “Yes, it is true that we did not shut down the service centres and workshops for these sets of customers who were on the frontline themselves. We worked to the best of our ability with the available manpower,” stated Pagare. When customers were unable to reach FortPoint, the dealership turned proactive. It deployed its service vans to offer customers on-site and on-road assistance as need be. Even here, there were exceptions wherein the dealership was unable to reach select customers due to circumstances beyond control. “Like the migration of the workforce impacted us too. We devised a strategy to utilise local resources as a countermeasure to the extent possible to meet our customer requirements, sweating 100 per cent of the resources at hand,” he claimed.

The VECV products like the Eicher Pro 3019 which is known to have helped VE Commercial Vehicles gain an 18 per cent market share in its respective segment proved to be another silver lining. Its traction, claimed Pagare, is attributed to the revised axle load norms which helped boost the per axle loading capacity for the end operator helping generate demand. The dealership is also confident of the Eicher Pro 6035T doing well in the market courtesy of the pick up in infrastructural development particularly in the road construction sector. This, in addition to the Eicher Pro 6020 which continues to do well for the dealership.

Historically, for FortPoint, the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) segment has also done well and is said to have remained relatively stable holding the delaership in good stead. With CNG drivelines, the dealership was also able to tap new customers. “Post-September 2020, we were able to consistently sustain business from both the sales and aftersales perspective. Here it is important to share that the bus segment didn’t fare well for us with the school bus segment particularly impacted,” Pagare admitted. Other segments are known to have helped the dealership reverse the tide with a sequential recovery.

The dealership received handholding from VECV who extended full support. Be it in terms of credit extension facilities to help FortPoint maintain its parts inventory or other support initiatives known to have helped the dealership maintain adequate liquidity for meeting its daily operational obligations. The OEM is known to have extended direct support to the dealership enabling the latter to sustain operations and maintain business continuity in volatile times.


Order lifecycle

Speaking on the changes to order lifecycle including order projections compared to the pre-Covid-19 days, Pagare opined that the process remains largely unchanged. “It is still the same process wherein we dealers give an order-specific, replenishment demand indent to the OEM by the tenth, each month,” he explained. For example, it could be an order of 10 vehicles of the six-tyre Eicher 3019 in the desired product configuration. This monthly projection from the dealership aids the OEM to ascertain their order pipeline, in turn. The subsequent order confirmations lead to the OEM manufacturing the vehicles. In the pandemic, FortPoint was able to offer to the customer a delivery lead time of 10-15 days from the point of order confirmation. This, explained Pagare, is the new trend compared to the booming days where vehicles were procured on a credit facility basis in advance. The new system is equally well-streamlined now, he asserted.

The customer, today, is known to be more invested in the technology on offer in this entire life cycle over the erstwhile practice of handing down the vehicle to the driver post-purchase. Averred Pagare that fleet owners are more invested in understanding the day-to-day operations and output from each vehicle in their respective fleet in a bid to be able to optimise business outcomes as a result of higher efficiencies.

The aftersales experience

At FortPoit, the belief is that if the driver of the vehicle that rolls in is satisfied the fleet owner is satisfied with the dealership’s services. “The driver for us is the first touchpoint and we treat him as the end owner. It is our foremost priority to ensure the highest possible uptime for our set of customers,” expressed Pagare. For example, at the dealership, a display educates drivers on the fluid economics of their vehicles. Most customers from the BSIV generation are well accustomed to the utilisation of urea and the dealership is constantly striving to persuade the customer to opt for genuine products in a bid to extract the best from their fleet of vehicles. Through a recent initiative, the parts consumption of a fleet owner in a timespan of two to three years is auto-billed at the VECV dealership. This is claimed to have ensured that downtimes owing to the need for running parts replacement are minimal. The running parts in focus at the dealership include the sensors, fan-belts, and water pumps to name a few. These are replenished on an ongoing basis. The dealership is also well-equipped to handle engine failures or replacement of the gear and or differential.

When it comes to the higher electronic content per vehicle, fault-finding has aided in removing all the guesswork. Technicians can solve issues remotely compared to having to travel a distance of 50 kms for just the first inspection. The driver community has been educated to upgrade themselves when handling such high-end vehicles. At the time of delivery, special care is taken to educate the customer on the ins and outs of the vehicle before it is pressed into service at the customer’s end. In other initiatives, if a driver is changed by a fleet owner, FortPoint conducts a similar training and vehicle familiarisation process for the replacement, incoming driver who will pilot the sold vehicle. This initiative is known to reduce the fleet owner’s burden of risks associated with a driver change and threats about the untrained driver and his vehicle handling posing a risk to on road safety as well as vehicle wear and tear.


Ready to reap the rewards

FortPoint introduced efficiencies at every level. Particularly happy to be able to serve its customer fleets with essential services during the pandemic, the risk that FortPoint is said to have taken has paid off well. The customer is said to look back at that time and express gratitude. These are known to translate to repeat customers for the BSVI product series on offer at the dealership. Pagare listed initiatives like refining the spare parts offerings or addressing the shortage of mechanics in the ecosystem by upskilling new hires to ensure seamless operations. “We strive hard to ensure that the 30 vehicles that ply in daily are attended to and cleared with a 24-hour Turn Around Time (TAT),” he said. Countering challenges head-on, till August 2021 on a Year-To-Date (YTD) basis, the dealership sold an estimated 200 HCVs, and 600 LCVs apart from 60-70 buses as it marches towards realising the ambition of turning the top dealership! The dealership claimed to be ticking all the boxes and ensuring customer satisfaction is among the reasons’ for VECV topping the dealership satisfaction survey study by FADA among leading OEMs.

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