– By Gerard Norsa –
Electric car manufacturer, Tesla Motors has signalled its intentions to be a serious future player in fleet sales with the appointment of experienced fleet manager, James Middleton to a fleet sales role as part of its Melbourne HQ team.
Officially titled, National Enterprise Sales Manager, Middleton has been charged with driving conversations with fleet buyers for existing Tesla vehicles such as the Model S (sedan) and the newly launched Model X (RV) as well as the lower cost, high volume Model 3 slated for a 2017 US launch (up to 12 months later in Australia).
Middleton is well-known in the local fleet management community. In addition to his ongoing role as Managing Director of start-up EDNA Valet which aims to use smart-device technology for inner city share-parking, he has held roles over the years as Head of Fleet Strategy and Innovation at SmartGroup, Head of Alphabet Fleet at BMW, Victorian State Manager for Fleet Partners and National Fleet Manager at ACS Financial.
In an interview with Fleet Auto News, Tesla’s Senior Marketing and Communications Manager in Australia, Heath Walker said the appointment of Middleton is a significant step in growing local operations. Every large market for Tesla has a fleet sales operation and, with local sales going very well, the company has espied that now is the right time to start talking to fleet managers.
“Fleet sales clearly represent a growth opportunity for Tesla,” Walker said. “Having someone with the experience of James come into the business is really important for us to kick-start that.
“Not only does he have a network and understanding of the players that we want to work with and collaborate with in that space but also he has a strategic mindset about how to develop a fresh platform with a Tesla identity to it which is very important to us.
“Demand for electric vehicles in fleet is continuing to increase and we are seeing that not only in government but also in private enterprise. At the same time, we are starting to collaborate with major businesses through both our energy products and our motors products.”
Walker cited the example of Qantas whose enterprise-wide sustainability program has seen them starting to utilise Tesla battery packs in conjunction with solar collection as well as moving their executives into a Tesla Model S fleet.
Meanwhile, there are also now major electricity suppliers who are using Model S as fleet vehicles to promote that they are selling sustainable energy as part of their product offering he said.
Educating the market about Tesla
Walker concedes there is a large educational process that needs to be undertaken teaching fleet managers what it is we are offering both from a product and organisational point of view including service and delivery. However, he said also that Tesla is very well positioned for valuable 1:1, B2B engagement.
“We have a unique set-up in that every person that you ever deal with in relation to Tesla – from the store to delivery to service – they are all Tesla direct employees,” Walker said. “We have to educate fleet customers around the product and we can do that via events and test drive days where people can experience the products and we can showcase the product to end users so they have confidence in what they are purchasing.
“Then there is also education around the total cost of ownership, ownership over energy supply and of course, the ability to also work with Tesla on delivering that energy to the vehicles through battery storage.
“If you look at the whole picture it can work out to be huge cost savings for the business. So, it is whole-of-life and use during that life that needs to be discussed and we can provide that information directly to organisations and their fleet managers.”
While Walker feels that there are already interesting conversations for fleet managers to have with Tesla about their existing range of vehicles, the new low-cost, high volume Model 3 is clearly a game changer for fleet buyers.
The TCO imperative
Not only do they potentially offer even greater value via the total cost of ownership equation via maintenance and running costs, Walker claimed but also the lower price-point means that the procurement cost barrier is also reduced.
“With Model 3, Tesla suddenly becomes more viable for large fleet operators looking for cost saving solutions or to meet sustainability and environmental targets,” Walker said. “Model 3 will certainly have an impact on fleet sales.
“The ability for it to be cost-efficient from a purchasing point of view as well as in lifetime running and maintenance costs is one thing but control is another conversation we can have. You can have an app that includes a whole range of telemetry features built into the vehicle so if it is business-owned, there is the opportunity to track and control a Tesla much better.”
Walker said that the app not only offers cute features such as remotely turning on the air conditioner or heater but you can also see where the car – or every car in the fleet – is at any time. You can check on the charge status before you get in the car which is ideal in pool car environments.
Plan ahead – Model 3 is within sight
With the game-changing Model 3 most likely only a couple of years away, Walker urged fleet managers to reach out to Tesla and begin the conversation about how it might be an element in the future fleet landscape.
“With James – an experienced fleet management professional – on-board, there is an opportunity for fleet managers to reach out now and start the conversation about Tesla and fleet,” he said. “Whether you are interested in our existing Model S and Model X or if you want to get in the queue for the M3 when it starts to come off production James can talk you through how we can help.
“I can’t confirm the exact date of when the Model 3 will be available but 2018 is most likely so now is the time to start having a think about it as possible replacement option or addition to your fleets. Most fleet managers operating under best practice are planning up to three years in advance and that is one of the reasons why we created James’ new role.