To say that General Motors has been through some changes over the last few years would be an understatement. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, the automotive giant has been restructured and streamlined to improve its focus on customer service, and that included acknowledging the importance of the fleet and commercial side of its business. As Vice President of GM’s Fleet and Commercial Sales Ed Peper explains, GM’s new leadership understood how vital its fleet and commercial customers were to ensuring the company’s success for the future. 

“One of the things that [Executive Vice President and President, North America] Alan Batey did when he came in is that he made Fleet and Commercial a specific channel at GM,” Peper says. GM’s Fleet and Commercial division now stands alongside Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac as the automaker’s primary channels, and that has meant a renewed dedication to being the best in the fleet and commercial vehicle segment. According to Peper, GM has devoted itself to improving every aspect of its fleet and commercial division, from manufacturing to supporting its network of dealers across the nation.

At the heart of GM’s efforts in the fleet and commercial division and elsewhere is affirming the company’s dedication to the customer, whether that client is the end-user or a member of its dealer network. “The biggest thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s fleet and commercial, it doesn’t matter if it’s Chevrolet – the customer has to be at the center of everything that we do,” Peper says. “We’re fully aligned with everyone at sales and marketing, and I really credit [Batey] with making that move.”

With the implementation of a unified manufacturing system across all GM’s manufacturing facilities, a revitalized commercial dealer program and a number of exciting new vehicles to be introduced in 2014, GM’s Fleet and Commercial division is a major part of the reason why GM has been able to post 16 consecutive quarters of profitability since 2009. Peper says the company’s customer focus is a top-to-bottom philosophy that everyone at every level within GM understands and believes in, and that will be the engine that drives the company to even greater success in the near future. “This is all about relationships, it’s all about selling,” Peper says. “It’s about taking care of customers.”

Better Connections

One of the first steps GM’s fleet and commercial division took after the company started restructuring was to reconnect with its dealers. Out of GM’s approximately 4,300 dealerships nationwide, more than 500 are focused on commercial sales. After speaking with many of them, GM determined that the company wasn’t doing all that it could to give them the support they needed. “One of the things that we’ve done is that we wanted to improve our commercial dealer program,” Peper says. “We’ve changed the entire direction of that program.”

GM’s new commercial dealer program, called the Business Elite Program, was developed after numerous meetings with GM dealers, and created a set of standards GM wants all dealers to follow in terms of customer service. Business Elite dealers offer a team of expert sales consultants to help customers select the right vehicles for the job and they stock a diverse lineup of ready-for-sale commercial vehicles. Every Business Elite service department has the facilities, tools, equipment and certified technicians to accommodate business customers’ specific needs. For its part, GM has committed to providing greater levels of support to its dealers. Peper says the company also has streamlined its fleet and commercial offerings, creating a product line that is less confusing for dealers and gives them a better chance to answer customers’ questions completely. As a result of this program, Peper says, business at GM’s commercial-focused dealerships is up nearly 35 percent. 

Also contributing to the company’s success in the fleet and commercial segment is the slate of new vehicles that GM has planned for 2014. Peper says the company has a line of heavy-duty pickups that will launch later this year that should prove to be very popular with commercial customers. He says GM also expects its mid-sized Colorado and Canyon trucks to be big sellers in the segment, along with its City Express small van. All of those will be launched in the fourth quarter of this year, and Peper says GM is excited to show them off. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this much product that’s going to benefit our business coming at one time,” he says. 

Tech Savvy

Today’s commercial fleets rely on technology more than ever to keep their drivers organized and their vehicles running as efficiently as possible. Peper says GM has done more to incorporate the newest technology into its fleet and commercial vehicles than any other manufacturer in the segment, and this ties in closely to the company’s focus on customer service. “One of the things that’s absolutely huge right now is the ability to be connected at all levels,” Peper says. 

GM recently announced that it was partnering with telematics solutions provider Telogis Inc. to create a platform that will integrate with GM’s proprietary OnStar application. The integrated system will provide fleet customers with real-time, actionable data about their vehicles and drivers. According to Peper, the system will give customers data on fuel consumption, idle time and vehicle location so they will be able to maximize the efficiency of their fleets. “It’s an amazing array of data,” Peper says. “To me, that’s a huge thing in terms of connectivity.” 

Another new technology being embraced by GM and its customers is Bi-Fuel engines that utilize compressed natural gas (CNG) and gasoline.  Peper says the company has noticed a lot of interest from its fleet and commercial customers in CNG as concerns about fuel costs and efficiency become more prevalent. All of GM’s new heavy-duty trucks will be available with the capability of using regular gasoline or CNG, Peper says, and GM is the only automaker to provide a factory warranty on all GM vehicles with CNG/gasoline engines. 

Manufacturing Success

GM has made great strides in advancing its manufacturing processes within the last few years. The company has successfully implemented a Global Manufacturing System (GMS) that gives GM a level of flexibility and efficiency that supports GM’s vision of designing, building and selling the world’s best vehicles. “GMS is a single common manufacturing system that engages all employees to use the best practices, processes and technologies to eliminate waste,” the company says.

Thanks to the company’s highly trained workforce, GM has utilized GMS to continue its run of recognition of excellence. GM points to recent honors such as the Motor Trend 2014 Car of the Year award for the Cadillac CTS, the 2014 Car of the Year and Truck of the Year awards at the North American International Auto Show for the C7 Corvette and Silverado, respectively, and Best Sedan and Best Pickup from Consumer Reports for the Impala and Silverado. 

Backing up the company’s manufacturing excellence is its warranty program, which Peper says is the only one of its kind among OEMs in the fleet and commercial arena. The company’s limited powertrain warranty covers vehicles for 5 years/100,000 miles, compared to 60,000 miles from some other major automakers. 

Winning the Marketplace

GM has had a long and at-times challenging road since 2009, but Peper says the company is confident that GM is on the right track for continued success. In the fleet and commercial sector especially, GM sees substantial growth in the near future, thanks in no small part to the multiple product choices it offers to customers. “I think we have a lot of opportunity to grow,” he says. “That’s going to be a huge focus for us.” 

As long as GM remains committed to its customer-centric philosophy in the commercial segment and elsewhere, Peper says the company should continue to hold its dominant position as one of the world’s top automakers. “Our three pillars are great products, innovative business solutions and delivering a very exceptional customer experience,” he says. “If we can do those things consistently, we’re going to win the marketplace.”

For more information on GM’s Fleet and Commercial products and services, visit http://www.gmfleet.com. 

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