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As Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles starts to move to an electric future, new director Cian O’Brien talks to Dan Gilkes. Changing times

As Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles starts to move to an electric future, new director Cian O’Brien talks to Dan Gilkes.

Production shutdowns, model changeovers, the end of the road for a popular pick-up and a global pandemic, have all contributed to an interesting first year in the job for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles director Cian O’Brien. Previously chief operating officer at Audi of America, with experience in sales, aftersales, fleet and product, he has inherited a commercial vehicle business that remains a strong player in the UK market, currently at number two behind Ford.

“Last year, for us and for the industry, was a challenge,” said O’Brien.

“The market declined by 20%, which was an impact that we all had to absorb. Overall, we finished the year 10,000 units down, but we had a strong performance in the second half of the year and we are moving forwards.”

Though Covid certainly played its role, part of that downturn in sales can be attributed to Volkswagen’s changing model mix.

“We had the run-out of Amarok, which for us was a big product. We are also transitioning from Caddy 4 to Caddy 5 and there was a big impact on Transporter production.”

It hasn’t all been negative though. Volkswagen’s share of the heavy van sector grew, with strong demand for Crafter, as companies like Amazon and DPD placed orders. Aftersales performance was also strong, with all of VW’s Van Centres maintaining their opening hours and providing a back-up service for essential customers throughout 2020.

So far this year, demand looks increasingly buoyant and VW is hoping for a more consistent market. The company will be launching Caddy 5 to dealers and customers during Q2, though there is still some stock of Caddy 4 available to meet existing orders.

“We’ve got production in place right now to satisfy customer demand,” said O’Brien.

Electric charge
The big news however is yet to come. As with other manufacturers, Volkswagen is turning its attention to the electric market, having successfully introduced e-Transporter last year. The company has established a large demo fleet for the BEV van and all of its Van Centres are set-up to sell and service future electric models.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in EVs, so we are looking at multiple financial solutions. We’ve got a lot of financial flexibility and we can do try before you buy,” said O’Brien.

Unlike many of its competitors, Volkswagen will not make EV models of all of its diesel-powered vans, there is no electric Caddy for example. Instead, in much the same way that the firm’s car business has launched ID.3 and ID.4 full electric models to run alongside the existing Golf and Tiguan, VWCV will introduce pure electric vans such as the ID.Buzz  Cargo to run in parallel to Caddy and Transporter.

“We appreciate that EV won’t work for every customer at the moment, so there needs to be an EV road map for Volkswagen, as we develop a broader portfolio,” said O’Brien.

Future focus
That also means the introduction of additional diesel vans, with Transporter 7 due to make an appearance late this year for a launch in 2022, while the Sportline trim will return to the Transporter line-up in the summer of this year.

“The van sector is still strong,” said O’Brien. “Even in the third lockdown, vans are seeing strong sales. We’re looking forward to building on that.”