There is a general perception that Land Rover has been plagued by reliability issues and poor after sales service levels that have done the brand a great disservice. How do you plan on repairing the Land Rover image, particularly with regard to the Freelander and Discovery ranges? And how do you reassure prospective buyers? Several of your existing owners are fiercely loyal, but feel that Land Rover SA's general apathy is hindering the brand's growth.
Some of the quality surveys undertaken relate to older vehicles, those in service for three or more years. It should be noted that these precede both Land Rover's comprehensive new model launch programme and its intensive quality drive.
Our internal quality measures show significant improvement in this area. Our warranty costs have decreased markedly and the number of calls received by our Customer Relationship Centre have dropped significantly.
Huge progress has been made at the Solihull factory to transform it into a world class competitive manufacturing base. Land Rover has a fantastic product line up. We've identified and eliminated the issues of concern to customers and we will continue to focus and drive quality improvements.
How do you explain poor service levels within Land Rover SA?
Land Rover South Africa (LRSA) recognised the fact that they were not able to react speedily enough to customer concerns. This led to a change in our organisational structure and an increase in staff numbers in our Customer Relationship Centre. We are now able to deal with customer issues quickly and efficiently and we have seen a marked decline in the number of calls received from customers.
If we compare the number of vehicles sold in the last five years versus the number of concerns that we deal with, we know that there have been huge improvements and that we are on the right track. Changing perceptions will not happen overnight, but we are convinced that with our focused approach to handling customer issues and the new product we have, the negative perceptions will change.
Are dealer principals and their staff members held accountable for aftersales service at the respective dealerships?
Absolutely. LRSA has implemented a reward and penalty system based on the dealer's customer satisfaction index.
How well equipped are your technical staff, since several readers raised concerns about the apparent lack of training at dealerships. A common concern was that vehicles booked in for a service often spent more time in your workshops than they did in their garages at home and when vehicles were returned the problems are not necessarily resolved. Why would this be the case?
Retaining qualified technicians in dealerships is a common problem encountered by all manufacturers in South Africa. LRSA has recently opened a new technical training facility situated at Route 21 Office Park.
The centre is fully equiped with the latest diagnostic equipment, training tools, engines, transmissions, etc. It compares favourably with any Land Rover training centre worldwide.
We recently sent some of our technicians to the UK for training and some of the UK trainers have come out to South Africa to conduct training courses locally. We are currently working with MERCETA and SAQA to implement an Apprentice Training Programme for 2008.
Why are your parts prices so high and how are these prices determined? How could prices for the same component vary so greatly between agents? Could you consider adjusting your parts policy to make prices more competitive compared with other manufacturers? There are concerns too that the poor parts pricing is exacerbated by poor reliability. What is your response to that?
LRSA is aware of the difference in pricing of some of our parts, reasons being the distribution channel, the range and depth of parts held, the 12 month unlimited warranty that applies to these parts if fitted by a Land Rover dealer, a difference in the manufacturing quality as well as a variance in the tolerance, etc.
We carry approximately 30&NBSP;000 line items at any given time. We have recently launched a remanufactured component campaign and have made significant strides in reducing the cost of these components. Ensuring that our replacement parts are as good as our vehicles does come with a design and engineering cost.
What is the situation with aftermarket modifications? Several local owners have already made changes on their vehicles, citing these adaptations help to make their vehicles more compatible for local conditions even though they run the risk of having their warranties cancelled by Land Rover. What, if any modications, are approved by Land Rover SA and how do you plan on fulfilling the needs of those customers who are not able to find modifications suitable to their needs, on your approved list, particularly for longer cross-border trips?
The fitting of non-approved parts and accessories, or the carrying out of non-approved alterations or conversions, may be dangerous and could affect the safety of the vehicle and occupants, and also invalidate the terms and conditions of the vehicle warranty.
Land Rovers have been designed, built and tested to cope with a variety of off road conditions, some of which can place the severest possible demands on control systems and components.
To augment the vehicles already impressive performance, a comprehensive range of Land Rover approved spare parts and accessories are available, enabling the vehicle to fulfil a wide variety of roles.
Land Rover parts are the only parts built to original equipment specifications and approved by Land Rover designers. This means that every single part and accessory has been rigorously tested by the same engineering team that designed and built the vehicle. It is extremely hazardous to fit or replace parts or accessories - the installation of which requires the dismantling of, or addition to, either the electrical or fuel system.
Is there a standard spares kit available for these longer journeys?
Each journey has different demands and hence it would be difficult to market one specific kit. We would rather advise customers undertaking long journeys to consult their Land Rover dealer or one our Land Rover Experience Centres either of whom will be more than willing to assist the customer in putting together a recommended spares kit.
And regarding your navigation system, are you able to incorporate GPS maps for Africa? The general consensus is that the navigation systems are wonderful for using about town, but wholly inadequate once outside the major cities with whole towns not seeming to exist at all. Is a system upgrade expected soon?
With reference to the navigation systems - these are mapped by NAVTEQ. Last year there was an upgrade to the system and customers can purchase the upgrade through our dealer network. Unfortunately the system does not operate outside of South Africa.
The big question concerning your line-up is whether there are any plans to introduce the TDV8 engine used in the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models to the Discovery 3 line-up. If not, will the TDV6 be upgraded as an alternative? Also, is there any truth to the rumours that the Defender range could be discontinued from 2010?
There are no plans to introduce the TdV8 engine into Discovery.
We confirmed last year that Defender production at Solihull will continue until at least 2010, and that we're reviewing options to extend production even further.