Dubai: If you thought bespoke in the automotive industry only went with luxury and high-performance bands, it's time you had another thought coming your way. Al-Futtaim Motors (AFM) is working on a bespoke solution that would allow new Toyota owners to customise their vehicles to a good extent.
While the programme will not allow owners to request options on engine specifications, there is still a lot that can be offered within the bespoke ambit, according to a senior AFM official.
It would come into play for some of the model launches scheduled for this year. "As we go forward, we will have more of an ability to bespoke cars," said Simon Frith, managing director. "If you can have a volume leader such as Toyota doing bespoking, that's admirable and gives customers a lot more than was there for them earlier."
AFM has commissioned a pre-delivery inspection facility in Jebel Ali for the bespoke-related work. The investments, according to Frith, have been significant.
"We have Toyota Production Systems involved in the facility and what it allows us to do is as the lines of vehicles pass through, we can make the necessary adjustments to give the bespoke feel for what the customer wanted."
And all of this came about from adversity, i.e., the supply constraints AFM faced following the earthquake in Japan last March. "When we did not have enough cars at the right time, we initiated an order process," Frith said.
"Customers could order their vehicles and we would update them at regular intervals on the status. Delivery would take two months on average. It was the first time we went for this.
"Later on what we found from customer feedback was rather than take a model or a colour of vehicle that he is not entirely happy with, if as the dealership we were able to give him an order process, he's prepared to wait.
"What we did not want happening was for the customer to come in and walk away with something that he did not want. We want the customer for life.
"We shared our experiences with Toyota and together we found that's an area we could work on with some of the new products."
AFM has had a good start to the year, in large part driven by the response to the new Camry. "Sales are well above what we expected and the only issue is we are not having enough stocks," Frith added.
While it does not look "dramatically" different from the earlier version, where it scores is on fuel efficiency. Apart from retail sales, that's also getting corporate customers very interested.
"I would say 2012 will be a good year for fleet sales and has the potential to be a bumper," said Frith. "The corporate market is changing — many auto brands used to wait for the corporate customer to come to them. Now we, and some of the others, are reaching out to them to find out what they want.
"We are trying to be a one-stop shop for all their requirements."
Corporate sales make up 50 per cent of AFM's volumes and that's a good enough mix for Frith.
On the individual buyers' side, AFM confirmed it would continue with the Toyota Choices financing programme, introduced last year as a result of the stricter regulations on auto finance.
"We are doing 10 per cent of our finance on short-leases — the build-up [following the launch] was fast, now it's slightly behind but not dramatically so," Frith said.
"As such, we don't think we will ever get it past 20 per cent and I will be very comfortable with that.
"It does provide for affordable motoring by giving customers a two-year contract with flexibility built in on the deposit ranges and the monthly payments. Given what the market faced with the changes in the laws on [auto] finance, it has provided a great opportunity for us to go and tell customers we have an alternative.
"What we hope to do is keep the customer attached to the brand… for life."
RTA testing nearly over
Hybrid taxis in the UAE could soon become a reality.
"We have the Camry on tests with the RTA for the hybrid — these tests are nearing a very successful completion," said Simon Frith of Al Futtaim Motors. "We shall be looking at what's next with hybrid and taxis, but we do see a future for hybrid vehicles in taxi fleets."
Frith intends to keep the Camry anchored firmly as the first choice for local taxi operators. "It's a bit of a flagship — when someone steps out of the Dubai airport and hails a taxi, we want it be a Camry. That's really important and of great value for us.
"We are determined to keep that business."