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MT Dealer Insight: LSH Auto

LSH Auto has opened a new BYD showroom in Stockport after earlier this year being named as one of the first in the UK to partner with the Chinese EV brand. Launching with the Atto 3 model, the brand is set to add the Dolphin to its UK line-up later this summer.

Vaughan Blackman, former LSH Australia general manager, was drafted into the UK as managing director at LSH Auto UK in early 2023 as the group prepared for Mercedes-Benz’s introduction of agency model. Blackman has experience of the model having been part of its implementation at LSH Australia.

As the group takes on a new brand to the UK, Motor Trader spoke to Blackman on the launch, the EV experience, and the move to agency with Mercedes-Benz.

So, how has the launch of the LSH Auto BYD showroom gone? Positively, said Blackman. He added: “We’ve been in the launch phase for a little while, completing the showroom, getting the elements in, and getting things ready and rolling. We’ve sold a handful of vehicles now. With BYD being a new brand in the UK, I think there’s still an awareness that needs to grow in the marketplace. And it is down to us and the brand working together to increase awareness. But there are positive signs from customers.”

BYD was the fastest growing OEM in 2022 according to the latest figures from Jato Dynamics.The Chinese brand followed Tesla as the world’s second best-selling BEV manufacturer, with a volume increase of 184%, to more than 911,000 units in 2022. According to Jato Dynamics it was able to gain 1.5 points of the global market share due to its strong offering across all mainstream segments and competitive EV line-up.

So, how has it been to work with the growing brand? Blackman was complimentary of the EV manufacturer, highlighting its background in tech and the commercial side of the business. He said: “BYD’s commitment to not just selling vehicles, but also instilling its mission in potential consumers, is a testament to its ambitions. Rooted in its origins as a tech company with a strong footprint in battery technology and commercial product space, BYD has an holistic vision of positive planetary impact. It offers a comprehensive EV package, from battery storage and charging solutions to relentless technical and sales training, which we will continuously enhance.

“We are part of a wider group, and we have the brand in Germany. Our association with BYD, underpinned by its robust infrastructure and financial stability, assures us of a promising future with a steadfast long-term manufacturer.”

Being an EV only brand helps BYD stand out in the UK, with few manufacturers going the same way. But, LSH has plenty of experience with EVs through the Mercedes-Benz EQ brand and the all-electric smart brand. On this, Blackman said: “We are already familiar with EVs because we’ve got Mercedes-Benz with the EQ brand. So that probably got us well prepared and we’re very familiar with the EV process, and consumer discussions around range performance and electricity usage.

“There are a lot more questions to answer that the team must deal with. People know how to live with an ICE vehicle. Many haven’t yet lived with an EV, but that’s changing. We’re now seeing the second generation of EV purchases starting to come through showrooms, even sometimes third generation.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that the future is EV. I think for a sustained period we’re going to see a big shift to EV.”

Blackman added that there is a split in EV customers, with those who know how they work and fit in with their lives, and those who are coming to EV for the first time. He said: “For customers that have had an EV before, they know the drill and they’ve probably refined their wish list a little more. So, they’re already in tune with the range and they’ve refined that usage and are going through the process faster. A new EV customer is much more concerned about, how do I charge? Where do I charge? What’s my range? What happens if I’m stuck?

“Nationally I think there is still work to be done on infrastructure. For higher milage users it is a challenge but for a large portion of people who live in urban areas, the range of all of our EVs (BYD, smart and Mercedes-Benz EQ) is more than 200 miles, which is ample. There’ll be some that need more so I think there’s still a way to go with infrastructure.”

New to the market

LSH Auto is mostly known for its representation of premium brand Mercedes, so where does BYD sit in its portfolio? Blackman said: “If Mercedes-Benz is your premium market segment, BYD is going in at a more entry level point. At the present we’ve launched with the Atto 3 and that’s at around £36- 38,000 depending on which version you get. The next model to launch will be the Dolphin, which will cost a bit less.”

On the incoming Chinese brands to the UK, Blackman reflected on the trends that have come before with different brands from various countries making their way to the UK market.

He added: “Consumers are spoilt for choice these days. I think in automotive it has been interesting. We’ve seen the regional trends. We saw the rise of the Japanese automaker you know after the legacy English/European/American automakers. Next, we saw the Korean brands like Kia and Hyundai, and now we’re seeing the Chinese EV brands coming through. I think the modern buyer of EVs will be less brand focused, and more concerned with what is on offer.

“I think that consumer’s needs are changing, and it can become a real tech race and a competition as to who’s going to have the best EV offering. I think it does create competition. I think that consumers will ultimately benefit.”

Shifting mindset

The introduction of BYD is not the only change at LSH Auto. Being a Mercedes-Benz retailer, it has been going through the implementation of the agency model this year. Blackman, who is familiar with this process was positive about the way that the brand has handled the transition with dealers.

He said: “I think the shift required from an agency and brand point of view is in some ways significant and some ways not. I think in the UK, as a distributor and a brand in the market, Mercedes-Benz has handled it exceptionally well in how it is responding to changing needs as the model rolls out.

I think Mercedes-Benz has made some very quick and positive adjustments to make sure there is a great customer experience, that it is workable for the agents and good for the brand long term. So, from our side, absolutely no issues.

“I think that agency is a nicer experience for customers. I truly believe that. Gone are the days of the haggling over price for a car. I think it conflicts with a premium brand. We advertise a fair market price for the car that represents good value, and then we don’t negotiate I think it is what consumers want.

“I arrived in February, one month on from agency, and I think part of the reason was my agency experience. I think that it does require a mindset shift in the business to continue to evolve. And I think looking forward we need an approach that is willing to change with the evolving market.”

And finally, what does the remainder of 2023 look like for LSH Auto? Blackman spoke of expansion and pushing the used car offering.

He concluded: “We continue with our BYD launch and then we have plans in the future to launch additional sites. And we continue to grow our Mercedes-Benz businesses.

“We’ve got some planned facility upgrades for one of our sites in Tamworth. Aside from that we’re focusing on used cars, aftersales and our customer offerings.”

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