Philippe Dehennin (FEBIAC): ‘the friendly neighbouring dealer is not dead yet’
Since June 2017 the Belgian Association of Car Manufacturers and Importers (Febiac) has a new president. Phillippe Dehennin left BMW in 2016 and is now the head of what is commonly known as the “car lobby” in Belgium. He is convinced mobility will evolve to multi-modal and inter-modal, but that doesn’t mean that the car will disappear. Neither will the dealerships. An interview.
The whole professional career of Phillippe Dehennin was about cars. He started as sales responsible at Inchcape (then and now importer of Toyota/Lexus in Belgium) and in 1987 he went to BMW, first as sales director of the Belgian importer, from 2001 as CEO.
In 2009 he moved to France, to lead importership there and the last step in his BMW-career (from 2012 till 2016) was being CEO of the Swiss BMW importer. Ever since he prepared himself to be the successor of Thierry van Kan, former president of Febiac.
You arrive at Febiac in stormy weather. Dieselgate and other scandals have made that the car industry as a whole is under heavy fire. Does that bother or frighten you?
Philippe Dehennin: “I had the chance to learn the new job during one whole year before actually taking over, I’ve studied and learned a lot during that period. Concerning Dieselgate, it is obvious that I have to defend my members, but the societal stakeholders are as important to me.
At this time it would be completely ridiculous to ignore the problems, my aim is to be a trustful go-between and to be a bigger aid in the search for durable solutions regarding our mobile future.
Do you have any idea how Dieselgate could happen, how the system went completely wrong?
P.D.: “Truth is always asking for nuances. So I’d liked to stress that the car industry as a whole is always searching to fulfill requirements, to obey regulations. One of the mistakes has been that (at least in Europe) too much emphasis has been laid on C02-emissions and not enough on N0x.
I’m sure the German car industry will in the end come with an equitable solution, Corporate Social Responsibility is not a vain word in Germany.”
But isn’t it time to get rid of this polluting diesel technology?
P.D.:”The European car industry is still very diesel oriented. Big and sudden changes in that policy might cost a lot of jobs. Furthermore, the energy companies don’t have a clear and defined solution for the future, creating uncertainty with the car manufacturers.
Which are the solutions to go for? Once again Belgium is falling behind when it comes to creating a new infrastructure for alternative means of transport and energy usage. Flanders may be a little bit more progressive in this, but the plan to put (only) 100 charging points in the whole city of Brussels is of course ridiculous. That’s not how we can solve the future societal needs for transport and mobility.”
Isn’t the fight for ICE-technology and the car as a whole a lost cause?
P.D.:“We are sure that mobility will evolve to multi-modal and inter-modal, but that doesn’t mean that the car will disappear. For a majority of people and mobility needs, it still is the most flexible and comfortable way.
The growing traffic problems can partially be countered by the autonomous/connected car, but that doesn’t mean that other measures aren’t necessary. I think for example that this is the right time to really promote teleworking on all possible levels.
The real debate is not between car or bicycle/public transport, the real solution is car and bike/public transport. I don’t think that the consumer will benefit from “fundamentalistic” choices in one or the other direction.”
And now for something completely different. The Belgian car market the last years reacted really in an atypical way, certainly compared to its neighbours. What’s the reason and how do you see the evolution?
P.D.:”Our national planning office (Planbureau) is still projecting an increase of car use by 18% before 2030, the Belgian consumer is still in high need of (better) mobility. The need to invest in infrastructure is very high and urgent, but that’s only one part of the equation.
If we don’t invest in a sort of overseeing digital mobility structure, we are going to get stuck completely in this small country. Taken into account that products also become more complex and sophisticated, the current dealer structures will have to adapt but there’s surely still a large amount of work for them to do.”
Will this dealer still be necessary? Won’t car buyers do their purchase online, will mobility seekers not simply share cars when necessary or go for other means of transport?
P.D.:”In the future cars will be at the centre of a digital ecosystem and it’s the aim of the customer to be perfectly informed about this. Even me, as a car guy, I’m confronted with the abundance of information and possibilities on the net, there are for example so many possible car configurations that also the “specialist” needs help.
The “friendly neighbouring dealer” is not dead yet, but he has to work on new competences of all sorts.
That asks for other skills than maintenance issues (which will probably diminish), that’s why Febiac is joining hands with Traxio to emphasize the importance of good schooling. In that perspective it is of utmost importance that the social appreciation of these kinds of consultancy jobs is rising.”
And what about car sharing? Isn’t that a big threat for car selling?
P.D. “If the success of shared cars is increasing, the rotation of cars will be accelerated, so I don’t see them as a threat but more as an opportunity. Here also this is not an or-story but probably an and-story.
But dealers will have to invest (rapidly and heavily) in new competences for their people. Sales advisors are nowadays good in their technical understanding and their analysis of customer needs, but they surely still have to learn on the emotional side. Passion and design will still be important motivators in the car buying process and we have to keep it that way.”