13 Nov 20

Athlon launches in UK with promise of 'mobility from years to minutes'

International leasing company Athlon has launched in the UK with the dynamism of a start-up built on the reassuring foundations of a long-established parent.

Part of Netherlands-based leasing and business mobility specialist Athlon, itself owned by Daimler, the UK arm had been trading as Daimler Fleet Management until October, with its fleet finance services delivered by Zenith.

Multi-marque approach

While the new UK name underlines Athlon’s multi-marque approach (Mercedes-Benz cars and commercial vehicles account for about half of its 14,000 vehicles) the rebrand goes much deeper, with the business creating its operation from scratch.

Tricia Wolfe, managing director of Athlon UK, said: “We have developed all our own IT landscape in the UK, with no legacy systems at all. It’s a completely new IT and digital landscape, which is great from a customer’s perspective.”

She naturally looked for best practice models throughout the Athlon network – the company has operations in 11 countries – adopting some in-house systems alongside external out-of-the-box systems.

“For example, we’ve taken Athlon’s international remarketing tool that is used as a common platform across other European countries, which allows them to remarket across borders and direct to end users,” said Wolfe.

International business is key

The international strength of Athlon also offers the UK company a strong prospect base of multi-national fleet clients, “and international business very definitely forms a key part of our future growth strategy,” said Wolfe.

The rebrand also presents an opportunity for Athlon UK to communicate to existing customers and prospects its product range and how it delivers is services. The complex UK fleet market is changing rapidly, with growing interest in mobility services to complement more traditional full service leasing, said Wolfe.

Mobility solutions

“Athlon is very active in mobility solutions across all its other European markets, where they offer some award-winning solutions such as Athlon Flex which includes the ChangeMyCar solution [a highly flexible leasing offer]  and Second Drive [used car leasing for businesses], and the UK will benefit from the experiences of the wider Athlon community,” she said.

“We will look to offer tailored solutions to meet our customers’ needs, for example, through rental and subscription models, and that will make our mobility solutions more flexible. Our ambition is to offer our customers exactly the solution they want."

Wolfe captures the spirit of this vision in the catchy phrase: “Mobility from years to minutes.”

Affordability, flexibility and sustainability

Demand for mobility as a service still lags well behind demand for more traditional cars and vans, but three key themes are emerging in corporate attitudes to fleet - affordability, flexibility and sustainability, she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for both affordability and flexibility, with clients looking to extend lease contracts rather than commit to new ones while they assess their plans for the future. And as business mileages decline due to lockdown measures and video meetings, the mileage element of lease contracts is also likely to fall. Growing demand for pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is also spurring on a more sustainable future and seeing a number of employees who have opted out of company cars looking to opt back in.

“We have seen significant growth in EVs and PHEVs, led by the public sector,” said Wolfe. “The UK now has a strong position in benefit in kind tax for low emission cars for the next three years, and so long as supply and infrastructure can meet demand we expect the growth to continue.”

Athlon is taking an optimistic view of EV residual values, reckoning that battery power will be much more common in three years’ time and that the technology is ideally suited to the second car in most households.

“But it’s obvious that we must have a clear strategy for the second life of EVs so that the used market can support the volumes that the fleet market will generate over the next few years,” added Wolfe.

Daimler family

As part of the wider Daimler family, Athlon has access to the products and insights developed across the group, and the new UK operation has based itself in Milton Keynes, near to the British headquarters of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, and will work closely with its sister company.

“There is a strong relationship, but both companies have specific strengths  and areas of expertise,” said Wolfe. “Athlon is the fleet expert which complements Mercedes-Benz Financial Services’ offering with a suite of products available for the customer’s whole fleet, irrespective of vehicle brand. We also operate in the entire market, rather than just through the retailer network.”

While the combination of Daimler’s mobility expertise and Athlon’s heritage give customers confidence in the new Athlon UK, Wolfe is keen for the new company to have its own culture and energy.

“Athlon UK  has kind of a start-up feel , whereas Mercedes-Benz Financial Services is a very big, established organisation. The cultures are complementary but different,” she said.

Authored by: Jonathan Manning