Jean Thomas, Macadam: “The used car export model is finite”
Macadam started out in 1993 as a small supplier of replacement vehicles to Europ Assistance in Belgium. Today, you're one of the leaders of the vehicle inspection industry in Europe. How did that happen? CEO Jean Thomas explains.
“The replacement vehicle business introduced us to both lease companies and OEMs. We managed short-term rentals for the former, and demonstration cars for the latter. In 2001, D'Ieteren Lease asked us to set up an inspection process for end-of-lease vehicles. That year, we did 2,000 inspections. Last year, we did 275,000. And this year, our target is 365,000 inspections”.
What are your other vital statistics?
“We operate in the Benelux countries, France and Spain. And we work with partnerships in Portugal, Switzerland, Romania and Germany. We employ about 200 directly, and last year generated a turnover of close to €15 million. We've already achieved many objectives in our current five-year plan, and we'll now be concentrating on two things: alternative objects, such as haulage trucks, forklift trucks and other specialised site vehicles; and alternative markets. Because we were so busy expanding on our existing ones, we haven't been able to respond to requests from Italy and the UK to move into those markets yet. But we will soon”.
Who do you work for?
“Mainly for lease companies such as Arval, ALD, GE Capital, Alphabet, Athlon and LeasePlan, because we have a lot of knowledge about inspections for long-term vehicles. And also for manufacturers, including the VW Group, PSA, Mercedes-Benz. We didn't do as much volume for manufacturers, precisely because we did less short-term inspections. But we are making up for that, and progressing swiftly here as well.
The market is very diverse. We'll work with one partner in one or more countries, but not somewhere else. Often because of long-standing, well-integrated partnerships. I always say: We work for everyone, but not everywhere (laughs)”.
And who are your competitors?
“They come in two categories. On the one hand, multinational operations like ourselves. Size-wise, the ranking looks like this: Dekra, then we at Macadam, followed by SGS from Switzerland, the different TÜVs in Germany, and Bureau Veritas. The others are all part of giant corporations. We are the standalone specialist. And then there are local players, like BCA Expertise in France or Belcar in Belgium”.
From your viewpoint, what are the big trends in the industry?
“Three things. Firstly, the push towards internationally organised inspection houses. Lease companies want to be able to guarantee their large clients that all processes, norms and invoicing associated with defleeting will be done in the same way, no matter in which country. Secondly, the growing importance of standardised descriptions of resold cars – so a buyer can know: What I get is what I saw”. And thirdly, lease companies increasingly selling end-of-lease vehicles themselves via specialised outlets, like LeasePlan's Car Sales. The danger for companies like Autorola and CarsOnTheWeb is of course that they will turn from reseller into middle-man”.
What about the medium to long term future for remarketing?
“We're still exporting used cars, but that model is finite. Poland, the Czech Republic and other places that were the end destination for our remarketed vehicles, are increasingly operating as resellers themselves, to places further east. That has to end somewhere. On top of that: the sophisticated technology in many cars is making it impossible to export them to faraway places like Kazakhstan, where they can't be serviced. So I think the market will find ways to use social media and communities to remarket vehicles to friends and followers in the future...”
Do you perceive major differences in remarketing passenger cars and LCVs?
“There's a huge challenge with vehicle inspection norms. The current ones are perfectly alright for passenger cars, but it's not always realistic to apply them to LCVs as well – as is the case today. A van is a workhorse. Dents and scratches and other forms of wear and tear are acceptable to a higher degree than with cars. Buyers of second-hand LCVs know and accept this.
If the norms were applied as strictly as for cars, it would be a bloodbath. lessees would lose thousands of euros on each LCV. So there is a degree of leeway. But the discrepancy with the official norm remains... uncomfortable. Which is why we're noticing a movement – all across Europe, at the request of multinationals with large fleets – towards separate norms for LCVs”.