Farewell interview Willem Trip (Pon): ‘Because of dieselgate, the culture in Wolfsburg is more open’

Willem Trip becomes director and shareholder in several Pon dealer companies

interview • Willem Trip has been the most responsible person at Pon Automotive for the last eight years. For AM, he looks back at a turbulent period (where Volkswagen’s number one position had to be abandoned at the last minute) and looks forward to his new job. – I think it is an exciting step.
After an almost forty-year career at Pon, Trip (60) is now starting his last trick as dealer director at Pon Dealer and Muntstad. [Beeld: Pon]

After an almost forty-year career at Pon, Trip (60) is now starting his last trick. In a few weeks, the ‘last chapter’ of Willem Trip’s career will start. After eight tropical years as senior vice president Automotive (read: person with ultimate responsibility), Trip becomes director and shareholder of Pon Dealer and the Muntstad companies in the Utrecht/Amersfoort region. Even for an experienced manager like Trip, it is a special but also exciting step, he says in an interview with AM. Why this choice? “At Pon, we are in the process of a rejuvenation treatment, and then you look bad if you let a 60-year-old sit as the person with the ultimate responsibility. I now go to a job that I really like. At the same time, this new feature gives me a certain degree of control over my own agenda. There is more to life than just working day and night.”

Register correctly

Trip has worked in the Pon import organization for the past twenty years. Can an importer become a dealer? “Between 1998 and 2004 I was responsible for A-Point, which we just bought back from an investor. There I was able to put into practice much of what I learned as dealer support and later as a district manager. You have to record very well where it is going well and where it is not, and then stay on top of it. I have always been close to our dealers. Compared to my previous period, an incredible amount has changed and the dealers have changed with it. The dealers are solid and very professional. Being a part of it is both fun and exciting. I will simply do my very best to make a success of my latest trick, at least in a business sense.”

To enjoy

From temp to big boss in the Automotive division. Willem Trip’s career at Pon is a classic success story, the last chapter of which has not yet been written. On 1 October 1985, Trip came to Pon as a substitute, he says. Exactly one month later he was hired. “I started as a dealer sales support. Receives orders from the then 254 active Volkswagen dealers. I learned a lot there and I still say: you can make any career from sales support. I enjoyed the commercial approach of the sellers. Who then called me and asked how many Golfers were left in a certain version. “260 more”, I would reply, after which such a salesperson, in front of the customer, would reply with: “Are you serious? Is this really the last golf you have?”

Diesel port

In 2014, Trip, who was then a director at Volkswagen Holland, was appointed senior vice president of the Automotive division. About a year later, dieselgate broke out. “The first months were terrible. The uncertainty was great, we didn’t know if we would still have a manufacturer a week later. Every day started with an update on the state of affairs at Volkswagen. At that time we sought a lot of contact with Wolfsburg, we wanted to check the temperature permanently because new facts emerged every day. My role was to lead the crisis team and make sure our traders stayed on track. We wanted to provide as much information as possible, but it was difficult to verify the data. And what made it even more difficult was that we feared it could become even bigger. We just didn’t know it at the time. Fortunately, it never happened. We were able to quickly focus on finishing our customers.”

The dealers are right. I am proud of that

Culture change

Every disadvantage has its advantage, Trip also noted. Because dieselgate caused a radical culture change at the manufacturer. “When I started in 2014, we already saw big changes hanging over the market, such as electrification. We wanted to get started with electric driving much faster than the manufacturer, they found us difficult on that point. Dieselgate has not only given the EV strategy a huge boost, the culture in Wolfsburg has also become much more open since then. We notice that stakeholders like Pon are listened to much better. We are now working very intensively with the manufacturer, for example with the acquisition of Europcar, with the development of bicycles or with the roll-out of mobility products. It is not a direct consequence of dieselgate. But because of the culture change, VW is much more open to collaboration.”

Do more

Electrification is progressing at an unprecedented pace, but the impact is still limited. “It is evolution, not revolution. But from the day we deliver 100 percent electric, it will be eighteen more years until the last fuel car leaves the workshop. This allows us to bring the organization in line with the new situation now. The demand for maintenance is decreasing enormously, which is a big problem. But an electric car is more complicated. Electric cars are also much more connected, which means that the dealer’s share of maintenance becomes much larger. At the same time, we can do much more with the car than before, from short leases for private leasing and rental. These mobility concepts are under development.”

The retail game can only be played one way and that is for the factory, us and dealers to share the data

But that the cost structure for dealers onlydrive – and import organization – must go down permanently, has been clear to Trip for years. With a gentle yet persuasive hand, the dealer organization has been further reduced and the number of showrooms has decreased. The relationship between dealers and importers and especially VWPFS (which bought many dealer leasing portfolios) is closer than it has ever been. “I am very happy that we have not lost any dealers along the way that we did not want to lose. The dealers are doing well and have been financially strong in recent yearsperformed. I am proud of that.”

The internal organization at Pon is also incomparable to 2014. “We were a rigid, old company, and now we have a young, fresh organization. Dieselgate gave us experience with crisis situations, and it became clear that we must be able to react quickly to developments from small teams. At the beginning of the pandemic, we quickly switched back to working in small (crisis) teams, which primarily operated digitally. I’ve only been sick to my stomach when we had over ten thousand cars ready for delivery in December ’21 and we went back into lockup. But on January 10, they were all delivered.”

Third Great Crisis

We are now in the middle of the third major crisis (supply problems and inflation) and we are storming into the fourth (recession). “We anticipate that it will take some time before all delivery problems are resolved. We will not be able to deliver in full next year, but a balance may arise in 2024, partly due to a recession. With dieselgate we didn’t know the outcome, now we don’t know when it will end, that’s the difference.” The results from dealers, importers and manufacturers show that shortages are not necessarily be bad for profitability. “But it is not good for the growth of the electric car share across the entire fleet. The commitments from the government regarding the use of electric cars collide with the current reality.”

Trip doesn’t believe in the retail structure of brands like Tesla and Polestar. “We are moving to a hybrid model.” [Beeld: Pon]

Price guarantee

It’s annoying to deal with price increases at the factory, but nothing special in this day and age. “We changed quickly and dropped the price guarantee, among other things. We no longer guarantee anything.” Business customers complained that Pon (and other importers) demanded a blank check without security of supply. Trip does not recognize that image. “We are as transparent as possible, customers have reasonable cancellation options. There is also real understanding in the business market . It’s more difficult with the private customer. They don’t quite understand why the price is raised so drastically.”

We must prepare for a difficult economic period

Trip states that under the influence of a recession, supply and demand will reconnect more quickly. “I’m not an economist, but I see that the number of orders is falling. Demand is falling, and so I conclude that we must prepare for a difficult economic period. Because deliveries are on the mend again and the market can clear the large backlog next year, you will see a growth in the number of registrations. This creates the special situation that the media will report that car sales are increasing at the same time as orders are falling.”

Divide by three

In addition to external crises that drive change, technological development also creates unrest in the industry. Most emphasis is placed on the fight for data and for contact with the customer. When it comes to this fight, Trip is very calm. “In the future, everyone will be in contact with the customer, but the customer ultimately decides for himself. The game can only be played one way and that is the factory, us and dealers sharing the data. Because it is in the interest of all sixty that the informationdetermination consistently at all touch points is. Only three percent of all possible orders can be ordered online, the rest actually all require physical contact. For a lamp that is on or a light unit that needs to be replaced, the customer goes to the dealer. No matter what the manufacturer comes up with, the dealer always gets his role.”

We’re losing number one this year

Where Pon built driver apps years ago, these have recently been replaced by factory apps. But they also fall short (says the author from personal experience). “We are now building a combined Pon/VW app, where all interactions between the three parties are collected and the data is always available. Our goal is for this to become the driver’s app of choice.” Trip is also resolute when it comes to retail models. He doesn’t believe in the retail structure of brands like Tesla and Polestar. “We are moving to a hybrid model where direct sales are given a place in addition to traditional sales.” An example of this is the Cupra. “Cupra gives us the opportunity to try things out on a small scale. We are trying to build an omnichannel model where we also play the role of ‘Pathfinder’ for the manufacturer. In the near future, we will also place the Cupra at our dealers.”

Startups

Apart from the enormous amount of changes due to external factors, Pon himself has not been sitting still. A large number of (mobility) start-ups were launched in the past decade. The company has started to think much more conceptually. “A few initiatives have failed, others are solid. Shuttel is a good example of this. That’s the great thing about a family business, you can take those risks. And you don’t have to be the very best, it’s about working best together and being able to adapt quickly. The board is very close to us, spars with us, but also gives us space to run our business. It makes us strong now. And from my point of view, two things are always dominant: How is the relationship with the dealers and how is the relationship with the manufacturer. There are currently no serious discussions with the dealers and we are closer to the manufacturer than ever. I definitely distance myself with confidence.”

Are there any disadvantages he would like to mention? “Yes, we are losing number one with Volkswagen this year despite a great order book. The disrupted supply chain is really playing tricks on us here. Of course, I would have preferred to see it differently in this farewell year.”

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