While networking with companies from larger markets such as Brazil and Mexico are the main focus for most in Latin America, one must not forget that the region has some 28 countries and many of which with key players on the lookout for expansion.
Last week, I spoke with Maurice Brahim who is the managing director of Fernandes Autohandel, a Suriname-based fleet management and vehicle leasing company which offers automobile financing, leasing and other mobility services. Join in on this one-on-one with the executive as we talk about the company's services, its fleet profile, and whether or not buying or leasing is better.
Could you first start by explaining the key products and services Fernandes Automotive provides in terms of vehicle acquisition and fleet management?
MB: Fernandes Autohandel NV provides several financial solutions and services for acquiring vehicles, among them being direct financing, bank loans, operational and financial leasing for B2B customers, and financial or private leasing for B2C customers.
We also provide vehicle trade-in services, 24/7 road-side assistance, a service center shop open from 6:30am-12:30am, and replacement car services. In terms of fleet management, our service includes on-site (customer location) vehicle service and inspection and a maintenance agreement which tracks maintenance and fleet costs and provides customers with alternative solutions (cost wise or working method).
And what is the coverage area of the company and do you see expansion opportunities?
MB: We provide services in Suriname and Guyana and expansion will depend on the opportunities that arise. Currently, we are eying Aruba.
What car models are in your fleet?
MB: Fernandes Autohandel NV is the official distributor of Isuzu, Honda, Subaru and Volkswagen commercial vehicles, and the models from these brands make up the majority of our 600 unit lease portfolio.
As for the break down: 75% are pick-ups (Isuzu D-Max and Volkswagen Amarok); 14% large, medium and small sized SUV’s (Isuzu MU-X, Honda CR-V, Honda HR-V, Subaru XV and Subaru Forester); 8% sedan & hatchback passenger vehicles (Honda City, Honda Fit and Subaru Impreza); 3% trucks and panelvans (VW Caddy, VW Transporter and Isuzu trucks).
2019 Volkswagen Amarok (source: Commons) Is it better to buy or lease a car, and why?
MB: Answering this question depends upon several factors, among them being the economic situation of the country, and the interest rates and cash flow situation of customers and businesses. Considering the recent economic scenario in our coverage area in which growth is very low, the best option right now is to lease.
And for this reason, in March of 2017, we introduced our private lease option which has been very successful. Instead of paying the full purchase value of a vehicle through monthly installments, leasing offers the possibility to only pay for the use (purchase value – residual value) of the vehicle through monthly installments.
Purchasing is also an option but it is mainly done by those who have a lot of cash on hand to avoid today's high interest rate of 10%. Although this interest is also calculated into leasing prices, customers favor leasing in the face of Surinam's current economic situation. What customers want is to plan their expenditures in one monthly fee with no unforeseen costs or headaches.
Besides giving them the convenience of a one stop store which includes maintenance, insurance costs, damage repair, road side assistance, and a replacement car when needed, it gives them a chance to reserve their bank credit for investments in their core business.
In the end, the buy or lease question depends a lot on the customer's budget. Our strength as an automotive company lies in offering the customer a customized solution that fits in with their budget.
What is Fernandes Automotive's main goal in 2019 and how do you intend to achieve it?
MB: We want to increase customer satisfaction by improving the customer experience when visiting us or using our services. By striving for operational excellence, investing in information and communication technologies and the right people, we will be able to reach this goal sooner. It is the culmination of these things which should lead to greater customer loyalty.