EV Leaders: John O’Hanlon, CEO, Waylands Group

We caught up with John O’Hanlon, the CEO of Waylands Automotive since 2017. Waylands is a family-owned car dealership with locations in Bristol, Newbury, Oxford, Reading, and Swindon.

The group specialises in Volvo, Kia, and MG. As the three-time consecutive winner of the AM Award Dealer Group of the Year in 2022, and a finalist for the upcoming Motor Trader Awards, Waylands is a distinguished dealership with an eye on the future.

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You head up a major dealership group, and were an early champion of EVs. What led you to be such a pioneering CEO in this dealership sector?

I truly believe all businesses have a responsibility to be part of the solution to the key challenge of sustainability.  As a major carbon emitter, the transport sector, as a whole, is key to working towards the targets set to reduce global warming. 

Before commencing Waylands, I was able to take time to review where the sector was and have some proper thinking towards where it was going.  I became convinced that by establishing partnerships with the right brands, who also shared my view that EV was the future, would be fundamental to my new group.

My previous business had been built on the growth of German premium brands.  I was convinced that we were entering a new dynamic, and that was electrification and a growing understanding of the role that the motor industry could play in the sustainability agenda.

We understood that Volvo was a leading influencer in the sector, and to this day remain at the forefront of decarbonising their vehicles.  They were quick to commit to moving to an electric future. 

But Volvo only offered product in certain segments of the market so we looked further afield for a volume brand in Kia, an affordable brand in MG and latterly of course a pure electric sporty SUV brand in Polestar.  The key was looking at the real investments which were being made by each brand in pipeline, and I’m pleased to now be seeing that come through across all marques.   

I also committed to working with the National Franchise Dealer Association’s (NFDA) Electric Vehicle Group as chairman, to ensure that motor retailers are fully aware of the key developments and challenges that the sectors faces from electrification.

Aside from products, adapting our business was a key priority. Training and investments across both sales and aftersales have been fundamental in preparing, both technical knowledge to repair but also being ahead of our customer’s discovery into what could be a big change in motoring for them.

The group’s culture needs to understand and fully embrace the journey towards electrification.  We need to be ambassadors for the journey, and help customers understand how EVs can work for them in terms of cost of ownership, emissions and driving satisfaction.  One of the important milestones for Waylands was achieving NFDA EVA accreditation.  This is an independent audit of every part of the business, ensuring  the knowledge and resources are in place to meet future electric driver’s needs.

What EV do you drive and why?

The benefit of representing the leading brands in this sector of the market is that I am lucky enough to have an EV choice with all of them!

I have driven every EV we have and maintain the belief we are with the best partners.

Lately, I have spent a lot of time in the Kia EV6 and having just received the new EV9, I have been hugely impressed with the steps Kia are making in this space, both in technical terms and “premium” status.

Looking forward, I am very excited about the latest launches of Volvo’s EX30 (the fastest Volvo ever), the all new Polestars 3 and 4 (some of the most sustainable cars ever produced) and the MG Cyberster…a two seater sports car that I was lucky enough to drive in Shanghai late last year…..it’s a winner!

Waylands works with some real leaders in the EV OEM space: MG, Volvo and Kia. What have you learnt about the EV transition from working closely with them?

…And Polestar!

A complete focus on understanding why electric vehicles are a fundamental part of our future.  The brands need to deliver a practical and affordable solution for all our customers (and not just the heavily subsidised company car drivers).  With battery technology allowing “charge confidence” and speed of charging we are moving forward quickly.  And with our brands we have compelling pricing that really begins to make the cost of ownership calculation more favourable for the EVs.

What binds every brand is the common theme of a customers’ discovery process for what owning an EV means for them; for many being their first EV adoption. Clarity of the technical specs of each product has been under even more scrutiny than ever before and working with the Brands and their training programmes has been pivotal.

Dealerships and, specifically, salespeople, have had some criticism for not fully getting behind the EV transition. Why is that and how can that be addressed?

This is the single biggest change to the automotive world in a generation so resistance would always be expected from some.

These cars are incredibly technically sophisticated and teething issues have been faced by Brand around software, as we make genuine leap forward on the tech in these cars. 

That said amongst our partnerships and peers I see, almost every business is working hard on adopting change and aware of the innovations they need to make.

Unfortunately, this can take time but failure to innovate for the future will be damaging and potentially fatal.

With ZEV arriving this year however, increasing price competitiveness of EV products through contribution and finance offers will remove some of this challenge on pricing.  We are already seeing less of the software issues as brand understand and implement more of the new software into our products.

Do you think dealerships can be spaces for sales of a wider suite of EV and sustainability products and services, from EV chargers to battery storage and on to other products like smart meters, solar and heat pumps?

In the short to medium term our challenge is selling the car and doing it in a way that bring the consumer on the journey.

However necessary and complimenting products such as chargers are available from showrooms today and we have partners we work with in this space. We work with Ohme on charges and Zoom EV on other services (such as discounted chargers and parking).

All of which make sense, have a real need by the customer, and I think that will continue.

As we move forward, and in an industry continuing to be challenged on returns and maximising use of physical dealership space, it would make sense to help build the infrastructure that helps reduce emissions.

Where do you see the EV marketplace by 2030, particularly from a dealership perspective and bearing in mind the ZEV mandate of 80% of new car sales needing to be EV?

Mainstream! We are on that journey today and believe we will see EV as the “norm” increasingly so over the next few years. As more customers enjoy EVs and find them practical and cheaper solutions to their transport needs, their will be less detractors and less bad news stories in the press. 

We must remember this is legislation driven as well, and the volume of new entrants and products over the next couple of years will be extensive.  Many of these brands will be new to us.  Some will flourish but many will fail.  I am convinced that we are well placed with our brands.

What is a crucial factor that is not often discussed, is the rate of battery and technological developments throughout this time which will overcome even the most adamant ICE drivers, but also help with that cost barrier for some that exists today.  

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