Who is… Swift
Think motorhomes and caravans in the UK and Swift will not be far from anyone’s thoughts.
It has been producing leisure vehicles for 52 years and has been building motorhomes for 32 of those. Today, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has had an unexpected benefit on the leisure vehicle industry.
“Despite the bizarre year we’ve all just experienced, the British leisure vehicle market is going from strength to strength, both for new and used motorhomes,” explains Nick Page, Swift’s Commercial Director, reflecting on the events of 2020 and the opening few months of 2021.
“It’s actually a really exciting period, with the booming popularity of the great British staycation introducing us to a more diverse audience, including younger demographics who are now encountering the versatility and freedom of motorhoming for the first time.”
New motorhome and campervan buyers
This huge interest from newcomers to motorhomes and campervans is evidenced by the fact that there are far fewer part-exchanges when they come to buy. This of course has had a huge impact on the market with far fewer new models for sale as these are being bought at high levels and far fewer used models to filter down due to the lack of traded-in models.
This drop in availability was further impacted by the enforced shutdown of the factories last spring and summer. “As a result of closing production for much of 2020, we manufactured approximately 65% of our overall volume last year. We expect to see a significant increase in production in the coming season,” confirms Nick.
All the manufacturers are now producing again and feeding the demand for dealers – and their customers – for new models.
“We expect this influx of first-timers to continue alongside the growing popularity of UK staycations… The increased popularity may indeed mean that some campsites book up, but there are superb opportunities right now for dealers and park operators to enhance their infrastructure,” says Nick.
“For example, the UK Chancellor’s recently announced super-deduction allowance will support these companies in investing in their facilities, helping them meet these evolved requirements and keep this new audience engaged in the future, and we are already aware of numerous companies making investments as well as some new sites being developed as campsites.”
While sales last year of new motorhomes and campervans did not hit the record levels that were predicted at the start of 2020, there is little doubt that they would have if the lockdowns had been shorter and UK production had restarted earlier.
But what manufacturers have learned is that predicting is not a science, although there is still optimism that we will soon reach that milestone of 20,000 annual sales of new motorhomes – currently there are around 13,500 new models being sold each year.
“I think we have all learned from the pandemic and Brexit that forecasting is a futile endeavour, with countless curveballs blowing any projections,” said Nick. “That said, 20,000 is a very achievable target if the industry succeeds in leveraging this amazing opportunity to welcome a wider audience to the leisure vehicle lifestyle, and we’ll only have ourselves to blame if we miss out on this.”
So what are all these newcomers buying – is it the traditional coachbuilt or the smaller, more manoeuvrable and arguably more practical campervans that are continuing to steal the buyers’ hearts?
“We have seen a good increase in sales across the board, but the recent inpouring of new customers has driven a particular boost in entry-level motorhomes and van conversions,” confirms Nick.
“Again, if we can capture these first-timers and convert them into lifelong advocates, we expect to see a subsequent move toward the larger, more luxurious models later down the line.”
As many buyers will have seen over the last few months, the shortage in models for sale at dealers is noticeable. Rarely have we been in such a situation before when demand is so outstripping supply. There is another issue that is also adding to the problem and that is the difficulty manufacturers are having in their supply chains. As a result, sales this year, which really should be at record levels, will be tempered by the shortage of new models hitting the showrooms.
“Sales for 2021 are on track to be healthy, but will be shaped by product availability in the market and there has certainly been some challenges for all manufacturers from the leisure vehicle supply chain that will create a shortage of product for the current season… Like most businesses in the current climate, our ability to react is to a large extent governed by our suppliers who themselves have experienced raw material shortages and challenges around labour due to the pandemic,” confirms Nick.
“Demand is always tricky to judge, but never more so than this season in light of the pandemic. With no physical shows for the past year and dealer forecourts closed to the public for a number of months, the usual sales patterns have been completely disrupted, so the industry is in uncharted territory.”
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Campervans from Swift?
One area that Swift is not yet present in – and one which has seen a phenomenal growth – is the campervan market. While it makes larger van conversions, which are particularly successful, it has, as yet, not entered the smaller campervan arena. “We are not currently in the campervan market, it is a very crowded space with lots of small converters, a large proportion of which are unregulated, which concerns us,” says Nick. “We are, however, looking very carefully at our options for entering the market.”
So while Swift will not release any details of what is in the development pipeline for launch later this year, we can expect a campervan to complement the rest of its van conversion and motorhome portfolio.
But when pressed for more details, Nick’s answer says it all, “That’s top secret! All new-season developments are kept strictly under wraps until the launch, but watch this space as we have some particularly exciting updates to share this year which we have been working on for a long time and these developments will be a real game changer for Swift and our dealer network.”
Welcome to the Swift family
As alluded to, there has been no specific Swift model or range that has attracted the majority of buyers this year. This may well have something to do with the huge number of new buyers now enjoying the motorhome lifestyle.
“We have noticed, particularly during the last 12 months, many new entrants, younger people, younger families and people who have never considered a leisure vehicle before, entering the market and choosing Swift,” explains Nick.
“Each customer has their own individual requirements and tastes, so the challenge is to understand and adapt to these. Our ranges are designed to offer appeal to as diverse an audience as possible, from first-time buyers through to the seasoned pros, from entry-level models to the most luxurious. Everyone is unique, and we work hard to meet as many needs as possible.”
What Swift offers with its designs is not just a leisure vehicle but it also that indescribable feeling that comes with holidays and adventures. “We’re driven by the idea that there’s no better feeling than stepping into your leisure vehicle for a relaxing getaway, and direct all of our efforts to this end,” says Nick, who also states that it is not just about attracting those newcomers, it is about keeping them in the Swift family. “Swift customers stay with us for generations because of the trust with which our brand is associated.”
And these customers, especially the many newcomers to motorhoming, are often unaware of the major advances in construction and technology that now come as standard on new models. “We’re finding that newcomers are pleasantly surprised by what contemporary motorhomes and campervans have to offer,” explains Nick.
“We’re making huge strides in dispelling misconceptions about the touring lifestyle, with people delighted to discover our products’ style, comfort and equipment, as well as their suitability for larger families.”
And it is not just the new models that are attracting buyers – it is the lifestyle that comes with the purchase. “As well as a welcoming environment, newcomers are blown away by the freedom, versatility and independence offered by leisure vehicles, from the ability to spontaneously choose your destinations, to the ‘hotel on wheels’ feel,” says Nick.
“And, while it’s straightforward to travel to the Continent in a leisure vehicle, we also like to emphasise to our customers how perfect motorhomes are for discovering the incredible destinations and attractions right here on our doorstep, replacing the hassle of international flights with fun and relaxation.”
Where to buy Swift motorhomes and campervans
As you’d expect from the UK’s largest leisure vehicle manufacturer, Swift has a huge network of dealers – over 45 franchised retailers throughout the nations of the UK. This is at the correct level, says Nick. Indeed, with the current undersupply situation, there is no appetite to appoint more dealers.
“We have no plans to expand our network as we have a great national coverage. We are also aware that demand is ahead of supply so we see no reason to dilute our dealer supply over the next few seasons,” he explains.
Swift is also working with its dealers to improve the service they offer. “We are concentrating hard to improve the service our dealers provide through the medium of the Swift Academy, by enhancing customer experience with dealer training based around skills and knowledge, with online training being provided and, when it is safe to do so, we will be inviting our dealer colleagues back to the Swift Academy Technical Training Centre,” he says.
The story of Swift Live
Even with the challenges and the unknown situation it faces, Swift launched one of the most innovative marketing projects of the last 12 months. Its digital show - Swift Live, which was extended due to its popularity – has attracted tens of thousands of visitors. What makes it stand out is that it is entirely digital with visitors viewing, discussing and purchasing models without leaving their homes.
“Swift is currently experiencing high levels of interest, with some layouts already sold out for the season and dealer stock running low. Much of this recent success can be attributed to Swift Live, our first online show, which we believe has changed the game for leisure vehicle events, generating healthy sales through a combination of interactive and multimedia content,” says Nick.
So, with all this demand for new models, what is Swift doing to get more models out to showrooms? As mentioned, it is having issues with its supply chain but this will be short-term, says Nick, “We have every intention of increasing production next season when our suppliers will hopefully see some return to normality.”
And it appears current buyers are looking for a range of models with no particular line proving to be more popular. “It’s very difficult to say which our most popular models are, as our customers seem to love them all! It’s a great position to be in, creating products which find similar acclaim across the market,” says Nick.
The manufacturer has also been supporting its dealers and updating them regularly on production and delivery, as it has with Swift customers. “The way we connect with our customers has likewise been updated, recognising the growth of our new, wider audience and responding with solutions such as Swift Live,” explains Nick.
“Taking place in an online setting, the virtual event is designed to fill in for the usual industry events, allowing visitors to explore our ranges and get a feel for the lifestyle via interactive elements and video content. It has proved a phenomenal success, and a testament to the importance of evolving with market needs.”
This virtual event helped Swift fill the marketing and sales void created by the cancellation of the two indoor shows at the NEC. “Swift Live was born into a very specific set of circumstances, and this should be taken into consideration. With dealerships having been closed for several months, the usual industry events postponed and consumers locked down at home, the marketplace has been utterly disarranged,” he said.
“The big question is, therefore, whether the success of our virtual event will carry through when things return to something more like normality, so we’ll be keeping this under constant review and continue to innovate to meet our customers’ needs.”
So was the cancellation of the two NEC shows – at which most British manufacturers sell a huge percentage, if not the majority, of their annual new model production – really as devastating as some initially feared?
“The loss of the NEC shows does not appear to have had such a massive impact on sales that some expected, so is the future heading to more virtual shows and smaller regional shows or even local dealer events rather than huge national shows?” asks Nick, adding that he believes there is still a place for traditional shows. “Swift Live has been an absolute triumph; however, there is still a place for events such as the NEC.
"Swift Live has demonstrated the appetite for virtual environments, enabling people to access information and confirm buying decisions from the comfort of their own homes. We will continue to build on its success, while respecting the fact that there will always be customers who prefer to see the products in the flesh and enjoy a day out.”