Moto (officially Moto Hospitality) is the UK's largest motorway service area operator. They were the first to introduce many brands and ideas which are now common at services across the country.
Moto are now offering click and collect on some facilities. They are trialling a new fuel pledge at three trial sites, where over the summer of 2020 Moto's fuel prices will be competing with local (non-supermarket) petrol stations.
Moto's service areas date back to 1965. As a result, even though they are continuing to develop new sites, in many places Moto are constrained by old buildings, haphazard extensions and small sites.
Having previously displayed their partner's brand logos prominently - more prominently than their own - Moto have now tidied this up a bit, and they are refurbishing the entrance to their buildings to include a new lobby with dark grey colours and the name of the site.
Moto hold the unwelcome title of owning the worst-performing service area in the first three Transport Focus surveys. This may be skewed by their large number of sites, especially old or quiet ones. Their overall satisfaction score is usually one of the lowest too, though this dramatically improved in 2022.
Many of Moto's predecessor companies weren't interested in fuel retailing. As a result, many Moto sites include a forecourt managed by somebody else - usually Esso. Despite this, Moto themselves do take an interest in fuel retailing, with them running fuel promotions, continuing to manage some forecourt-only sites, and even buying back the forecourt at Tiverton. They are continuing to campaign for new motorway signs, which they say are necessary for them to lower fuel prices.
As of 2016, Moto's busiest services are Cherwell Valley, Wetherby and Toddington. Moto are also introducing new indoor play areas for families. A 2022 study found that Costa is by far the most popular of their brand partners, followed by Greggs.
They have their own charity, the Moto Foundation, who help out the local area surrounding their services.
Moto began 2018 with a new CEO, and over the following years the brand underwent a major overhaul. Most of this was about changing its image, which is detailed further down, but doing that meant tackling some of the company's long-standing criticisms.
To win support from HGV drivers, Moto committed to refurbishing all of their shower facilities during 2022. The introduction of Pret A Manger was promoted as a response to concerns about healthy eating, and proposals for a new truckstop at Wrotham and a rebuild of Barton Park were said to be an investment in the HGV community.
New Changing Places toilet facilities were rapidly rolled out across the country. New electric vehicle charging hubs were opened following complaints from those drivers; this became a major talking point for Moto, and something they have given many media interviews about. They are now attempting to build a number of solar farms to power their chargers.
Meanwhile, Moto announced a proposal to cut the price of fuel, which was hindered by political issues which 'new Moto' were again vocal in their frustration. While straying slightly more into PR, Moto were very successful in turning around complaints that they had been allowing widespread littering at their sites, by quickly partnering with GS Associates to arrange weekly litter picking.
Despite several experiments, Moto never really secured a sit-down meal format that worked. Instead their sites tend to be dominated by Costa units, as well as fast food partners, with recent additions being Greggs and KFC. Takeaway food units and drive thru coffee shops have an especially high turnover.
Some of their larger and older buildings look a little empty with only a few fast food options, but the evidence shows that sit-down restaurants like EDC and Arlo's weren't really working, except maybe at breakfast. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, Moto's brand partners all closed and they had to start serving their own food again - they were arguably the most proactive operator, rearranging their kitchens and creating a special menu.
In response to complaints that their food offer was too unhealthy, Moto began rolling out Pret A Manger stores, and their retail stores sell food and coffee too. Several site managers at Moto have told us they would like to see the traditional restaurant return, but they can't see it working just yet.
While the estate they inherited from Granada included a whole host of shopping names, under Moto these were almost all moved out. Instead, they were the first operator to change all of their own shops to WHSmith franchises.
Moto's biggest retail success has been the trial and roll-out of the popular M&S Simply Food chain, which when it was introduced it was described by critics as being "well worth driving on the motorway for alone". This partnership has proven to be very successful, and it has gone through several changes to keep up with demand, now bringing it closer to M&S's own stores.
Electric Vehicle Charging
Moto were the first motorway operator to fully embrace electric vehicle charging, by upgrading their legacy GRIDSERVE charging points, and then rolling out a larger network of GRIDSERVE high-powered chargers. Their website has adopted a special implementation of Zapmap to show the status of their charging points.
In June 2023, Moto began trialling a vehicle queueing system, following viral videos of disorganised queues for charging points at other service areas. They also launched what they called their "Motofesto", where they called for the government to support electric vehicle drivers.
In October 2023, it was reported that Moto were considering launching their own charging brand.
Moto currently work mainly with the following brand names, either as a franchise or similar arrangement, or as one of their own creations:
Catering: Bar & Grill, Burger King, Costa, Chow, Greggs, KFC, Pret A Manger, West Cornwall Pasty Co, Costa Express, Krispy Kreme
Shops: Cotton Traders, M&S Simply Food, Top Gift, Travellers, WHSmith
Main Amenities: &Play, Full Hou$e, GRIDSERVE, Lucky Coin, Regus Express
Hotels: Days Inn, Travelodge
Moto have previously used the following brands:
Catering: Arlo's, Caffè Ritazza, Eat & Drink Co., El Mexicana, Fresh Express, Harry Ramsden's, Little Chef, Restaurant, Café Nescafé, Coffee Nation, Millie's Cookies
Shops: BHS Express, Birthdays, Boots, Claire's Accessories, Early Learning Centre, Fone Bitz, Glitz4Girlz, Knickerbox, Scoop, Shop, T2, The Body Shop, The Sock Shop, Thorntons
Main Amenities: Ecotricity, Gscape, Moto Meetings, Regus Express, Trucker's Lounge, Workspace
See also: Granada
Most of Moto's services have previously operated under the name Granada, as part of their hospitality and media empire.
In 2000 Granada attempted to bring things in order by merging with the Compass Group, and then separating Granada's media interests from everything else. The business was formally demerged in 2001, with Compass taking responsibility for its motorway and A-road services, operated under the subsidiary Compass Roadside.
Paul Kelly, Brand development director
Without access to the Granada name, a new brand was created by The Point, with BDG McColl providing the interiors and Fallon (known for their work with Škoda) working on its image. In May 2001 they introduced 'Moto', a new name which promised "a better, continental-feeling service". A deliberately simple name was used, and existing firms named Moto in Cornwall and Spain were paid to stop using it. Special attention was paid separately to how to serve children, pets, coach drivers and truckers.
The new Compass was itself a large business. As well as having acquired many brands from Granada, they had their own, including those ran by Select Service Partner. Compass were able to introduce these to Moto, such as Upper Crust and the groundbreaking M&S Simply Food.
Compass eventually sold most of its brand names, and in 2006 this included Moto, purchased by Macquarie Bank for an estimated £600 million. Previous decisions to fill Granada/Moto services with so many sister brands had complicated consequences: at some services Moto owned the car park but the now-unrelated Little Chef owned the building. Moto renegotiated franchise agreements with some of its former sister brands, but took advantage of being free to experiment with rivals too.
In 2004, their website stated that Moto had a 39% market share in the motorway service area business, serving over 120 million people.
Following their predecessor's acquisition of two separate truckstops in early 2000 to safeguard their market share against forthcoming road improvements in each area, those being Lymm and Barton Park, some Poplar 2000 branding was carried over from Lymm to Barton Park. The internal branding at each site has since moved towards the standard Moto affair.
Moto have suggested they would like to invest in Barton Park, and tried to build a new truckstop on the M26.
When Moto were introduced, Compass said they would be rolling the brand out across Europe, with up to 20 continental Motos opening. A 2001 report claimed that Moto ran 22 sites in Spain, Luxembourg and Italy, but this may have been a misunderstanding.
In March 2003, Compass entered into a joint venture with Italian firm Cremonini, to use the Moto brand at a new network of Italian service areas. A pilot Moto site opened at Bazzera Nord in July 2003, while 11 sites were rebranded from fellow Compass firm Autoplose.
The Italian Motos (legally called 'Moto SpA'; sometimes branded 'Moto Grill' or 'Moto Ristorante') usually offered a Ritazza (a bar), 'Da Leone' (bakery), 'Gusto' (a self-service restaurant), 'Il Mercatino' (a grocery store) and tourist information unit 'InfoPoint'. Like the British brand, the Italian Moto had a corner dedicated to parents of young children, named 'Moto Bebè'. It spoke highly of its commitment to customer service, focusing on quality of service, a relaxing experience and quick service speeds.
The combined firm's intention was to expand fast: Italian motorway service areas were based on contracts, and hundreds of existing contracts were due to expire in the coming years. In total 31 Italian branches of Moto opened, and the partnership reported revenue of €110.6million in 2005.
The Compass-Cremonini partnership ended in May 2006, and Cremonini purchased the rights to use the Moto name for a further five years. In January 2007, Cremonini announced that their Chef Express brand, which had mostly operated on Italian trains, would be used to replace Moto that year.
Two service areas in Austria had been run by Autoplose and were now owned by Moto SpA, but the Moto name was never used there.
In France, Aire de Sarthe Touraine is the one site known to have been branded Moto. It provided a Caffè Ritazza, Flunch Express, Bonne Journée as well as Shell fuel. It was run with Cofiroute, a French motorway operator. The amenity building was more like a large forecourt sales shop, but the Moto branding was removed in 2008.
Very few new motorway service areas opened in the late 2000s. Moto's project at Wetherby (2008) claimed to be the greenest service station in the UK, and uses a model which has since been copied by other Moto projects, most notably Cherwell Valley.
Also in 2008, they bought Winchester services and tried to buy two First services, but the latter plan fell through. At this point The Times listed Moto as being the 57th biggest private company (dropping 9 places since the year before), with annual sales of £786m and profits of £52m.
Moto acquired the independent service area at Leeming Bar in 2014, as a strategic investment given the roadworks in the area. Since 2016 they have developed plans for many new service areas to be built at busy junction, of which Rugby was built and opened in 2021; most other projects faltered.
Moto made several efforts to find a restaurant format that worked. Out went Little Chef and Fresh Express and in came two incarnations of EDC, the very thorough Arlo's, franchises from Harvester and Bar & Grill. None of these seemed to strike a chord with Moto, and instead fast food units took over, with Costa and KFC being two of their main imports.
Fallon worked with The Point and BDG McColl to create Moto's brand identity in 2001. This consisted of a relaxed 'angel' logo, and a turquoise colour scheme. Granada's use of circular symbols, especially for internal road signs, was retained. They used the slogan "essential maintenance for motorists". Interior walls were usually painted in Granada's yellow.
Each service area was given a tall sign by its main entrance, known as 'the goalpost'. This would rotate between three Moto promotions, but they were never updated and were eventually covered up with static logos. Each car park also had its own small 'welcome' sign, showing the brands available. By 2010, Moto began to promote those brand partners much more visibly than their own name.
This corporate identity remained very much the same until 2015, when monochrome colours were used instead of turquoise on some signage. Turquoise remained Moto's colour when colour was needed, such as when brightening up a drab wall. The goalposts began to be replaced with smaller signs listing the brands available. The green colour was still maintained to brighten up some of the drab buildings at their older sites. Very large i-media TV screens were soon placed across all their entrances; Moto had always partnered with AdMedia to provide static advertising, but the TV screens were a new nationwide feature, with the old billboards being removed.
New branding was introduced in June 2020 following work with BrandOpus. The new, much more simple logo, showed only a smile emblem that would be incorporated into all of their messaging. This wasn't really seen until Rugby services opened in April 2021. This was promoted with a number of puns, and friendly phrases such as "happy travels". A new signage scheme was introduced, using a dark green colour, and their social media presence was stepped up, with an intensive use of Twitter searches.
There is also more of a focus on individual site branding, with drawings of most of their buildings and site-specific puns. During 2022 this branding will begin to be rolled out across the country, but it's intended that each rebranding will be accompanied by a thorough refresh and tidy-up. The use of logos and signs also seems to be being cleaned up.
Moto were the first of the operators to find a loophole in the law; in 2005 they changed their operating logo to read 'Moto M&S Simply Food' at the appropriate sites, they could get around the strict regulations which prevented them from advertising their facilities on the motorway. Welcome Break and Roadchef soon copied this initiative.
Following on from this, Moto went one step further by making their logo read 'Costa M&S', giving no reference to Moto on the headerboard at all. This was followed by 'Caffè Ritazza Burger King' for the services which didn't have a Costa. Some of the wider motorway signs began to use 'Greggs Costa M&S', the first to use three different brand names. Burger King and WHSmith were used if no other facilities are available.
These names were written on text signs too (the remote distance sign), but not many of those were updated. Some of these signs referred to "MOTO COSTA BK M&S"; a very confusing message when displayed above and below some similar combinations.
This initiative was put to an end with the introduction of Diagram 2919.2, which allows operators to advertise their brands on motorway approach signs and bans all branding from remote distance signs.
See also: List of Moto services
Most people associate Moto with large motorway service areas, but as a result of the way Moto was created by breaking up Granada, they ended up inheriting a number of more unusual sites:
- Markfield was treated as a full Moto service area, but was sold in 2011.
- Grantham North and Scotch Corner are full Moto service areas, despite being on A-roads.
- Moto became responsible for the land, hotel and petrol station (but not the restaurants) at Warminster and Saltash. They sold the car parks.
- They were also responsible for the land, hotel and petrol station at Colsterworth and Musselburgh, but these were sold in 2014.
- They were responsible for Sutton Scotney, but didn't use their name there, and soon sold it.
- Moto inherited Tiverton and Dover Port, but don't generally use their name at these.
- Granada operated some facilities at Cardiff Gate, which Moto initially took on.
- Todhills was handed to Moto, probably because of the impending motorway upgrade. They don't generally use their name there and have since closed one half of it.
- Lymm became Moto's responsibility. Initially they didn't use their name there, but they slowly started introducing it.
Moto later acquired a truckstop at Barton Park.
Moto are currently developing plans to build:
Moto are understood to have developed unsuccessful plans for:
- Broadsworth (A1(M))
- Duxford (M11) - proposal only
- Kings Langley (M25/A41)
- Maidenhead (M4/A308(M)/A404(M))
- Norton Canes (M6 Toll) - Moto bid for the contract
- Ripon (A1(M))
- Wrotham Truckstop (M26)
Visitors can leave public feedback on their experience by logging into the CommentBox app. You can do so quickly below:
Views expressed in these comments are those of the individual contributor. User accounts are managed by CommentBox.io. Registration helps prevent automated spam.
We ask the companies named to check here, but we can't force them to do so.