Fleet News

Operators debate the best ways to drive down costs

Debundling services, vehicle funding options and driver training top the agenda

Cost-saving continues to be a major priority for fleets, with many companies taking different approaches to achieve the same end result.

Methods utilised by the fleet managers who attended the Fleet News roundtable, sponsored by Alphabet, have included debundling services, looking at vehicle funding options and running driver training courses.

How have you reduced fleet costs?

Eric Bristow: Together with our fleet management company, I debundled everything to find out the true cost of things such as tyres and glass, so we could look at how we could reduce that cost. We even looked at what we were being charged for labour and what different repairs cost. We regularly compare our prices with a list of items. When I initially started to do it I went back three years so there was a lot of data, but now we do it on a monthly basis so it is not too time consuming. One advantage is that when we come to the table to talk to suppliers, they realise we do it: if you happen to let them charge what they want to charge they will.

Jon Burdekin: If you don’t know what every part of a fleet costs, you might want to break down the costs of, for example, maintenance, repairs and all the component parts and put them into a pie chart. Then you can start to understand the larger picture. It may be that insurance takes up a large part of your spend and that can give you a priority area to address. The more you can break down your costs, the more you can try and control them.

Adrian Davies: It’s also about giving drivers a vehicle that’s fit for purpose. When I started this role three years ago I analysed the costs and accidents, and it just cried out for parking sensors. It’s a three- or four-year project to get the whole fleet changed, but something cheap, like rear parking sensors, can cut 30% of accidents. When you are on a farm at 4am where it’s pitch black and that silo that wasn’t there yesterday is there today, a parking sensor is going to help your driver. It doesn’t matter what role our drivers are doing, I have basics that all the vehicles must have if they come on to my fleet. One of them is parking sensors. When you’re approaching manufacturers or dealerships, it’s worth asking them what they can do to help you.

Jon Burdekin: There are three areas to reducing costs. One is the vehicle – you need to get the vehicle right. The second is to get the driver right, because you can do all you like to get people in the most appropriate car, but if their behaviour is not right then all your good work can be undone. The third is the journey. Is it necessary? That’s from a safety perspective and also the cost of the journey.

Adrian Davies: I would add a fourth to that, and that’s the service around the vehicle. It’s all well and good getting a vehicle with all the bells and whistles on, but we have had problems with vehicle off-road time because the extra parts that are not standard or normal for that vehicle are not in stock.

Do you lease or outright purchase your vehicles?

Andrew Wearing: We outright purchase our vehicles. We keep them their whole lifespan, so we’ll take a car from brand new to 160,000-plus miles, and a van to 250,000-odd miles. We’ve got our own auction business where we sell them on site.

Graham Ruddick: We tend to lease everything. I’m trying to have a debate with our people to say maybe it’s not always good to lease vehicles. Apart from the bells and whistles that can break, you can get 200,000 miles out of a diesel if it’s serviced correctly. You can spend a lot of money on a two- or three-year lease for a vehicle and when you give it back the leasing company can say ‘by the way, that’s got to be fixed and that’s got to be fixed’, so you have to wonder what the actual true cost of the vehicle would be if you bought it first.

Andrew Wearing: When we take cars up to 160,000 miles I don’t get any more issues with them than I would with a new car. Because we tend to buy the same kind of vehicles, we get to know the potential problems so can forestall those issues before they arrive.

Adrian Davies: We’ve had conversations with the management and releasing the capital is the issue. is a nice theory to have, especially for larger fleets, but if you’ve got 600 vehicles that you privately own, all the capital is tied up and the business and its shareholders are not going to like that.

How successful have you found driver training to be, and what method works best?

Andrew Wearing: When a driver starts with us we do an online test, and to me it’s worthless. It’s a tick-box to say you’ve given them some analysis of their driver behaviour and they get a score, but in reality it doesn’t tell you if they’re good or bad. You can bend your answers to fit the questions to a certain degree. You’re not going to give the wrong answer deliberately and an on-road driving experience with a professional driver has got to be the way forward. We provide training to drivers that we perceive to be a problem. If a driver does the online test initially and it identifies a problem, then we look at that and perhaps go on the road with them. We also look at accident history and driving style in terms of the fuel efficiency data we’ve got that might say this driver has a heavy right foot, he’s had a couple of accidents, or he would benefit from some type of training.

Mark Edwards: Our organisation believes in a holistic type of approach to the driving task. We have something in the order of 21 different courses and they will quite often kick off with an online profiler. Then we get the drivers to order a series of e-learning modules in terms of which one they would like to get first. So for them, if town driving is the most concerning aspect of their driving, that will go to the top of the list and, at a predetermined time, each driver in the scheme will receive a module that relates to that preference.

Julie King: You need to change behaviour, don’t you?

Mark Edwards: Part of that is awareness. People become unaware of how at risk they are out on the roads. Workshops are a good way of raising awareness of issues.

Graham Ruddick: We recognised that driving was in the top three high risk areas within our business: we handle bulls, but driving was up there in the top three. We then tailored packages around it.

We’ve got a driving policy and we make sure everybody reads it before they join the business. We’ve just got into online training in the past 12 months; before people are allowed to drive a vehicle they have an assessment. If there are any areas – for instance, hazard perception – that are highlighted, then there is a module you can take. If the driver is still struggling with that then we will look to do one-to-one training.

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