The AA is moving swiftly to provide support and services to ensure fleet decision-makers can cope effectively and efficiently in a period of unprecedented change.
While it claims to have more roadside patrols (2,500) than its competitors combined – responding to a call-out on average every nine seconds – it is increasingly putting its energies and research and development budget into data, technology and connected services.
In the past two years it has acquired Prestige Fleet Servicing, a technology-led supplier of service, maintenance and repair to fleet and leasing companies; launched a mobile recall support service in partnership with manufacturers to take the essential repairs to the driver’s workplace; and introduced Rescue Tracker, SMS-based tracking of a roadside patrol’s location and arrival time.
Through in-house development or working with partners including vehicle manufacturers, leasing companies, insurance providers, technology firms and even Uber, its suite of products grows and adapts every year.
Feeding this is research, such as the annual Operational Fleet Report, helping to inspire The AA’s prominent campaigns including the one tackling drowsy driving, led by chairman Edmund King in 2018-19.
Combined, the above means The AA moves from being reactive to problems as they occur, to being more proactive, diagnostic and predictive, improving its core services while developing new products to meet new demands.
Director of fleet and SME services Stuart Thomas and Kirsty Pendleton, senior marketing manager, fleet and SME, talked to Fleet News about The AA’s plans and priorities.
Fleet News: It’s acknowledged by many fleet decision-makers and The AA that the sector is in a period of unprecedented change. What elements constitute the change?
Stuart Thomas: There’s a confluence of factors coming together at the same time – economic, social and generational. So, the green agenda, the growing importance of electric vehicles and tax issues. Manufacturers always drive change and while there’s plenty of doubt about the arrival in the market of autonomous vehicles, for example, it has become an agenda item. You can no longer write things off as being far-fetched because they rapidly appear around the corner.
Plus, there’s an element of the ‘old guard’ facing up to challenges brought by the new generation in the industry. On the other side of the equation is the current political paralysis – decisions, for example around vehicle choice, change cycles, are not being made. Yet the pace of change has increased in the last few years, people are doing a lot more with less resource, while the pace and volume of communication and data gathering has increased, along with customer expectations.
FN: As a supplier, how can you ensure your service delivery continues to improve in this environment?
ST: No one invests in the way The AA does in ensuring it meets fleets’ needs. And we have the advantage of working with manufacturers and with their focus on a five-to-seven-year development cycle, so we are always preparing for their futures too. For example, we have the Key Assist service now, providing drivers with a replacement key, but soon we will need a solution incorporating their mobile phone to access a vehicle.
Kirsty Pendleton: Our consumer Driver Poll survey of up to 25,000 drivers responding each month provides a lens on the overall mood. In the example of the drowsy driving campaign in 2018-19, which highlighted the dangers of driving without adequate sleep, this led to Drivetech working with fleets on the corporate responsibility angle to tackle this.
FN: What are the challenges The AA is facing in order to stay relevant?
ST: Vehicles breakdown less and the younger generation are driving less, so the relevance of a breakdown organisation reduces. So, we’re doing a lot of work in the motoring eco-structure to remain relevant. We bought Prestige Vehicle Servicing in the past year, giving The AA members access to a nationwide SMR network, and just as importantly, its Unity operating system, handling authorisations, work progress management and invoicing and helping us meet customers’ planned and unplanned needs. Another example is our partnership with Uber, giving its drivers access
to our roadside and SMR services via the Uber Driver app.
And, finally, towards the end of 2019 we launched the recall service, acknowledging that a proportion of drivers are not responding to notices to take their car to a dealership. The AA writes to them and sends a mobile resource to their workplace to make the fix. It’s not a breakdown as such, but it demonstrates the closer relationships we have with OEMs and the tripartite relationship with them, The AA and leasing company.
FN: An area of focus for The AA is in supporting fleets with EVs. How are you helping to overcome the opposition to their adoption in the fleet market?
KP: Our latest annual Operational Fleet Report showed how fleet managers had genuinely adopted them and were looking at the operational lifetime values seriously for the first time, and how their drivers were realising the benefits and the availability of charge points at their homes. And we are supporting that with DriveTech, providing EV driver training courses. Our past collaboration with Chargemaster saw fleets using its EV adoption centre. But needs analysis is essential. Is an EV right for the role? And then testing them is crucial to their acceptance. No fleet decision- maker interviewed for the report that had adopted EVs had an overall negative view of them.
FN: Are you helping to tackle range anxiety and those that run out of charge?
ST: The AA app has charging locations. But we have now made the decision not to offer a roadside charging service. We don’t believe it is safe having the customer’s car and our van by the roadside, so our choice is to tow the vehicle to a charging point.
FN: The AA describes itself as a technology and data-led organisation. What does this mean and how does it benefit fleets?
ST: We’ve moved from a service business, relying on being alerted to a problem, sending a van out and fixing it to being a business that prevents the problem. We share our fault data with OEM liaison engineers, and they can fix a problem on a production line within a few weeks. Our partnership with Intelematics Europe gives us a market leading connected services platform, integrating with manufacturer connectivity, aftermarket hardware devices and smartphone capability, allowing us to enhance our repair capability. So we’re moving away from repair on the spot to using mobile devices to diagnose and fix problems – and ultimately to predictive solutions.
Today, support could entail a relatively simple Skype call between a driver and engineer, explaining what a dashboard warning light means, to being able to predict a problem based on the usage of the vehicle and its resulting wear and tear through The AA’s Business CarGenie system by providing visibility and pro-active control to fleet managers of repair and maintenance scheduling.
Tomorrow, The AA believes all vehicles will be sold with in-built connectivity, sending data to the OEMs and their partners, allowing it to send fixes to vehicles remotely. The AA has carried out trials to connect and interact with vehicles outside the UK.
Such is the focus on combining data and technology and using connected solutions that The AA claims that by 2021 all its patrols and technicians will have the ability to carry out remote resolutions for customers without having to attend them in person.