Hands-on fleet manager Adrian Davies has cut operational costs by 10% by bringing ‘truck fundamentals’ to cars and vans.
In just three years, Adrian Davies has snipped 10% off fleet costs, a £500,000 saving from the operation’s £5 million budget.
The Genus fleet manager brought to the bovine artificial insemination business a fleet career largely grounded in the heavy truck sector. The highly regulated, safety-focused nature of truck management gave him “great fundamentals” to apply to the car and van fleet.
“I’ve gone from dealing with professional drivers to dealing with people with a driver’s licence,” he says. “So I’ve brought the fundamentals of the professional driver into this fleet, such as vehicle checks and monitoring.”
Davies contextualises his job in unassuming terms: “My role is to put the driver in a suitable vehicle that they are happy to drive and that they look after – and the constant reinforcement of policy.”
Pushed harder, he elaborates that it’s also about getting suppliers and manufacturers to work harder for the business, and he employs unusual tactics to get everyone onside and pulling in the same direction.
“It’s an easy conversation to have, especially if you approach the dealer, funder and manufacturer in the same room as a team,” Davies says. “We get them to work together for the greater good which cuts out potential issues. And it also reduces the number of meetings I have to have!”
He adds: “From the fleet manager perspective, it’s giving them the vision of where I’m taking the fleet and where it needs to be to get them on board to support that journey. I work the suppliers as hard as possible to make sure that the company gets the most value for money and to make sure that any third party suppliers are doing the job we need, such as local garages.”
This requires constant interaction with suppliers, such as daily conversations with account managers, to ensure they use their influence to make Genus’s vehicles a priority.
“Too many times fleet management is a bolt-on to another job; for me, it’s my role,” Davies says. “I am employed to bring the fleet up to standard with the correct policies in place and with everyone understanding their role within the fleet.”
Davies inherited a dual-badge policy of Volkswagen and Škoda for the 250-strong car fleet but negotiated improved terms by being more exact on the number of vehicles, type of models, trim levels and replacement cycles.
The priority is fit-for purpose vehicles: ones that enable drivers to do their jobs at a price that the company is prepared to pay. Included in the package were items such as parking sensors and rubber mats.
Davies describes them as “the little details that make the difference – things that show the company is looking after them”.
He also improved the terms for the 380 solus-badge Vauxhall vans, despite adding a number of extras to the standard vehicles after consultation with drivers.
“When I started I spoke to as many drivers as possible to identify their basic requirements,” Davies explains. “Everyone south of Cheshire wanted air-conditioning and everyone to the north wanted temperature gauges to check how cold it was.”
The Genus fleet is unusual in that every vehicle operates in rural areas with drivers working outdoors, so vans needed to have tailgate rear doors, not barn doors. It also uses a lot of crew cabs, which limited its options when it came to choice of manufacturer.
However, the main reason why all the van business is with Vauxhall is its extensive commercial vehicle dealer network. It meets Genus’s servicing needs and helps to reduce off-road times. Indeed, since August 2013, average vehicle off-road times have reduced from 19 days to 11.
Implementing the right policy for vehicles was only part of the equation. Davies recognised, thanks to his background in HGV fleet (see panel, below), that driver discipline and monitoring were just as important for effective fleet management.
He calls it the “building blocks to support the vehicle”, making drivers aware of their duty of care to the company and other road users, and the company’s duty of care to them.
However, he is also keen to put the power for policy enforcement into the hands of managers by making them aware of the rules and their responsibilities.
This is never more important than when it comes to using telematics data to tackle driver behaviour and fuel costs.
“It’s OK to have the detail of cost, but it’s what you do with it afterwards – how you make managers aware of the individual costs and how they were caused,” he says. “It’s a mistake not to share the data with the business.”
He inherited a tracker system which has since been switched for full telematics, measuring speed, start and finish times and incidents. The next step is to trial front-facing cameras. The data is fed to the managers and to the health and safety team, with the reports overseen by Davies.
“We use the data to analyse vehicle performance and for managers to be aware of the health and safety of their workers,” he says.
Genus is midway through a three-hour classroom-based training exercise with all its drivers. The course has been developed in-house and tailored to the company’s specific operations, focusing on, for example, driving in small villages, micro-climates, parking and speeding.
In addition to acting on the findings of the telematics data, managers are also responsible for applying the two-strike rule for at-fault incidents, where drivers are charged for the excess.
The policy helps to remind drivers of their responsibilities towards their vehicles, but Davies does have a warning for other fleets considering implementing a similar scheme: non-reporting of damage which results in an accumulation when the car goes back, increasing the end-of-contract charges.
“You have to have a robust policy around vehicle checking by managers or a third party,” he says. “We introduced a vehicle inspection before they can choose their next car. If they haven’t looked after it, they get a pool car instead and we charge them for the avoidable costs.
“They will not get access to a new company car until they have demonstrated that they can look after the pool car.”
The inspection has been in place for 12 months and appears to be acting as a deterrent; Genus has yet to enact the pool car. It has, though, resulted in a “dramatic” reduction in end-of-contract charges, which has contributed £100,000 to the total cost savings.
Davies has one member of staff in his fleet team - fleet administrator Jenni Allen - and describes himself as a “hands-on fleet manager”, using the leasing company for operational support only, such as booking repair and maintenance.
“Every driver has my mobile number and I regularly go to team meetings to talk to drivers about the issues in their area. It’s only then that I can address them to ensure we stop those problems,” he says.
It has been a three-year, three-part journey to get the fleet to a position where Davies feels it is operating efficiently and effectively: the first six months were spent fact-finding and establishing himself in the business; the next 12 were about proving the changes to the business; now it is about driver training and looking at next steps.
“That will be a joint decision between the business and me,” Davies says. “It’s an ongoing conversation about fleet numbers and costs, and will depend on the business requirements and vehicle technology.”
On a personal level, evolution is already taking place as his role expands to take on a global travel project across the 70+ countries in which the FTSE250 company operates (“everywhere there’s a cow in a field”, he quips). He also manages property and mobile phones in the UK.
Added to this, Davies is starting to look at a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy for the European fleet, to enable managers and purchasers in countries without dedicated fleet resource to understand that part of their business. The challenge is learning the intricacies of local tax and business laws.
His approach to each new addition to his CV follows the same fundamentals: “Correct policy and correct pricing – it’s the two Ps,” as he puts it.
Fleet manager: Adrian Davies
Time in role: Two years, 10 months
Fleet size: 630-380 vans, 250 cars
Funding method: Contract hire with maintenance
Replacement cycle: Four years/120,000 miles
Brands on fleet: Cars – Volkswagen, Škoda; vans – Vauxhall
‘Falling into fleet' leads to wealth of knowledge
Adrian Davies has been with Genus for almost three years, but admits he “fell into fleet” after taking a temporary job as a fleet administrator at logistics firm TDG after graduating from university.
It proved to be a solid background, introducing him to the world of licence checking, database management, O-Licences and compliance, as he worked his way through to becoming fleet manager. “The laws and regulations we had to adhere to gave great fundamentals for fleet,” he says. “We think about it as drivers, not vehicles, so we do walk-around checks, rest breaks – it’s bringing truck discipline into smaller vehicles.”
When the business was acquired by Norbert Dentressangle, he helped to bring the two fleets together before leaving to join NCP as fleet coordinator.
After a little over a year, he joined Genus, bringing his HGV knowledge to the company’s 380 vans and 250 job-need cars.