Fleet News

Fleetondemand chief says UK fleet mobility budget will 'become huge'

How much did your perk car drivers spend on trains and taxi fares last year for business travel? For one company, the answer was an eye-watering £184,000 – in addition to the cost of the cars. 

That company is now working with fleet technology provider Fleetondemand to replace its perk cars with a mobility budget, using Fleetondemand’s new Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platform, Mobilleo, which allows users to find, book and pay for their entire business journey (including car hire, car clubs, taxis, buses, trains, flights and accommodation) through one transaction on one device. 

Mobilleo launched last October after more than five years of research and development and has since secured 52 corporate customers who, collectively, have more than 2,000 users.

The basic technology is free to corporates although it comes at a price as a white label solution or if the fleet’s requirements are complex.

Three major UK fleet providers are set to white label the system in quarter two, while one customer is using the platform API to build its own mobility solution. 

Fleetondemand is also working with local authorities to get consumer and business customers using public transport rather than cars, as well as testing that MaaS will work across different territories. As part of this it is helping Transport for Greater Manchester with its MaaS programme by piloting a white-labelled version of Mobilleo in April.

Fleetondemand CEO Justin Whitston plans to launch Mobilleo in Europe later this year, after securing a £5 million investment from BGF – Business Growth Fund.

Multi-lingual developers and service delivery staff will be based in the UK, with local sales staff on the ground in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Paris and Munich. Whitston had planned the launch for July but pushed it back as he is in the middle of an acquisition. Should the deal complete, Whitston believes it will “shock the market” and give Fleetondemand “a big book of customers”. 

It would also accelerate his plans to achieve a turnover in excess of £50m by January 2022 (the run rate for this year is in excess of £15m). 

Employee numbers at Fleetondemand’s offices in Leeds and Saltaire are set to grow to 100 by the end of this year (up from 40 at the end of 2018 and just two when Whitston launched Fleetondemand back in 2012). 

Acting as an advisor to Whitston is fleet industry entrepreneur and one of the original founders of Zenith, Andrew Cope (pictured), who joined the board as non-executive chairman in November.

Cope and Whitston have known each other for 15 years – Cope even considered buying Whitston’s first business, Nexus Vehicle Rental (which Whitston exited in 2008 to set up Fleetondemand). 

“We were always going to do something together, it was just that this was the right time,” Whitston says. “We’re similar – do we see ourselves as part of a 500-person corporate animal? No, we’re mavericks but, equally, one thing we’ve both not done is scale something outside the UK.”

Cope believes the potential for Mobilleo is “absolutely ginormous”. 

“There is nothing stopping it being worldwide,” he says. “Why not a company from Yorkshire? No one thought Silicon Valley was particularly well connected 20, 30 years ago. It was just a place near San Francisco. So why not a place near Leeds or Bradford?”


Built with corporate in mind

Cope suggests that what makes Mobilleo different to other MaaS platforms is that it has been built with the corporate customer in mind (although it can be used by consumers too – Mobilleo has 358 individual user accounts active). 

“Justin and Fleetondemand come from a background of doing bespoke work with corporates,” Cope says. “It’s been designed and developed in such a way that you can use it in lots of different ways; it’s not one dimensional.” 

He adds that it is “far more commercial” than other systems as it “started out as a billing platform rather than a mobility idea”.

Cope believes Mobilleo will allow a fleet boss to “be less a fleet manager and more a mobility manager”. 

“Lots of companies struggle to link travel and vehicles together and Mobilleo is a classic solution,” he says. “This will simplify a fleet manager’s world.”

Whitston says Mobilleo is different to travel management companies’ systems because, although it uses global distribution systems (GDS), such as Travelport, it has direct relationships with suppliers too. 

“If you look at car rental, we are a global distribution system,” he says. 

“We have our own direct relationships and integrations into the global supply chain so we bypass GDS and we also power the rental companies themselves (Fleetondemand’s rental platform is used by three of the biggest car rental providers) so we’re in a unique position when it comes to automotive versus what a typical travel management company can do.” 

He adds: “Building a global, transactional, find, book and pay mobility platform is very difficult to do.” And that, along with the demands of the corporate customer, accounts for why it has taken so long to bring Mobilleo to market (a ‘soft’ launch took place in February 2016). 

“Corporates want an invoice, they want reporting, they want compliance, they want policy, they want to pay on account or card or different mechanisms and they want the user experience to be seamless  – that’s very difficult to do.” 

Mobilleo integrates with consumer-facing aggregators such as Booking.com, Kayak, Sky-scanner and Trainline, and taxi aggregators and providers such as Cabfind, Karhoo and Sixt mydriver, as well as car clubs, bike schemes and major bus operators such as National Express and Stagecoach. Whitston admits “there are gaps” such as First Bus and Arriva.

“We see the bus operators as being the last bastion of integration,” he says. “They’re more on your consumer MaaS side. But now we’ve started to penetrate that side, that’s bringing those suppliers to the table.”

Equally, fleet operators can bring their own deals to the table. 

“We have a large corporate customer who we are implementing MaaS with whereby they already had a corporate rate deal with Gett for black cabs,” Whitston says. 

“All we do is load that contract ID into the platform and therefore the rate shown in Mobilleo is the corporate’s own deal.”

Businesses can load their fleet of vehicles into Mobilleo and even input grey fleet vehicles so an employee can compare using their company car/own car to other modes of travel, including walking if they wish, when searching for a journey. 

“It will tell you the different CO2 outputs and cost permutations and tell you the cheapest, fastest and most productive option,” Whitston says. 

Incentivisation is also being built into the system to help drive the right behaviour, such as offering employees a free cup of coffee en route if they use public transport.

The system factors in fuel costs (based on average pump prices), AMAP rates and other costs to the business such as the London congestion charge as well as live traffic information. Electricity cost if a driver were to use a pure electric vehicle is not currently calculated although Whitston says a pure electric strategy will commence in quarter three, whereby pure EV service providers will be added alongside charge point location data. 

Customers are able to turn travel options on and off dependent on their objectives and preferences. For instance, a local authority is unlikely to need flights as an option, so can turn this off.  

“We determine the travel preferences first which means the technology performs better because we’re crawling less content and giving more meaningful results to the user,” Whitston says.

A Mobilleo card, which works on the Visa/Mastercard platform, will launch towards the end of this year. A mobility budget is loaded onto the card and the card captures all ancillary spend and expenditure around mobility that happens outside the Mobilleo platform (for instance a Tube journey that has not been booked through Mobilleo) and deducts it off the total mobility budget.  

It means that when a fleet manager runs reports on mobility spend they have a true picture and can act on that data. 

“For the first time, corporates will be able to get real visibility and make informed decisions on the basis of the business objectives and employee objectives,” Whitston says. “If the system shows that by just using car clubs and car hire and removing the need for that vehicle the business would save X, that’s a better product for them.”

Whitston believes a growing number of businesses will look to replace perk cars with a mobility budget, driven by the uncertainty around benefit-in-kind tax and clean air zones. 

Businesses will also want to offer it to employees not entitled to a car as a recruitment and retention tool, he says 

“You won’t take cash for car any more, you won’t take a perk vehicle, you’ll take a mobility budget and you’ll use our application to move and fulfil the needs of your role. That’s going to become huge in the UK fleet sector in the next five-to-10 years,” he says. 

However, Whitston recognises that at the moment the mobility budget isn’t right for everyone and is more suited those operating in big urban zones, such as within the M25. 

In the future, cars will still play a role. Whitston is already looking at how the platform could incorporate autonomous and connected vehicles.

“We want to be the first player to make that content available, bookable and payable to a corporate business,” he says.

A pipe dream perhaps or a realistic ambition for a maverick entrepreneur from Yorkshire?

The four pillars of mobility 

Justin Whitston believes the flexibility of the Mobilleo platforms means it can cater for different parts of the market and their differing ‘versions’ of mobility. The blueprint for Mobilleo is what he terms ‘the four pillars of mobility’:

1 Connected automotive assets: anything to do with the car – contract hire, car rental, car sharing, car clubs, ride hailing. This is how manufacturers, leasing companies and rental companies view mobility. 

2 Total cost of mobility (TMC): this is about bringing fleet and travel costs together and is the corporate customer’s version of mobility. 

3 Mobility as a service (MaaS): a single app and single ticketing solution for urban transportation. This is consumer-led. 

4 Big data and intelligence: this powers all of the above.

Is mobility right for your organisation?

Fleetondemand takes customers through a four-step process (which it terms ‘4D Methodology’): diligence, discovery, design and deployment. 

“The first bit we tackle is due diligence by asking the question: is mobility right for your organisation? We sit down with a fleet and really show them what mobility is and what it can be,” Justin Whitston says. 

“A lot of companies are not ready for it yet but a lot of companies want to know how to get there so that's why we've built this methodology.” 

The next step is to determine what the organisation wants to achieve from mobility and who it wants to target – is it company car drivers or the entire workforce? And what modes of travel should be available?

Reporting requirements and key metrics are also considered because Whitston believes “a vanilla reporting engine doesn’t work”. 

Businesses can report on “whatever they want”, he says. 

“I could break it down per employee, travel content types, dates and times. I can look at all manner of different trends. Mobilleo is a big data engine so we can customise it.”

Similarly, invoicing can be done to suit the corporate although most opt for summary top cover invoice with an accompanying CSV file with all the line item transactions and VAT and different components split out.

Knowing the corporate’s requirements allows Fleetondemand to move to the design stage as it “gives us the segments that need to be available and the content that needs to be available”. 

“The platform is then deployed and what is bookable is only what is in that scheme and what is available so end users can only get what is available in that scheme, it can be everything or as little they want,” Whitston says. 

The platform is backed up by call centre support. 

“Brexit doesn’t worry me”

Justin Whitston acknowledges that “something solid needs to happen with Brexit” – be it a deal or no-deal – but he isn’t concerned and will continue to invest in the business.

“It doesn’t worry me,” he says. “That’s what any entrepreneur would say. We still wake up tomorrow and pay our taxes, you just get on with it. It’s a can-do attitude. Why worry?

“In our sector and the market we’re looking to operate in we’re kind of in a protected position. Moving people around – whether it’s cars, planes, trains – is one of the largest overheads a business has so I think the product is ring-fenced and protected. 

“We’re lucky because we haven’t got any asset based infrastructure, we’ve no debt in the business. Companies that are probably going to be in difficult situations are those working across borders and exporting, those type of markets. As a tech business we're in an ideal position.”

“I fear for some of the FN50 leasing companies”

Leasing companies must become mobility providers or they risk “being killed off”, according to Justin Whitston. 

“I fear for some of the top 50 leasing companies because why on earth are we going to lease a vehicle for three years with all the wholelife costs and everything associated with it when, via an app, I will be able to get a car in 20 minutes or an hour or whatever anywhere in the world?”

He suggests that many leasing companies don’t yet have the expertise in the mobility market and are “still fact-finding”.

“The front-runners will be the pan-European players who are already trialling initiatives but some are too big oil tankers to even trial stuff,” he says. 

“Meanwhile the requirements of corporates are just going to accelerate so therefore you're leaving your travel management companies and maybe your smaller leasing companies behind.

“It's quite early to say but let's see what the FN50 looks like in six or seven years' time. I think you will see your mobility provider which will be a technology platform and a consultation and service delivery model.”

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