Managing the fleet in-house is important in a company where the chief executive likes his staff to be hands-on, trained and knowledgeable
The role of a fleet manager is set for the biggest shake up in 20 years, according to ICFM, the sector’s education and qualifications body, as the worlds of travel, payment and fleet rapidly collide.
Decision-makers need to prepare for electric vehicles, driverless cars, smart payments and multi-modal transport while nurturing the next generation. This is where professional training can help.
Sean Woodvine, assistant fleet manager at Rydon, has just completed the ICFM certificate in fleet management for just that reason.
He says: “I wanted to further myself and develop my knowledge. I was seeing a wider remit in fleet and also there were areas, such as finance and procurement, that I wasn’t involved in but thought I should know about because one day I might be.
“The course was very beneficial. Aside from the piece of paper saying I’m now qualified, it was really helpful to speak to similarly-minded professionals. Fleet is a niche industry and if you don’t put yourself out there and talk to your peers you’ll never improve.”
It took eight months for Woodvine to complete the course, which consists of one two-day training session and two three-day sessions plus a number of assignments that were based on Rydon’s fleet.
“The staff at the ICFM are really knowledgeable in all aspects of fleet, they have a wealth of experience and have awareness of all current and historical events,” he says.
“They bring in experts to help lead the sessions which keeps it fresh and interesting.
“You come away with an assignment and that gives you the opportunity to make changes in your own business. A lot of it is looking at what you’re doing and trying to think cleverly about it.
“The assignments helped to identify shortfalls in our current fleet policies which we were then able to address and update. These included improving our PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) procedure to reduce the administrative burden and cost, formalising our new employee process and outlining their responsibilities as a company car/allowance driver.
“The law and finance parts formed much of what I wanted to get out of the course because that’s where I considered my biggest knowledge gaps to be.”
His hard work and commitment to developing his fleet led to Woodvine receiving the Peter Moxon Award for the Training Achiever of the Year, at the 24th annual ICFM conference early in November.
Woodvine is part of a three-man team looking after 550 vehicles for the property construction, development, maintenance and management business.
His boss Simon Watts is a fleet manager with more than 18 years’ experience in fleet. Watts will undertake the ICFM diploma in fleet management next year, the institute’s top qualification, having seen the value that extra training has brought to the team.
“For an independent to say ‘well done’ means his (Woodvine’s) confidence has grown dramatically,” Watts says. “He wants to take on more and more and we are developing him so his skills base gets much wider which means I don’t have to do as much.”
The business is also committed to putting its motor claims coordinator Dean Smith through the introductory course – which Woodvine completed four years ago.
“Dean understands what he has to do, but perhaps he doesn’t understand what insurers are trying to achieve or the pressures on the body shops. The introductory course will build his knowledge and give him a greater understanding of other people’s issues,” says Watts.
An extensive knowledge of fleet is crucial for Watts and his team as they manage the entire fleet operation in-house.
He says: “We know our staff the best, we know how the business would like to operate and I don’t think a third party could do that to the level we do. We take the call if something goes wrong any time day or night. Ultimately we are a service provider to our own business; our staff are our customers as well as our colleagues.”
Watts joined Rydon 18 years ago as a fleet administrator and took over management of it nine years ago.
“We handle everything – procurement, disposal, fuel provision, mileage capture, P11D (reporting) and telematics,” he says.
“The three of us will manage all of that. We are positioned within the HR department and I report to the HR director, so we are close to the top. We’ve got a voice that’s heard at a very high level which is important as the fleet is the second biggest cost after salaries.”
With a background in vehicle maintenance, Woodvine joined the team seven years ago and looks after the maintenance requirements of the fleet.
“When I was recruiting I needed somebody who had that workshop experience, understood the oily bits and knew how long a job should take,” Watts explains.
Woodvine trained with BMW on a light vehicle maintenance and repair apprenticeship before moving into fleet.
“The leasing companies will have a whole team of people with Sean’s experience and that’s what we are trying to duplicate. I guess we are almost a mini leasing business for our own staff,” says Watts.
Adding to the fleet team’s responsibilities is the business’s outright purchase model.
Watts explains: “We’ve proposed leasing in the past but the chief executive has some very strong views against it. He likes to control what he does and he employs people with the knowledge to operate that way.
“We’ve got a good understanding of the new and used vehicle market, and we do everything else in between – it’s cradle to grave in that respect.
“I’ve worked in the motor trade since I was 19, so 30 years. About 12 of that was in a dealership and dealing in car hire.
“Historically we have always run a nearly new fleet, buying predominantly from auction. But we couldn’t always get the vehicles we wanted and hire companies started running cars for longer so we moved to buying new cars, with support from dealers and manufacturers, in 2008.
“We haven’t changed from there, we moved to a wholelife cost model at the same time. We throw all the costs into the equation, employer’s national insurance along with the running costs associated with that vehicle.”
The fleet is predominantly user-chooser and offers plenty of choice to drivers. Cars are divided into 10 bands, with caps for CO2 (ranging from 95g/km in the lowest band to 130g/km for the highest) and insurance applied to each.
Trade-ups are also allowed and around 45% of drivers take advantage but Watts says more drivers are tending to trade down as people are looking to save money.
“Some drivers have a very clear idea of what they want, even down to the final spec. Others haven’t got a clue and perhaps you have to ask a series of lifestyle questions and balance it against their appetite for paying tax,” said Watts.
“It’s also down to the manufacturers if they want to support their product with an attractive price that fits within our bandings.
“The Nissan Qashqai has been a very popular model but there is no other population of any particular car. It’s good for us to have variety because if one model takes a residual slump we don’t have a car park full of them.”
He has seen a shift away from brand loyalty though and believes drivers are moving from the premium badges and looking for mainstream vehicles with a higher specification.
“We are pretty open, drivers can choose three-door, coupe or convertibles. We might flag it with the manager to check if it’s suitable in case they have a need for taking clients out, but other than that it’s not an issue,” Watts adds.
Cars are re-allocated where possible if still in life and the business runs a three-year or 60,000-mile replacement policy as this tends to ensure cars stay within warranty while on fleet. It also operates a pool car fleet for new starters, and uses rental for top-ups where necessary.
The 200-strong car fleet has achieved an average CO2 of 100g/km and Watts says that tax is becoming high on the agenda for his drivers – two drivers have opted for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for that reason.
Watts would like more plug-in vehicles on the fleet but considerations need to be made over how many miles drivers do.
“If somebody lives further away than the electric range and doesn’t have access to a charger then their fuel costs will end up being higher than in a conventional car – there is still a lot of work to be done,” he says.
“We’ve considered switching our London office to a fleet of electric pool cars, the cost savings can be dramatic, but we have the issues of taking people out of cars.
“There’s no denying we’ve all got to go electric if we want to stay in our company cars, but I think there is still a fear of the unknown.”
The fleet also includes 150 vans and with those the focus is very much about them being fit for purpose. The team looks heavily at the cost, but while there might be something with better emissions, sometimes they will opt for a model with a larger payload.
Watts says: “We have Ford Transit, Vauxhall Combo and Vivaro, and Volkswagen Caddy models – unlike our car fleet it’s very vanilla in that respect.”
Vans are run on a five-year replacement cycle but they tend to do a lower mileage. Generally the van fleet is used for managing repairs for social housing and healthcare.
The company has a Renault Kangoo ZE van, which was added to the fleet when the company took part in the Energy Saving Trust’s Plugged-in Fleets initiative. However, issues with charging times and locations have prevented more electric vans joining the fleet.
Older Grey Fleet cars ‘make us wince’
For Simon Watts the biggest change in his fleet is the cash allowance takers. At Rydon, 200 people take cash over a car with the alternative offered in seven of the 10 grades (three are job need).
Watts explains: “Lately more people are opting for the allowance, especially new starters. Within the car fleet we lose as many as we gain.
“We have less control of the allowance driver. I view it as a company car, we just fund it differently – the difference is I can’t make the driver change his tyres.
“I think the vehicles tend to be older too and CO2 is much higher, plus you have to question whether the maintenance is to our high standard.
“I’d prefer to have them all in company cars, it would be a lot easier to manage. Clearly some are using it to their advantage and are driving cars that are much better than the rates we are paying, but others are at the opposite end of the scale.
“We don’t scrimp on maintenance, our job is to build buildings. If our site manager doesn’t turn up to open the site, we lose a day’s productivity.
“If a driver has an engine failure or even a clutch go, the costs could be into the thousands but in a company car they have a safety net that ensures we will keep that car on the road.
“Some of the personal leasing deals are very attractive and drivers are running much more expensive cars than they could get through our scheme and benefitting from the extra income by not having a car. If they are running a nice, clean, modern, safe car, they aren’t a problem for us; it’s the ones that are using older cars that make us wince.”