Martin Soest, director of Eismann Fleet Management, is responsible for operating more than 6,000 vehicles in 20 European countries, and believes greater communication between politicians, fleet decision-makers and vehicle manufacturers would help to overcome the problems of a 'disharmonised' Europe that he faces every day in his job.
'We need to get politicians together with big fleet companies and manufacturers around one table,' he said.
'A lot is already possible, but we just don't do it. The determination is not strong enough to make it a reality, and we carry a lot of blame ourselves for this not happening.'
Transport lies at the heart of international frozen food giant Eismann's core business delivering frozen food to the doors of customers.
Harmonisation of vehicle prices, taxes and registration rules would be a major bonus to the company, but Soest is pessimistic of any short-term improvement.
'Take Value Added Tax, for example. Which country would be prepared to cut its tax rate and leave a financial hole in its budget?' he asked.
The genuine pan-European nature of the Eismann fleet means Soest needs to be an international tax, insurance and legal expert and he admits that it is difficult to maintain an overview of the fiscal intricacies in each country.
'We are a long way off a really united Europe. Everything differs from country to country; from the cost of the vehicle to registration systems, insurance and taxes,' he said.
Eismann operates on a franchise basis across Europe, and supports the transport needs of its franchisees from its centralised fleet headquarters, Eismann Fleet Management, in Korschenbroich, near Monchengladbach.
Eismann franchisees are not obliged to buy, finance or insure their vehicles from Eismann Fleet Management, so Soest faces tough commercial competition from pan-European full service leasing companies.
He concedes he is 'just one supplier among several', and is committed to continually improving the service he provides Eismann franchisees. For Soest, this involves a willingness to be more open and honest with potential suppliers, especially in tender documents.
'Potential suppliers cannot know our needs from a tender. We need to move away from that,' he said.
Equally, he believes that international fleet customers have to become more aware of which products are available on the market, although this is not straightforward given the huge differences in new car prices across Europe.
'Just try going to a manufacturer and saying that you would like to operate the same car in different countries, and that you want the same terms and conditions everywhere. It's not possible,' said Soest.
He has, however, succeeded in negotiating a single price with DaimlerChrysler for light commercial vehicles in every country where Eismann operates. 'That's how I wish it could be with cars, but as long as there are price differences of up to 35%, we are a long way from transport with no boundaries,' he said.
Other language and cultural problems also stand in the way of a truly harmonised pan-European fleet policy, and Soest admits that he cannot manage the entire Eismann fleet directly from Germany.
In Korschenbroich, Eismann Fleet Management does have economists, management experts, insurance specialists and master mechanics, but no one who can combine these specialist skills with the language capabilities to discuss pricing issues with Eismann's European partners. So Eismann makes sure it has a German-speaking contact in every country.
As for the future, Soest has a simple vision of a boundary-free transport system. 'That means that we know mobility is guaranteed for a fixed monthly price, wherever a vehicle is operating,' he said.
'External suppliers are also working towards this goal, but they will not succeed if we as customers remain so passive.' (April 2000)