Fleet News

Face to face: Ian Carlisle, managing director of Autoglass

IT is all too tempting for fleet executives to look through rather than at their vehicles' windscreens, but there are compelling safety reasons to pay closer attention to car glass.

Changes in vehicle design have raised the importance of glass within vehicle architecture to new levels, and while repairing or replacing windscreens may remain the archetypal distress purchase, decisions about this work cannot be taken lightly.

Research by the Transport Research Laboratory has revealed that a windscreen accounts for up to 30% of a car's structural rigidity, giving it a critical role to play in any roll-over situation.

Moreover, the windscreen is the essential buffer for the successful deployment of passenger airbags.

In 1997 only one of the top 10 best-selling cars in the UK had a passenger airbag as standard, but this year all of the top 10 offer twin front airbags.

In a crash, if a windscreen is incorrectly fitted, the explosive charge of the airbag will simply blow out the glass, ruining the effectiveness of the airbag and weakening the car substantially.

Add into the equation that one in 10 of the drivers killed on the road die as a result of being ejected from their cars in a crash, despite wearing seatbelts, and it's clear that the importance of glass staying in place even under the most extreme circumstances can be a life or death situation.

'We have a duty to motorists to inform them about this product that they take for granted,' said Ian Carlisle, managing director of Autoglass.

He commissioned the TRL research and denies outright that Autoglass is simply jumping on the safety bandwagon that has gripped the fleet industry since the formation of the Work-related Road Safety Task Group.

Autoglass will spend £5 million this year commissioning safety research and promoting the importance of taking glass safety seriously, and wants to get the message across to the fleet audience.

'Fleet managers have huge responsibilities, and their duty of care to their drivers is becoming more important,' said Carlisle.

'However, I do not think many fleet managers recognise glass as a product that makes their cars safe. Cutting corners on windscreen quality is cutting corners on safety.'

There is no question that fleet decision-makers have been under pressure from their line managers to lower fleet budgets and expenditure, and glass can be a considerable area of expense.

Fleet cars are three times more likely to need their glass repairing or replacing than private cars, largely as a result of the higher mileages they cover, with work required on average every two years.

Carlisle admits that Autoglass is not the cheapest supplier in the market, but insists that its combination of service quality, invoicing efficiency and commitment to repair rather than replace glass (at a fraction of the cost) wherever possible makes it a high value provider.

The week I visited the company its repair rates were accounting for 30% of its work, even though this is lower revenue, lower profit business.

'We push hard the repair not replace issue, because if you do not need to disturb the original factory seal around the glass, then don't do it. We repair as many windscreens as the rest of the industry put together,' said Carlisle.

Repairing or replacing glass is skilled work, and Autoglass is lobbying the Government to introduce training standards and a national register of qualified fitters to prevent anyone off the street from setting themselves up as a glass fitter with no knowledge or experience.

The company itself has recently created the new role of technical supervisor in each of its 140 branches, with the supervisor dedicated to the training of fitters.

It's a huge investment, but one that fits in with the company's 'circle of success' management philosophy that sees business decisions taken on the basis of three criteria – business results, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

A key example of this was Autoglass's decision last summer to move back in-house its overflow call centre.

The operation had been outsourced to one of the best call centre companies in the UK, but Carlisle argues that the best people to represent the Autoglass brand are people employed directly by the company who understand its culture and its goals.

This was far from the cheapest option - some companies are even outsourcing their call centres to India - but it meets the criteria of the circle of success, being better for the staff, better for the business, and therefore better for the customer.

'A service experience is not about an industry sector. Our aim is to provide a unique service experience compared to any other great service provider,' said Carlisle.

Consequently, the company has benchmarked itself against the best call centre operations in the financial services and travel industry, and not merely against the glass or fast-fit sectors of the motor trade.

The challenge facing Autoglass, however, is that the purchase of glass is a distress purchase, so the company's focus is on taking away the pain and hassle associated with the issue.

A substantial investment in systems has established direct links with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the insurance industry database giving Autoglass access to more than 40 million records, which may seem excessive until you understand the complexity of the windscreen world.

When a relatively low volume car such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK has 13 different windscreens, and other manufacturers introduce different tints, sizes, and even heated screens, the importance of knowing the exact model (preferably from its VIN number) becomes vital for the quick replacement of a broken screen.

And speed is of the essence - a car with no glass is undriveable.

'Drivers want to make one call, put themselves in the hands of someone who understands, and expect the problem to be solved,' said Carlisle.

'Customers now expect a mobile service, and we have to go to them at a time and place that is convenient to them.'

Initially this meant the roadside, office or home, frequently out of hours, but new system developments by Autoglass now mean drivers out of the country on holiday or business can enjoy the same peace of mind, thanks to Autoglass's sister Carglass companies on the continent.

It may be tempting to look through, rather than at glass, but there is much more to see when you look closely.

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