Fleet News

European fleets drive logistics revolution

Everywhere you look in today's motor industry, you see companies extending their traditional core abilities as they seek to broaden their market.

It is seen most clearly among the manufacturers. As Mercedes-Benz and BMW moved downmarket to produce the Smart and new MINI, Volkswagen decided it would develop the D1 Phaeton luxury sedan.

In many European countries petrol retailers found themselves losing out when supermarkets started selling petrol. So now the major oil company stations are selling a full range of foods and domestic goods through their retail forecourts.

But look at almost any other sector of the industry, and you'll see it's happening there too. The tyre companies are producing entire wheel modules, incorporating sophisticated suspension technology. Companies that used to supply small interior components now supply entire dashboards.

And so it is in the fleet industry. It's becoming increasingly difficult to separate the fleet world into simple categories like leasing, fleet management or contract hire. More and more fleet service companies are expanding their portfolios to compete in a changing industry.

Even logistics businesses are moving outside their traditional areas to attract new customers.

And for Richard Lawson, founder of Richard Lawson Logistics and president of inland logistics for leading European vehicle distribution company Wallenius Wilhelmsen (W&W), it is that process of innovation and reinvention that keeps the operation successful.

'There are all sorts of opportunities for those willing to look into new areas of supply chain,' he says. 'We were a traditional logistics company that delivered vehicles for clients, but we realised there were lots of added value services we could offer.'

Founded in the 1970s, Richard Lawson built up his own sizable logistics business in Europe, before being bought by Scandinavian giant W&W. Now Richard Lawson Autologistics is W&W's European vehicle distribution brand, and operates through 35 centres in the UK, Germany, Poland, Spain and France.

While the company originally specialised in vehicle distribution, it now does much, much more.

It provides new vehicle preparation for daily rental companies, manufacturers, and leasing companies - and delivers cars to specific locations, one at a time, or in bulk.

The company also provides an array of distribution, delivery, and refurbishment services to those involved in the used car industry - including all types of fleet operations.

Lawson, an immediately likeable, softly-spoken Scot, enjoys the ever-changing challenges in the fleet industry - particularly as the market becomes increasingly pan-European.

'There is a huge demand out there for innovation,' says Lawson. 'For us, the ability to prepare, manage and hand over vehicles for fleets, daily rental companies or leasing companies on a European scale became essential.

'We get fully involved in the flow of a vehicle - for example after the end-of-contract fleet period. It is then we decide what to do with a car - maybe to refurbish it, whether to put it through smart repairs (quick techniques used to reduce the number of cars going into paint repair, yet to bring up them up to a high standard), and how to best defleet it.'

The company thus finds itself providing services like body panel repair, mechanical and electrical work, computerised diagnostics, glass repair and replacement, and interior refurbishment.

'We may decide to send the car straight to auction, or to put it through a rapid (or more intricate) refurbishment process, and then move it on - at the right time - to a wide array of sources.'

With the help of its Autocare brand, the company has become an important player in the European fleet market.

Autocare is the side of the business that offers preparation facilities, PDIs, and accessory fitment, all to an agreed standard on new company and daily rental cars.

It also has a proven track record of defleeting and reconditioning used vehicles for industry clients. About 80% of Autocare's business today is fleet-related.

Some of that fleet work comes from leasing and daily rental operators. But much of it is manufacturer-driven - manufacturers who need a third party to ensure defleeted cars are not only transported efficiently and safely around Europe, but also prepared and reconditioned to the high standards demanded by their own dealership-based used car schemes.

So what was once a simple logistics business (if logistics were ever that simple) is now considerably more complex.

The company is playing a crucial part in the flow of fleet vehicles that helps establish residual values - particularly when it works alongside the daily rental sector.

This integral role gives Richard Lawson a powerful overview of what's happening in the industry, and who's doing what.

'We deal with almost every manufacturer,' he says. 'We have to know what everyone is doing in this business.

'That is why our product is flexible. We have to be able to respond to changes in the market. For example, at the moment we see a rapidly growing market for the branded manufacturer used vehicle.

'We can look at three-year-old lease cars and show there is a hidden residual in them. By this I mean we can give used car dealers a better product mix at any particular time.'

Increasing numbers of companies are realising that there is a large amount of value to be realised in the defleeted vehicle - value that was ignored by many in the fleet business in the past.

This trend is forcing leasing and fleet management companies, daily rental companies, dealer groups, logistics providers and manufacturers to work more closely than ever before.

Richard Lawson Autologistics is keen to grow its pan-European business through its 35 centres, 1,800 employees and 600 transporters. But it also boasts a series of alliances with key logistics partners in Europe to ensure that even the biggest customers are offered a thorough service.

Last summer it launched a new division - Evolution2 - that delivers cars with the same punctuality as parcel delivery companies deliver packages.

Evolution2 targets fleets, car rental and leasing companies, franchised dealerships, car supermarkets, auction houses and internet retailers who want a more flexible answer to transportation needs.

It was just the latest in a series of business add-ons that has ensured Richard Lawson Autologistics' success during a difficult time for the wider logistics sector. No doubt it will not be the last.

 

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