Fleet News

Arriva hits the big time as rental expansion continues

ONE of Britain's largest rental firms, Arriva Vehicle Rental, which has rocketed to 10 times its original fleet size in a decade, is planning further expansion.

The firm is part of European transport services organisation Arriva, which is one of the UK's largest 250 companies.

Since 1990, Arriva Vehicle Rental has grown from a 1,000 vehicle fleet to 10,000 and last year had a turnover of £85 million and an operating profit of £10.5 million from its 43-branch UK network.

Parent firm Arriva had a £1,998 million turnover and £92 million pre-tax profit during 2001. The expansion involves opening new greenfield sites and the firm is also searching for acquisitions that will complement its current network.

Arriva already has a proven track record in successful acquisitions which boosted its fleet size during the 1990s, including Wheelabout Vehicle Hire, Willhire and U-Drive Rental (see story below).

George Spiers, fleet director, said: 'Following the acquisitions in the late 1990s we have taken time to consolidate and integrate our network and management infrastructure.

'The emphasis has been on being committed to delivering a better service and sharing operational best practices.

'We are confident that everything is in place to grow the business further organically and by acquisition, innovation, sales and marketing. However, any acquired company has to suit us, either through the fleet providing a new geographical location, or offering new skilled employees who can help with the development of the business.'

Arriva Vehicle Rental has an important role to play within the Arriva group of companies, which also cover train and bus services, offering a link between car ownership and public transport use. These are cornerstones of the Government's integrated transport policy aims.

As part of the firm's commitment to providing a range of transport solutions, it recently worked with TransportAction PowerShift to acquire 100 LPG Ford Focuses at the start of this year. It is also running a fleet of LPG Ford Transits for customers. In keeping with the customer-focused nature of daily rental, the firm has also launched new products and a website (www.arrivarental.co.uk) to increase the level of services to business. The website offers online booking, while new services such as Arriva Freedom offer flexible rental designed to meet the changing needs of business users.

Filipe Farn, general sales manager for Arriva Vehicle Rental, said: 'The Freedom service allows companies to take vehicles without a contractual commitment. This enables our customers to meet the changing demands of the business world.'

The service offers rental vehicles with full maintenance and support for medium to long-term use, but without early termination penalties.

Additional services available to customers include ply-lining, livery, racking and other added extras for customers of its 6,000-vehicle van rental fleet.

New business services are also being developed at the firm, as it makes its expertise in the vehicle disposal market available to outright purchase fleets.

Spiers said: 'With a fleet this large, disposal of our used vehicles is a challenge. To assist us, we are opening our own fleet sales centres. These facilities will be available to any businesses that simply prefer to buy their vehicles. We have opened two already, with another one opening in June and further sites are planned.'

How Arriva grew to its present size ARRIVA Vehicle Rental began its drive into the market in the early 1990s, when as Cowie Rental it was created to meet the rental demands of Cowie Interleasing.

At that time, the rental fleet was about 1,200 vehicles operating from six locations, but by 1994 the rental network had expanded to 13 locations and 1,600 vehicles.

It was in the same year that the firm purchased its first independent company, Wheelabout Vehicle Hire, based in Lincoln.

This was followed in 1996 by the acquisition of Lathom Self Drive based in the north-west of England, expanding the network to some 17 locations and 2,500 vehicles. In 1997 and following increasing representation in the bus and train markets in both the UK and mainland Europe, a major re-evaluation of the Cowie brand took place and the Arriva brand was born, with Cowie Rental re-branded as Arriva Vehicle Rental.

Later that year U-Drive Rental in south-eastern England was incorporated into the group, adding a further nine locations. This was swiftly followed in 1998 by the acquisition of Bellamour Car and Van Rental, with four locations in the south west.

The largest acquisition came in 1998, with the purchase of East Anglia's leading rental firm, Willhire Vehicle Rentals, which offered a further 17 locations and 1,100 vehicles.

Jamie Whiteman, general manager of Willhire and previous director of the firm prior to its acquisition, said that advantages of becoming part of Arriva Vehicle Rental has inspired massive growth for the company.

He said: 'Since Willhire was acquired, it has had growth of about 45%, which would not have been possible before. Having a large financial resource allows access to the necessary investment required. There is also the benefit of in-house training, centralised purchasing, property and legal support, as well of being part of a larger national network.'

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