Fleet News

Car makers fall in for Army's own fleet show

THE Armed Forces hold a unique place in the UK fleet market. The diversity of the vehicles required - from battle tanks to quad bikes - to meet the almost endless multitude of tasks is unmatched in the industry.

Overseeing the production, purchase and management of the vehicles is a relatively new organisation called the Defence Procurement Agency (DPA), an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence formed in April 1999. It has an annual budget of £6 billion and manages 13,000 contracts ranging from purchasing submarines to parts for radios. For the 2000/01 financial year the DPA delivered equipment to the Armed Forces valued at more than £3.5 billion.

These statistics give the DPA the status of being the single biggest purchaser of manufactured goods in the UK.

The role of the DPA is distinct from the management of the MoD's 'white fleet' of 6,500 conventional vehicles such as staff cars, vans and coaches used by the services. The MoD outsources the management of this fleet to Lex Defence Management under a 10-year £500 million contract signed last year.

The DPA takes responsibility for the 'deployable' fleet – those vehicles that operate anywhere the services operate.

A prime example is the vehicles used for internal security, carrying ambassadors or embassy staff abroad, be it in Tel Aviv, Athens or any area considered to have a high security risk. Vehicles used in these areas are supplied by an OEM and fitted with security measures and armour against possible bomb and gun attacks. Servicing is also largely carried out in-house, though if necessary the DPA calls on contractors or the vehicle manufacturers.

Managing the 'B fleet' (wheeled and deployable vehicles) is Colonel Jeff Little, DPA combat support vehicles light integrated project team leader. He is responsible for a current budget of £120 million.

'The vehicles we buy have to be able to go anywhere the services go and, more than that, have to be maintainable wherever we go for a term much longer than the traditional fleet car under contract hire. We outright purchase our fleet and estimate that, depending on the job, vehicles will last 20 years doing 20,000 kilometres a year,' he said.

'Another consideration is the need to ensure each vehicle is up-to-date in terms of technology and security measures, which play a part in the length of time they are on our fleet.'

While a great deal of the spotlight on the DPA focuses on high profile projects like the development of the Eurofighter - the Typhoon - for the RAF and equipping the Army with the Apache attack helicopter, conventional four-wheeled vehicles play an important role. With such a sizeable budget, competition to supply the Armed Forces is intense. The 'arena' where the combatant car makers meet each year to vie for a slice of the business is the Defence Vehicle Dynamics show (DVD), held at Long Valley, Aldershot.

The event is organised by the DPA and this year it attracted more than 50 manufacturers to demonstrate more than 100 vehicles, from motorcycles to tank transporters.

The 'roll call' at the DVD Show included MG Rover, Ford, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Subaru, Volvo and Mitsubishi. While the show focused on the Armed Forces' 'green' fleet, manufacturers also took the opportunity to showcase cars for the Lex 'white' fleet and their emergency service vehicles aimed at visiting representatives from the UK's ambulance and police services.

Special division aims at forces

Mercedes-Benz established a division to handle MoD business, called Mercedes-Benz UK Defence, about five years ago and turnover last year topped £2 million. This year, it is bidding for a contract to supply the services with a cargo vehicle – currently provided by Leyland DAF. The 20-year contract – worth 8,000 vehicles and £1.4 billion - will be awarded in 2003.

In the MoD's 'white' fleet MB-UK has a strong presence providing M-Class and Sprinter vans to the police. Robert Wright, project specialist for Mercedes-Benz UK Defence, said: 'The MoD is a major customer for vehicles in the UK as one of the largest employers and users. It is also one of the most demanding since the wholelife cost issue is of prime importance, with each vehicle expected to last 20 years. Unlike many of our competitors, we guarantee support – and most importantly parts supply – for our vehicles for that period.'

Wide range puts Honda in front

HONDA sees its portfolio of products as a key strength in supplying the forces and emergency services.

'We can sell motorbikes, quadbikes, generators, cars and 4x4s and even the lawnmower for your groundsman,' said Mark Jones, Honda's government and emergency vehicle sales consultant.

'Big wins' for Honda have included the supply of 65 ST1100 patrol bikes to the RAF police, 12 to the MoD police and the recent deal for six CR-Vs to the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust. Honda also supplies quadbikes to the services, including the Royal Marine Commandos, for patrolling and load carrying.

Honda is now promoting the new Civic diesel, powered by the 100bhp CTDi engine, the 1.4 petrol Jazz and the petrol/electric hybrid Insight.

Jones said: 'Attitudes at the MoD mirror those across the fleet industry with great emphasis being placed on fuel efficiency and economy. We are in a strong position with the impressive breadth of our product offering, together with leading edge technology seen in products like the Insight.'

High-profile VIP protection

Fresh on the heels of the launch of the 2002 Range Rover came the unveiling of the armoured version, designed to protect senior civil servants from attacks.

The new car is available with either the 3.0 Td6 diesel or 4.4 V8 petrol engines and comes with a staggering array of defensive enhancements to protect the occupants from a handgun or assault rifle fired at point blank range.

These include 38mm glass, 250 non-metallic and metallic steel body plates with Kevlar backing, a Kevlar fibre blanket under the body and self-sealing fuel tank to protect against grenade attack. There is also 20mm increased ground clearance, a re-inforced bulkhead and a run-flat tyre system allowing for 50km continuous driving with one front or one rear tyre deflated. The vehicle, which weighs 1,000kg more than the conventional car, costs from £165,000. It has been developed in conjunction with O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the world's largest armourer and Labbe SA.

Nick Youdan, Land Rover and Jaguar armoured vehicle sales manager, said: 'Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, the armoured vehicle market has been growing and the murder of the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn only heightened fears of the vulnerability of politicians. A lot of people have suddenly become interested in vehicle security.'

Footballer David Beckham is said to have expressed an interest in the new Range Rover.

75 helps fly the flag for Britain

MG Rover was showcasing the long wheelbase 75 Vanden Plas, marketing the car as an ideal choice for ambassadors and foreign office staff.

The car was produced in conjunction with coachbuilder S.MacNeillie and Son and has a 200mm wheelbase extension over the standard 75 saloon. It is available in Connoisseur trim, powered by the 2.5-litre V6 engine and is priced at £27,995.

The car is due to go to the Foreign Office for evaluation. Gavin Thompson, responsible for Government, police, military and specialist vehicle sales at MG Rover, said: 'The LWB 75 is a very ambassadorial car thanks to its large legroom. There is also considerable loadspace. It is important that it is British.'

Thompson was also celebrating growing interest from the police and ambulance services in the ZT-T rapid response vehicle. A report on a deal to supply two to the West Midlands and Shropshire Ambulance Service in Fleet News had led to 'several' NHS trusts calling to arrange demonstrators.

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