Fleet News

Award–winning formula? No, it's just commonsense

Fleet manager Keith O'Connor is reserved about his achievements. Despite being the proud owner of two coveted Fleet News Awards, O'Connor will tell you; 'What I do isn't complicated, it is mostly commonsense.'

However, since winning his latest accolade, the 2002 Fleet Manager of the Year Award 250-plus vehicles, sponsored by Peugeot Fleet, O'Connor, who works for parcels carrier Nightspeed Services, has been contacted by other fleet managers wanting to learn about the type of policies he has introduced for his 500-strong fleet, encompassing 100 cars and 400 vans.

O'Connor joined Nightspeed in June 2000 from the fleet department of TNT UK, and is based at Nightspeed's headquarters at Tipton, near Birmingham.

His brief prior to joining was to study the feasibility of amalgamating the separate fleets of Amtrak and Nightspeed but the company decided that the economies of scale were simply not there, so both businesses are still run separately today, although they do share best practice.

This best practice was independently recognised in the 2001 Fleet News Awards when O'Connor won the Risk Management Award, and this year when he secured the Fleet Manager of the Year title.

For Nightspeed's car fleet, O'Connor negotiates support terms and parts supply with manufacturers but leaves the day-to-day management to Lloyds TSB autolease.

'Suppliers who negotiate manufacturer deals on your behalf quite rightly take a cut themselves, which makes perfect business sense. But it is for this reason I would rather negotiate such deals on Nightspeed's behalf,' he added.

The company's fleet car choice list comprises Mercedes-Benz for directors, Volkswagen Passat or Citroen Xsara Picasso for middle management and Citroen Xsara for lower-tier management. The fleet is entirely diesel-fuelled.

Marrying financial effectiveness with human resource sensitivities, O'Connor believes that as drivers pay tax on a company vehicle, so they should enjoy the car they drive. At Nightspeed, this extends to a choice of colour and some limited options. He also believes his choice list delivers the company competitive wholelife running costs.

The Citroen Xsara Picasso has proved beneficial to Nightspeed's fleet, offering plenty of space for work-related activities, such as carrying presentations, but also catering for family use at the weekend.

To emphasise the message the company car is a corporate asset that should be treated like a business tool, O'Connor makes the most of the hand-over procedure of new cars to their drivers. The company car driver collects the car from the Tipton HQ and is given a full appraisal of the vehicle. They are also presented with a tyre-tread gauge, a guide to tyre roadworthiness and a card with useful telephone numbers.

Drivers who fail to appreciate the full strength of this message can expect their behaviour to be picked up by the management reports provided by Lloyds TSB autolease, with O'Connor swift to identify both uneconomical drivers and premature repairs to properly manage the car fleet.

However, the bulk of Nightspeed's fleet comprises light commercial vehicles, largely Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, alongside about 40 Ford Transits. Most of the van fleet is funded through Mercedes-Benz Contract Hire but other suppliers include rental specialists Northgate Vehicle Hire and TLS.

O'Connor's motive for not appointing a sole supplier is simple: 'If you put all of your eggs in one company, it stops being hungry for your business.'

His strategy for both the car and van fleet is strengthened substantially by support from senior management, and he attributes the success of some of his radical fleet changes to the backing from senior Nightspeed executives.

'It's all about being able to do what is right for the fleet as well as the bottom line,' he said. 'At Nightspeed we have a management team that is also open to ideas that save money and increase service levels. My brief was to come in and radically change the fleet.'

Accident management is an important aspect of O'Connor's work and in 2001 he won the Fleet News Risk Management Award for the radical measures he introduced to improve the company's public image and reduce the number of accidents involving Nightspeed's drivers.

In a bid to cut accident rates and reduce speed-related incidents, Nightspeed has limited the speed of its commercial vehicles to 75mph. This has had the additional effect of greatly reducing fuel consumption, tyre and brake wear. O'Connor said such a move could be the difference between the vehicle stopping in time on a motorway or dual carriageway or hitting something because the driver is travelling too quickly, especially in poor weather conditions. Not only will this protect the driver but also the customers' parcels he is carrying.

The introduction of rear safety bars with proximity sensors have also greatly reduced rear damage accidents and increased drivers' confidence when manoeuvring in a confined space.

But O'Connor's most radical and hard-nosed approach to risk is the 'three accidents and you are out' policy he introduced at Nightspeed.

Since June 2000, 16 employees have lost their jobs as a result of the policy. In an ideal world, O'Connor said, the number of people losing their jobs through 'three accidents and you are out' would be zero.

'In extreme cases, and at their own cost, after three accidents the driver will have to go through a driver training programme. This policy means the driver has to be more careful and they know that we are not messing about. We hope they become more conscious.'

Regarding driver training, Nightspeed is working with a company called Fleet Interventions that offers 'defensive and decision driver training' in an effort to increase drivers' awareness of the different situations that are going on around them out on the road, to help them avoid potentially dangerous situations.

Typically, the arrival of winter sees an increase in the number of accidents on the road so Nightspeed is increasing its driver training offering throughout the summer months in preparation.

Acknowledging the work O'Connor has done at Nightspeed, comments from this year's Fleet News Awards judges included: 'He has created one of the finest examples of a well-run fleet in the country' and 'it is amazing to think that O'Connor has only been in the job for about two years, such has been the speed of development of new policies on the fleet.'

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