A panel of influential fleet industry executives described it as 'a beacon of best practice in the fleet industry' with all areas coming under the spotlight of excellence. Such attributes clearly demonstrate why Somerfield Stores' fleet operation was named as UK Fleet of the Year, sponsored by Northgate, at the 2002 Fleet News Awards. In particular, this top accolade is a fitting tribute to the company's fleet executive Dug Brown.
He joined Somerfield in 1998 when its company car fleet numbered 950 vehicles. Brown managed the addition of a further 1,000 cars when the company bought the Kwik Save supermarket chain and subsequently oversaw the total fleet's reduction to 1,200 cars.
Today, Somerfield's 1,600-strong fleet comprises about 1,250 cars and 400 vans. Measures Brown has introduced, such as annual reviews of suppliers, have saved more than £2 million in fleet costs.
When Brown joined Somerfield, company car selection was based on retail price with an annual cost in 1998/99 of £7.5 million.
His decision to use wholelife cost calculators as a basis for vehicle choice, while switching to a dual-badge agreement which trebled the discount he had previously been able to achieve, drove the annual fleet bill down to £5 million, despite the fleet growing by 250 more cars.
This year, Volkswagen has been awarded dual-badge supplier status over Ford and will provide vehicles alongside Vauxhall, which will have its annual review next year. Only manufacturers that offer diesel models are invited to bid for the volume fleet business.
Other suppliers for the company's fleet of executive cars include Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo and Rover.
Brown said: 'The decision on who supplies our dual-badge arrangement is based on wholelife costs over three-years/90,000-miles. After manufacturers bid for the business, I present the figures to our finance and human resource directors who have a say on who we choose as a company supplier.'
He describes the process as 'transparent' as all parties involved in the bidding process, including those which are unsuccessful, are welcome to visit him to discuss the figures.
Somerfield's fleet drivers have the option of downgrading their vehicles and taking a salary supplement. The company has introduced a low CO2 emission 'environmental option' vehicle for each company car choice level and actively encourages its drivers to take this option, again with a salary supplement.
Most of Somerfield's de-fleeted cars are disposed of through auction and on average achieve106% of CAP clean, but staff also have the opportunity to buy ex-company cars. Somerfield operates its own garages and bodyshops which allows the company, Brown says, to carry out its repairs cost-effectively.
He added: 'Not only do we negotiate discounts with tyre manufacturers but also tyre outlets so we secure some very good deals.'
With congestion charging coming into force this year many fleets are bracing themselves for a rise in costs.
Fortunately for Somerfield, the company only employs three people who travel into London on a daily basis using a company vehicle. Brown is currently in discussion with London public transport authorities to see if he can source travel passes for those members of staff and offer it as an alternative to the company car.
The company is also prepared for the EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive, which, from later this month, will force fleets to supply the Motor Insurance Database (MID) with registration details of every vehicle driven by an employee that is covered by the corporate insurance policy. Brown said Somerfield already has the relevant software to ensure that all cars, including hire cars, are listed ready for the company's insurance department to source the information required.
'We constantly update the information and it's an easy process so we don't foresee any problems caused by the directive,' said Brown.
Commenting Somerfield being named as UK Fleet of the Year at the 2002 Fleet News Awards, Brown said: 'I was absolutely delighted – it came as a complete surprise. It was a terrific evening and it was great to have such recognition.
'Since then, quite a few fleet decision-makers have contacted me to have a chat about what I do and why.'
Obviously impressed by Somerfield's fleet performance, the award ceremony's judges said: 'Somerfield has taken a wide-ranging and thorough approach to ensuring its fleet runs efficiently and extremely cost-effectively, with every area coming under the Somerfield spotlight of excellence.'
Advance warning of tax changes
SOMERFIELD'S fleet drivers were given plenty of advance warning of changes to the company car tax system introduced in April 2002.
In his submission to the 2002 Fleet News Awards, Somerfield fleet executive Dug Brown said he was conscious that, since many of its cars are run for three years, drivers would be paying the new tax on cars they chose in 1999.
He started two initiatives. The first was to educate Somerfield's drivers about the implications of the changes, and the second was to review and change its company car policy, so drivers had both economical and environmentally-friendly options. As soon as emissions data became available it was added to the information on the company's choice list. These lists are sent to drivers when their car is ready to be changed.
Brown added a brief calculation of the new tax on the bottom of the each list and drivers could phone the fleet management department for clarification or confirmation of their tax liability. Fleet staff were fully briefed on the changes to the tax system last year so they could help drivers. The primary objective of Somerfield's policy was to ensure that all drivers had an option that would mean no increase in their benefit-in-kind tax bills.
How to be a fleet hero Last year, Dug Brown spoke at the Fleet News Hit for Six conference on the role of a 'fleet hero'.
He told delegates that fleet executives must balance keeping bosses, HR departments and drivers happy if they are to be called 'heroes'. Brown said he has been able to cut fleet costs, as well as improve staff retention and ensure drivers take pride in their vehicles.
'A consultation with our HR department and drivers found there was a large demand for MPVs,' he told the conference. 'We added them to the choice list and although drivers had fewer badges to choose from, they have a greater choice of vehicles.'
As a result of reviewing the policy, communicating any changes between bosses, HR and drivers, Brown has been able to ensure all three parties are happy.