Fleet News

Face to face: Russell Thoms, Fleet Pro

FLEETPRO won the Best Online Solution title at this year's Fleet News Awards for its DriveSmart website which provides a wealth of fleet information.

The world of online business has experienced a rollercoaster ride of success and failure over the past few years. So when a site becomes a successful venture, the company directors are often keen to boast about their success.

However, it is a different picture when it comes to FleetPro's managing director, Russell Thoms. He comes across as an unassuming, modest character, unwilling to take the praise for one of the fleet industry's online successes.

FleetPro claims to offer on its site, www.drivesmart.co.uk, a comprehensive up-to-date range of tools for employers, business advisers or company car drivers wishing to analyse the issues involved in choosing cash-for-car schemes as an alternative to the company car.

Fleets are also able to gain information on car and fuel benefit tax, opt-out tax, cash options, vehicle prices and CO2 emission figures.

From the 4,000 to 5,000 hits a day, the site generates, most of these are from company car drivers looking at the cash or car issue, according to Thoms.

FleetPro won the Best Online Solution Award, sponsored by Audi, at this year's Fleet News Awards after being in operation only since July 2002. The judges commended the site, saying it offers a 'comprehensive single online resource for fleet mangers and their drivers, offering a range of services wrapped up in one straight- forward package'.

The company says DriveSmart is simple to use, quick and adds value to each process it tackles, making it a useful addition to the fleet decision-maker's toolkit.

However, Thoms remains modest of FleetPro's success. Customers use the site, passing on information to drivers, which can sometimes take the glory away from FleetPro, according to Thoms.

He said: 'Because we are a fulfilment operation for other people, customers who use the system often get the credit.'

The DriveSmart website is not the only string to FleetPro's bow, with additional facets including driver training for individual companies and consultancy work.

Thoms explained: 'We train people at the Ford Business Centre. We set driver tests and give advice on company cars and they use our system for advice. They have a call centre which deals with fleet managers wanting information on technology or pricing and we train people to man the helplines. We also act as independent consultants, which we have been doing for more than 10 years.'

The group also offers a white labelling service to other companies. This is where the DriveSmart logo is stripped from the site and redesigned with a company's individual livery.

'You will see 'powered by DriveSmart' on other company websites,' Thoms said.

He expects this side of FleetPro to grow significantly in coming years, bringing the number of hits to both FleetPro and white labelled sites to record numbers.

He said: 'Hits to our site are not expected to increase but, including white labelling, it will go through the roof. The total volume of traffic will certainly increase.'

Thoms also has large scale plans for FleetPro, including the introduction of a pay-as-you-go vehicle rental scheme, due to be launched early next year.

He said: 'We have some major development plans which will enable fleet managers to compare any fleet funding method which can be expected during the last quarter of 2003.

'We are also introducing a major project during the first quarter of 2004. Customers will be able to acquire vehicles and then finance them according to the number of miles travelled – basically, pay-per-mile for vehicles.'

Thoms likens the scheme to a mobile phone bill. Each month has low monthly rental and then you are charged for calls. The vehicle rental will be similar.

Thoms puts the success achieved by FleetPro so far down to the speedy manner in which information is concisely delivered to end users.

He said: 'Our main achievement is to focus on the site and the specific needs of fleet managers and company car drivers to access data quickly. We have more than 5,000 cars on the database, giving benefit-in-kind tax and National Insurance liabilities. We also provide a huge amount of data in no more than two screens.

'The service we provide is unique. Some companies provide tax calculators, some have limited cash-for-car calculators, but you have to enter more information on ours. The best feature of the site is the instant access to all tax information a fleet manager is likely to require.'

However, Thoms is constantly looking for ways to improve the site and ways of offering a better facility to fleets. 'Our site is constantly revised from feedback from fleet mangers, leasing companies and employers. We have re-focused the site significantly over the past 12 months. This has focused on the search facility which is faster,' he said.

Fleet managers operating in the current financial climate need to focus on two main issues, according to Thoms: ensuring that running costs are in order and making sure that risk management polices are adequate for staff opting out of company car schemes.

'The main issue for fleet managers in the current economic climate is to predict and monitor fleet operating costs. Also being able to cope with the health and safety issues of driving their own car rather than a company car is a critical issue for employees,' he added.

The DriveSmart website offers alternatives for fleets wishing to reduce costs, with contact details for those wanting to discuss issues such as health and safety further.

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