Fleet industry leaders gathered to see who would receive one of 32 awards handed out on the night. Fleet News invited fleet decision-makers to tell us who they thought should receive an award and we received hundreds of nominations.
In total, there were more than 200 companies, cars and fleet-managers to consider. A 12-member judging panel, whose companies have a combined fleet size of nearly 400,000 vehicles, was brought together for the judging process.
In total, an estimated 15,000 sheets of paper were shared between them and many were up until the early hours of the morning for several days during judging in February, giving each potential winner full consideration.
Fleet managers were invited for face-to-face interviews before a winner was chosen, while service companies were asked to send in a detailed questionnaire, to allow fair comparison, and car and van experts were invited to give their views on vehicles for the manufacturer awards.
In total, a team of more than 60 people worked on preparing the awards over a period of more than six months. The gala ceremony at Le Meridien Grosvenor House Hotel, London, was the scene of celebration as the names of winners and highly-commended companies were read out. It was all the more important because two manufacturers who won awards on the night, Ford and Vauxhall, are celebrating their centenaries this year.
Fleet News editor John Maslen told the audience: 'It is also a special year because Fleet News is celebrating its 25th anniversary of reporting on the fleet industry and providing the latest information to fleet decision-makers.
'The anniversary has spurred us on to ensure that this year's awards are the most in-depth in their history.'
Below we take a look back at the evening and the winners who were judged the best in the industry.
UK fleet of the year award
Sponsored by Mazda
Fleet Environmental Award
Sponsored by BP Oil UK
The biggest winner of the night was Barry Illing, road fleet manager at EWS Railways, receiving awards for UK Fleet of the Year trophy, sponsored by Mazda and the BP Oil UK-sponsored Fleet Environmental Award.
For the Fleet of the Year Award, the judges were looking for strong and creative initiatives during the year, understanding of the key issues faced by fleets now and in the future and a keen approach to driver safety and the environment.
Illing has instigated a seven-point plan and key performance indicators for suppliers while cutting back his fleet. A review of maintenance control produced huge savings without compromising the firm's safety record.
Environmental measures encourage the use of alternative transport, while there is a detailed programme of checks to ensure employees are safe on the road. The Fleet Environmental Award requires its winner to have 'implemented initiatives including the use of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, integrated transport programmes and plans to reduce fleet business mileage and fuel consumption.'
Illing did just that on his fleet of 200 cars and 301 vans, using technology to identify environmentally-inefficient areas and then tackled them, stating an aim to 'go beyond relevant environmental legislation and standards and aspire to best practice'.
As well as downsizing the fleet after identifying alternative ways of working and picking out cars with low usage, Illing slashed annual fuel use by nearly £250,000.
Illing was astounded by his double win. He said: 'I'm shell-shocked, absolutely stunned, and chuffed to bits. I'm grateful to my line managers as well for allowing me to manage the fleet in the way I'm able to. I am given the freedom to do things the way I see fit – the firm gives me the responsibility.'
European fleet of the year award
Achieving pan-European fleet harmony is no easy task. The European Fleet of the Year Award, sponsored by Volkswagen, recognised the growing role of the pan-European fleet manager within multi-national companies.
Photographic technology and photocopiers company Canon Europe has a fleet of almost 5,200 vehicles across the Continent. Two years ago it signed a major fleet deal with GE Capital Fleet Services in a move aimed at slashing bills by e4 million over a period of three years across its European fleet.
Canon employs a central European fleet manager, John Saunders, who oversees the massive fleet project. Unfortunately Saunders was unable to attend the awards due to work commitments but Steve McAuley, commercial leader at GE Capital Fleet Services, collected the trophy on his behalf.
McAuley said: 'I'm so pleased for Canon and I'm also delighted that the company is a client of ours. It is a forward-thinking company which is achieving real savings on its fleet.'
Fleet manager of the year (401-plus vehicles)
Richard Flint, transport manager at Stratchclyde Police, took the Peugeot-sponsored Fleet Manager of the Year (401-plus vehicles) trophy, following a major overhaul of the fleet that has achieved annual savings of nearly £200,000.
Flint, a previous Fleet News Award winner, said: 'I'm ecstatic about winning. It's fantastic news for the force, who have been supportive and excited about the awards. This award raises the profile of all police fleet managers and gives them some recognition. Many of them are doing as good a job as me but they don't like to shout about it. Although we are fleet managers and it doesn't seem that we are directly involved in police work, it is also part of our job to ensure crime is reduced.'
The judges thought a number of relatively simple ideas brought in by Flint, such as roadside repairs for police vehicles, had freed up police time and resources to keep more officers on the beat.
Fleet manager of the year (101-400 vehicles)
Graham Hine, facilities manager at the Adult Learning Inspectorate, won the Vauxhall-sponsored Fleet Manager of the Year (101-400 Vehicles) for a number of initiatives in the 120-strong fleet he has built up from scratch.
Hine caught the judges' attention for what they called 'fresh thinking and a determination to make a difference'. He was sharing best practice with other fleet managers and was reworking his fleet policy after just one year to make sure it meets the changing demands of ther growing business.
Under Hine's guidance, drivers are restricted to cars that meet strict emissions and safety limits, while also meeting vital wholelife cost benchmarks to keep down running costs.
Hine said after receiving his trophy: 'This was a very unexpected award, and it is much appreciated. I'd like to thank the judges for choosing us as winners, and I look forward to next year.'
The judges thought Hine's achievements were all the more remarkable as he was managing a multi-million pound building project during the same period, which was completed on time and within budget.
Fleet manager of the year (under 100 vehicles)
For the second year running Gill Garrett, UK sales co-ordinator at Premiere Products, was named Fleet Manager of the Year in the under-100 vehicles category, sponsored by Northgate plc.
It was the first time a fleet manager has won two consecutive awards in this sector, but according to the awards judges, Garrett was 'a shining example of best practice in the industry that some much larger fleets would do well to follow'.
Garrett said: 'I'm absolutely delighted to have won two years running. In the past 12 months, I have continued the work I started, taking into account new challenges like the London congestion charging scheme and the EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive.'
She added that some fleet managers were reluctant to come forward to promote the work they have done to benefit their companies, and hoped her award would encourage them to do so in the future.
Fleet risk management award
Fleet executive Charlie Shiels was rewarded for introducing initiatives to enhance the safety of his employees while driving on business.
As director of risk and transport at Geopost UK, Shiels' commitment to protecting drivers and vehicles in a multi-drop, time-sensitive industry were viewed by the judging panel as second to none.
The company has a comprehensive risk management approach and a series of initiatives hammer home the point, including several accident-free days, a Van Driver of the Year competition, anti-road rage advice and driving licence audits. Geopost operates a 1,000-plus vehicle fleet and has achieved a 20% drop in industrial injuries, an element of which are vehicle related.
After receiving the Fleet Risk Management Award, which was sponsored by Kwik-Fit Fleet, Shiels said: 'It is a great reward for a fantastic team effort and I am delighted. We will be back next year and hope to win many more awards.'
Best small car
The Volkswagen Polo took top honours in the small car category at the Fleet News Awards 2003.
The category was among the awards sponsored by Arval PHH, and includes the traditional supermini, a car judged to be suitable for local work by a junior field person or public sector employee.
The winning car had to provide a totally cost-conscious solution for the fleet operator, while offering practical and desirable motoring for the driver. The judges thought the Polo has the depth of range, image, durability, desirability, practicality and running costs to come out ahead of the competition, which was in many cases equally practical.
They said: 'It may not be high on thrills, but it more than makes up for that with its great range of engines, sturdy build quality and size, which place it ahead of its accomplished rivals.'
Fleet manufacturer of the year
The biggest shouts of the night came from the Volkswagen table when the company won the coveted Fleet Manufacturer of the Year Award for the second year in a row. VW also won in 2000.
The category was one of the hardest to judge as most major manufacturers have pulled out all the stops in the past year to ensure they improve their services to fleets. The judges were looking for the best of the best in this category, with their considerations taking in model range, residual values, wholelife costs, strength of dealer support, fleet departments and initiatives launched during the year.
The judges said: 'Volkswagen takes an active role in fleet life, talking to businesses and asking what it can do to continually improve its service and remain the best in the market. Furthermore, when problems arise, it is not afraid to tackle them head-on and restore order. Backed by a great brand and fantastic vehicles, it is a deserving winner in this category.'
One of the most prestigious awards of the night went to Vauxhall in recognition of a century of outstanding service to fleets and its efforts to provide clean-fuelled vehicles.
The AA Tyre Fit-sponsored Platinum Award recognises the company or individual that provides outstanding service to the company car, van and fleet industry. The judges said: 'The award goes to Vauxhall to recognise its role in motoring and fleet that has stretched over a century. During that time, it has become a stalwart of the fleet industry, winning a place on some of Britain's biggest fleets, most recently with its £1 billion deal to supply rental giant ANC Corporation.
'But its commitment is also being recognised in the important area of alternative fuels. Vauxhall's long-term investment and commitment to greener motoring is truly deserving of recognition.'
Best mini MPV
Vauxhall also took top prize in the Arval PHH-sponsored Best Mini-MPV section, with the Vauxhall Zafira. This is the third year in a row that the seven-seater mini-MPV has taken top spot, prompting a delighted response from Vauxhall fleet director Maurice Howkins, who collected the award.
The judges said: 'If you look at the criteria for this award, there can only be one real winner. This is the real 'ace in the hole' for Vauxhall and the fresh thinking that created this market winner will soon start appearing elsewhere in the Vauxhall range.
'People carriers are the darling of the used car market and the Zafira's flexibility, including its seven-seat design, keeps it at the top of the tree in this sector.'
Best lower-medium car: sponsored by ARVAL PHH
Best van under 2.1 tonnes: sponsored by BT Fleet Ltd
Environmental manufacturer of the year: in association with the BVRLA
Ford scored a hat-trick of Fleet News Awards in a range of categories, ranging from cars, to vans and the environment.
The Focus picked up the Best Lower Medium Car Award, fending off competition from a string of new contenders from rival manufacturers and taking its fourth award in four years.
It was rewarded for combining elements of being operationally efficient, wholelife cost-competitive and desirable for the driver. A comprehensive range of body styles and engines was crucial for success in this category.
The Fleet News Awards judges felt the Focus was still fresh, despite being launched in 1998, with recently introduced common rail diesel engines and high-performance models.
The Ford Focus was the best-selling company car last year, with 101,399 units sold, an increase of 7.17% on the previous year. The diesel Focus was the best-selling heavy-oil car last year, with 23,178 units sold, an increase of 30.43%, just behind the diesel Ford Mondeo.
Ford's fleet diesel sales were up by 41.47% to 58,280, while its overall fleet sales were roughly unchanged year-on-year at 221,255.
The firm's second vehicle award of the night was in the van category, where the new Transit Connect took the honours as the Best Van under 2.1 tonnes. The category was newly-introduced for 2003 and represents one of the toughest challenges for any manufacturer, with a host of accomplished rivals to face.
Ford took a different approach to many rivals in the sector, creating a completely new vehicle to tackle the market, instead of basing its model on a car. Models were judges on payload, internal dimensions and door-opening capabilities. Driver comfort and safety, security and wholelife costs were also taken into account.
The judges thought the Transit Connect offered large van durability with a low cost of ownership and excellent security features. They said: 'It redefines the market for small vans and offers a new alternative to businesses looking for a van fleet on a budget. As a fleet workhorse, there is nothing better.'
Rounding off a fantastic evening for the firm, Ford collected a third award as Environmental Manufacturer of the Year.
This award was judged by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, which assessed manufacturers on a number of factors using a detailed questionnaire. Points were awarded for separate criteria, including environmental strategy, design, manufacturing, operation, end-of-life, stewardship and sustainability. It focused on production processes and recycling issues, as well as the commitment of management to ensuring suppliers met high environmental standards as well.
The results were presented to the Fleet News judging panel, which examined the responses in detail before it ratified the decision. Ford's environmental credentials, including its production processes, content of recyclable materials in vehicles and consideration of emissions legislation were all part of the criteria, which gave the Blue Oval the edge over runners up Volvo and Honda.
Best van 2.8-3.5 tonnes: sponsored by BT Fleet Ltd
Best executive car: sponsored by ARVAL PHH
Best luxury car: sponsored by ARVAL PHH
Mercedes-Benz took the second hat-trick of the night with a string of awards for its luxury cars and for its van range.
The Fleet News Awards' judges decided the firm produced the most cost-effective luxury cars available to fleets, as well as the best van in the 2.8-3.5 tonne sector. The first winner of the night was the new Mercedes E-class for the Best Executive Car Award, sponsored by Arval PHH.
The executive car sector contains highly aspirational cars, where image is crucial. While price and tax efficiency were possibly less important than in other categories, the winner had to show itself to be competitive with its peers in terms of wholelife costs, specification and company car tax.
The judges felt the new E-class represented a huge leap forward in the executive sector and created a new benchmark for the competitors. They said: 'With a wide choice of petrol and common rail diesel engines, the latest E-class is built as well as any car in this sector and is also fabulous to drive.'
Nick Ratcliffe, head of corporate sales at DaimlerChrysler, had only just sat down following the win when he was called up again, this time to collect the top prize in the luxury car sector for the S-class.
Revisions during the past year have improved safety and reduced emissions, while the excellent fuel consumption of the popular diesel models ensures the success of the range.
Mercedes-Benz proved it can make excellent vans as well as cars by taking the BT Fleet-sponsored award for vans weighing 2.8-3.5 tonnes with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Candidates were assessed on payload, internal dimensions, door versatility and clear floor space/dimensions. Driver comfort, safety, security, cost of ownership and dealer back-up were also considered for the award.
The judges said: 'The Sprinter has a prestige badge, legendary durability, class-leading residual values, excellent dealer back-up and warranties, along with flexibility of payload and design, all adding up to a winning package. Its engines are some of the best on the market and drivers should have no complaints either, thanks to a great driving position and comfortable ride.'
Best upper medium car
The Mazda brand has been reinvigorated since the introduction of the Mazda6, and the car's vital role in reinventing the company was recognised with the award for best upper-medium car.
The tough sector is seen as the heartland of the traditional company car, so any manufacturer breaking into this area faces an immense challenge. Winning an award is an even greater achievement and the judges recognised the great strides made by Mazda to take the honour.
It had to distinguish itself as operationally efficient, highly cost-effective and both desirable and aspirational for the driver, as well as offering a comprehensive range. The judges said: 'The spirit of the Mazda MX5 shines through in this car with its excellent driving characteristics and wonderful looks, yet it also offers low wholelife costs, great engines and a wide range of body styles.
'Compare this with its predecessor and you can see the leap forward Mazda has made as a company.'
Best premium upper medium car
Audi's A4 has won its second consecutive Fleet News Award for best premium upper medium car.
Taking top honours in the award, sponsored by Arval PHH, the Audi A4 scored highly for value for money, a broad model range and benefit-in-kind tax-efficiency which were all vitally important in this category, as was high driver appeal.
The judges felt that the A4 offers exemplary build quality, a range of improved engines (including new high economy FSI petrol units), badge appeal and style that fends off rivals in what proved to be a neck-and-neck battle for first place in this sector with its German rivals.
They said: 'Although BMW's 3-series and Mercedes-Benz's C-class can easily punch their weight in this category, the Audi A4 hits back with a knock-out blow of low running costs that ensure the fleet manager stays as happy as the driver.'
Seat's Alhambra returned to the top spot in the MPV category after a year's absence. This category covers the 'traditional' people carrier market, whether offering five, six, seven or eight seats. Wholelife costs, engine range, specification and tax-efficiency all featured strongly as judging criteria.
The Alhambra came through to win the award, sponsored by Arval PHH, after last holding the title in 2001. The judges said: 'This is one of several categories where a number of vehicles are built on the same platform, making judging particularly difficult.
'But the SEAT Alhambra achieves a clear win, ahead of the Ford Galaxy and Volkswagen Sharan, which share the same platform and are highly commended in this category. The SEAT's generous specification, low pricing and the quality of the dealership network all add up to a winning package.'
Best van 2.1- 2.8 tonnes
Renault's stylish Trafic scooped the prize for best van between 2.1 and 2.8 tonnes, a new award which recognises the ever-more fragmented state of the commercial vehicle market.
The winner was judged on payload, internal dimensions, door versatility and clear floor space/dimensions.
Driver comfort, vehicle safety and security, cost of ownership and the back-up of the dealer network were also considered.
The judges said: 'This was one of the toughest categories for the judges, as many of the vans are on shared platforms. The Renault Trafic is clearly related to the Nissan Primastar and Vauxhall Vivaro.
'But the Renault wins because, in the opinion of the judges, the dealership back-up available from Renault was judged to be the best. It also offers excellent running costs. Ford's Transit and Citroen's Dispatch managed to fight their way to a highly commended place in a difficult decision for the panel.'
Best contract hire company
Lloyds TSB autolease claimed the title of Best Contract Hire/Fleet Management Company at the awards ceremony.
The award, sponsored by Toyota (GB), recognises a company that provides the best all-round service in terms of off-the-shelf products and specific tailored services, cost effectiveness, client management, internet-friendliness from a customer perspective and comprehensive support for fleet customers and their company car drivers.
Lloyds TSB autolease has been at the forefront of industry change and recently acquired the leasing business of First National Vehicle Holdings.
Despite doubling in size, the customer has not suffered because of the changes. A 'buddy' system ensures more than one employee knows all about each customer, so fleets always have someone on hand who can help them, while the launch of the Clean Fleet Alliance shows a determination to be innovative. Good business processes and a growing product range show size and service can go together, the judges said.
Best daily rental company
Hertz UK was crowned Best Daily Rental Company – an award that recognises a professional and cost-effective car and light van daily rental service provision to fleets.
Key criteria for the judges included price, flexibility, innovation, range and quality of vehicles, quality of information provided to fleet operators and ease of booking. Commenting on the industry, the judges said: 'If only every sector of fleet was as good as the rental industry, with its cost-competitiveness and business efficiency.'
They applauded the fact that Hertz just keeps on delivering with services and initiatives – backed up by the fact that it wins this award for the second year running. The judges said that Hertz leads the pack with its in-depth approach to helping customers cope with the new EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive, while it has overhauled its business to proactively help customers with London congestion charging.
'It offers a well thought-through package and seems well ahead of the game,' the judging panel added. It keeps its customers one step ahead of any changes that may affect them.'
Best risk management company
Peak Performance celebrated top prize in the Vauxhall-sponsored Best Risk Management Company award category.
The judges were looking for a company which has promoted the growing risk-averse culture and is working with fleets to ensure they meet all the new requirements. Peak Performance has secured this award for the second year running thanks to a determined effort to build on last year's success with new initiatives and a continued focus on excellence.
The judges found it has a real grasp of the full spectrum of risk management issues, which accounts for its customer retention and growth.
The company is a market leader in supplying the pharmaceutical industry with driver training and risk assessment services. Clients include GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Roche products and Leo Pharmaceuticals.
One of its most recent signings is specialist construction company Geoffrey Osborne which hopes to shave £50,000 a year from its annual £1 million fuel bill.
Best disposal company
BCA Europe took the top spot in the Best Disposal/Remarketing Company award, sponsored by MG Rover. The award goes to a company which combines excellent service levels to fleet customers with the delivery of maximum resale values.
The judges were looking for a creative remarketing approach that explored a variety of sale opportunities and one that helps fleets achieve optimum resale values for their vehicles, supporting disposal managers with high-quality management information. BCA Europe, they found, is continually dedicated to excellence, leading the agenda on issues affecting the used car market and constantly introducing new value-added services.
One of the most welcome was a V5 tracking database, designed to help customers cope with new laws that mean this document is vital to ensuring a swift sale. The panel felt the gap with its nearest rival Manheim Auctions, had closed significantly, with some saying it is the closest it has ever been.
Best fast-fit company
Services included in the Best Fast-Fit Company category, which was won by ATS Euromaster, encompass vehicle servicing and maintenance, including tyre, exhaust and battery replacement.
The judges assessed the range and quality of services offered, including online developments, authorisation processes, invoicing accuracy, staff training levels, convenience for drivers in using either branches or mobile services and overall standard of service delivery.
ATS Euromaster caught the judges' attention for its investment in a huge national network, backed by a restructured national customer service centre. They were impressed by the consistent investment in the drive for efficiency and the introduction of clever innovations that help support customers, such as online invoices and online account management.
It also has a welcome approach to safety and innovation, with its tyre checking service at Gatwick Airport that aims to help busy drivers ensure their cars are safe while they fly on business, a prime example of this.
Best glass repair/replacement company
Autoglass claimed the Best Glass Repairer/ Replacement Company award. It recognises a company offering the highest standards of service in the replacement of windscreens and side glass, with priority given to speed of response to client needs, quality of work and management of authorisation and invoicing processing.
With high invoice accuracy, a wide range of services and speedy response to customer calls, backed by a 'Right First Time' and 'Repair First' motto and commendable involvement in safety and anti-car crime campaigns, Autoglass put itself in front in this category.
It offered a truly fleet-focused proposition, judges said.
As part of its promises to customers, Autoglass says it will only fit glass from car manufacturers' suppliers, use the quickest drying bonding system as standard and will train its fitting technicians to the highest standards.
The company is also concerned about vehicle crime and ran a successful Cracking Car Crime campaign which aimed to unite motorists, fleet companies, insurers and professional crime prevention bodies under the banner 'Share a solution, stop a crime'.
Best online solution
FleetPro collected the Best Online Solution award, sponsored by Audi (UK), which acknowledges an internet, e-commerce or online initiative that adds value and improves efficiency for fleet customers.
The web-based facility had to be useful and user-friendly for fleet operators and company car drivers. The innovation had to have been fully launched and be fully operational in 2002.
FleetPro's comprehensive single online resource for fleet managers and their drivers offers a range of services wrapped up in one straight-forward package. It attracts up to 5,000 'hits' a day. The judges found that FleetPro was simple to use, quick and adds value to every process it tackles. They believe it is a useful addition to any fleet decision-maker's toolkit.
Manheim Auctions was highly commended in this category for its Inventory Management System, and General Motors' On-line Proposal and e-Reponse Administration (OPeRA) system was also recognised.