The lucky manufacturers and service organisations that win business from Deutsche Post will be asked to help supply and manage a fleet that has grown from 20,000 to 100,000 vehicles worldwide as a result of the acquisitions.
The newly-formed Deutsche Post World Net (DPWN) will be seeking to base its fleet spend across four categories: vans, cars, heavy vehicles and fleet goods and services. The German operator's acquisition of Securicor at the start of July followed last December's full takeover of DHL.
Leading the new fleet drive as head of global sourcing is Peter O'Brien, who was responsible for initiating a pan-European and global fleet review at DHL in 2001/2002. O'Brien reports to Dr Frank Appel, board member for corporate services at DPWN.
Following this last review, Renault, Ford and Daimler- Chrysler won the contracts to supply small commercial vehicles (CVs), medium CVs and large CVs respectively, while LeasePlan was chosen as DHL's fleet management partner. But now everything is up for grabs again as O'Brien begins the process of reorganising Deutsche Post's fleet assets. First to be tackled are the van contracts – by far the biggest and most important part of Deutsche Post's fleet.
'The mix of vehicles is going to change,' he says. 'We have a clear commitment to look at things on an international level – this is where we will source and manage our fleet.
'The reorganisation and re-tender is going to be very visible and open, encouraging all players to be part of the process. It is a huge opportunity for suppliers.'
Deutsche Post is splitting its business into three categories: the German postal operation, the banking operation and thirdly, DHL, which is becoming the umbrella brand for Deutsche Post's global delivery and logistics companies.
Securicor, for example, will come under this third business category and is expected to be rebranded DHL next year.
O'Brien says the experience of 2001 and 2002, when he headed DHL's last fleet review, will prove invaluable over the next 12 months.
'It is already proving very helpful,' he said. 'The lesson learned back then on a pan-European basis will help us move forward in the future. What we did at DHL has been helpful and has provided us with a terrific base from which to move forward.
'It's vital to develop a clear understanding of the main drivers – things like total cost of ownership. The last two years have helped us enormously in terms of developing international teams.
'Although we are moving forward on an international basis, clearly Europe is our main focus. Our suppliers will have to work and integrate with us on a pan-European basis. We cannot have big national differences.'
Four key managers have been appointed to lead international teams across the areas of O'Brien's fleet operation. The van team is up and running and is the first to start work on the reorganisation.
But the car, heavy vehicle and fleet service teams will not be far behind and will be launched this year.
O'Brien says he will be looking to find car manufacturer and fleet support partners who are 'proactive, international, and innovative'.
Partners are expected to be involved more closely than ever in the planning of fleet initiatives at DHL – but the potential rewards on offer for the winning manufacturers and service companies are likely to stimulate massive interest in the restructuring process.
O'Brien said: 'It is not just the fleet management and fleet support partners who must provide us with value-added help and innovation. We are looking at vehicle manufacturers to also help us improve our business. For example, we need innovations in vehicle design that are suited to our broad array of operations.'
This could mean designing special features for DHL's vans in southern Italy, for example, where they have to cope with much more demanding roads than those of northern Europe.
O'Brien says the fleet industry takes it for granted that fleet management and leasing partners are proactive in their support for operators – but now it is time for vehicle suppliers to extend their fleet support offerings.
He added: 'We have to make sure all our suppliers provide us with value-added help in terms of where the market is going. Increasingly we are seeing that fleet support companies are being more forward and proactive with their customers.
'They are concerned with many issues other than cost. They must help us with where the market is going – in areas like technology, fleet management, vehicle specification and design.'
O'Brien says he is determined to install 'cross-functional' teams across the fleet business to ensure that communication remains a priority for DHL in the years ahead. With the fleet operation split into four separate areas and Deutsche Post itself growing so rapidly, there's a danger that certain sectors of the company may not be benefiting from the enormous resources and skills in other areas.
'If there's one thing I've learned from the previous DHL operation, it's to be very pedantic about installing these cross-functional teams,' he said. 'Our approach back then was right, but we needed more sharing of information and skills across the business.'
O'Brien says the German parent company is just as committed to the internationalisation of the fleet as he is – which means there will be no national favouritism when it comes to awarding new vehicle contracts.
Before DHL was fully acquired by Deutsche Post last December, its fleet was made up of French, American and German brands (Renault, Ford and DaimlerChrysler). These three manufacturers are sure to be keen to retain their contracts under the new organisation – but they are likely to face tough competition from most of the other volume players in the commercial vehicle market.
LeasePlan, likewise, will be determined to show its pan-European credentials by retaining DHL's business.
DHL's moves will be watched closely – not just by all those suppliers keen to win a slice of the action, but by anyone interested in the evolution of the pan-European fleet market.
That evolution has been slower than most of us expected over the past five years, but the Deutsche Post/ DHL revamp could prove to be a terrific boost for the entire market. Why? Because it's big and important enough to convince even the most cynical old timers in the fleet world that the market is changing.
Only the very best operations will win contracts to supply DHL: those which have invested in their products, infrastucture and support teams, and those which can think outside the box.
That's why Dr Frank Appel and Peter O'Brien are set to become two of the most important figures in the European fleet industry over the next nine months.