IT is fitting that Fleet News award-winning European fleet manager Diane Miller should stress the art of communication as a key tool towards implementing a successful multi-country fleet policy.
The company she works for, nextiraOne (NXO), is a business communications specialist, employing more than 9,500 people across the world.
It operates 2,800 cars in 15 countries and, until a recent fleet overhaul, each country operated its own fleet policy.
NextiraOne was formed in 2002 after parent company Platinum Equity integrated several of its brands under one umbrella company. Miller was charged with the task of creating a centralised fleet operation.
The aim of her initiative was to reduce costs as the company set up a centralised fleet operation based in Paris to oversee all its vehicles Europe-wide.
The company has moved to two leasing providers, Brussels-based Fleet Synergy International and ASL Auto Service Leasing, based in Germany. In Eastern Europe, it uses the services of LeasePlan and Arval PHH.
NXO has also cut its vehicle suppliers to three: General Motors, Volkswagen Audi Group and Renault, from many different manufacturers previously used by individual companies.
Three grades of car are offered to employees. Grade A drivers get the Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo, Grade B, Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane, Vauxhall Astra and Audi A3, for more senior members of staff within the grade, and Grade C, Renault Laguna, Vauxhall Vectra, Volkswagen Passat and Audi A4, again for more senior personnel.
Country preferences for brands were considered and the agreement with VAG Group, for example, allows for a Volkswagen to be offered to German employees and a similar level SEAT to their Spanish counterparts.
Miller said: 'We have definitely made savings on our fleet costs but my job now is to audit and see where those savings have been made and how much they are worth to us.
'The best way of successfully introducing a pan-European policy is by communicating what you are doing along the way to all the countries involved.
'We haven't met a lot of resistance to our plans because the other countries have realised all along that what we are doing is for the good of the company.'
The role of monitoring nextiraOne's fleets on a national basis is carried out by either the HR or finance department, based in that country.
Miller's role is to spearhead new initiatives into the fleet once they have received boardroom approval. France runs the company's biggest fleet, operating about 1,200 cars, while countries including Ireland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland and Spain operate between 20 and 25 vehicles each, making them the smallest operators.
In the UK, the company is moving its drivers out of a traditional company car and offering a cash option instead for those in B and C grades. It will retain the traditional company car offering for those in Grade A.
The company has plans to source a pan-European insurance deal, although this is in its infancy.
'It's very early days yet,' Miller said, 'but we would like to source a deal. We need to gather information about all the fleets first, though.'
This task is one of the most difficult facing Miller and the group will soon install specialist software produced by cfc solutions to help achieve this aim.
Operators in each individual country will be trained to use the system over the coming weeks. The system is expected to be fully operational later this year.
Data gathered will include drivers' mileages and details of any accidents or insurance claims.
'It is part of a huge effort to gather important information, allowing the centralised fleet team to analyse and manage risk. It is vital that we capture this data, particularly if we are to succeed in our aim of sourcing an insurance deal,' Miller said.
'It can also help see what impact issues like a fuel crisis can have on the business and how we can best manage that.'
Miller, ideally, would like all countries to operate fuel cards but has not yet found a provider that can supply cards across all of its countries.
Such commitment was an instrumental part in nextiraOne success in March, when it won European Fleet of the Year at the Fleet News Awards.
The award, sponsored by Volkswagen Fleet Services, recognised the growing role of the pan-European fleet manager within multi-national companies.
Entrants had to explain how they had led an approach to fleet policy to optimise fleet efficiency on a pan-European basis.
Miller said: 'To receive the award was a great honour. I was overwhelmed and delighted as it shows that our hard work has been noted.'
Best practice policies will be shared across Europe NEXTIRAONE plans to share best practice among its fleets in 15 countries by introducing a 'safer driving' policy across Europe.
The move should ensure that fleets in less-developed markets like Slovakia or Hungary have excellent fleet polices in place – mirroring those of the already established UK and German markets.
'The UK is a developed fleet market and we want to share what we do there with other less-developed fleets,' Miller said. 'It should ensure our fleets in central Europe have class-leading safety policies in place but we understand again that there will be some country peculiarities that need addressing.
'The policy will be adapted on a country-by-country basis to allow for unique laws to be included, but it will be a standardised document for the whole of Europe.
'We also have to taken into account different driving habits,' Miller said. 'Road conditions and driving styles differ all over Europe.'