As a result of departments such as finance and human resources taking greater control, they are turning to outsourced suppliers to provide the expertise and support they need to keep the fleet in shape.
But any relationship with an outsourced supplier depends on delivering results, rather than just their product range and claimed knowledge.
And just like a tailored suit, finding the fleet support company that is a perfect fit is a long and arduous task.
Independent fleet specialist Velo claims a place at the Savile Row end of fleet tailoring, having focused on driver needs and service in some of the most demanding sectors of the industry since 1988.
Originally founded by Dresdner Kleinwort Benson (its acronym stands for (Vehicle Leasing Organisation), its client base read like a who’s who of the banking industry. Since then it has expanded significantly and found new owners following a management buy-out, backed by venture capitalists, including the team who refinanced Velo in 2003.
The leasing firm is now owned by The Motor Group, established in 1999 by Nigel Stephens – Velo’s chairman and chief executive – to acquire Velo from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson when the bank decided to sell.
While there is a limit to how far the company is prepared to grow – with 20,000 vehicles suggested by Stephens as a rough limit – there are still huge opportunities for new products and services.
He said: ‘Our strategies look at organic growth, but we are also looking to grow through acquisition by adding businesses that complement and supplement our existing products.
‘For example, it could be commercial vehicles, although we already do light vans, or smaller leasing businesses which specialise in a particular area and increase our expertise.’
The firm already offers many of the most important services in fleet outsourcing, including contract hire, fleet management, employee car ownership schemes and maintenance control.
But its most important asset is its staff and commitment to service, according to sales and marketing director Anthony Johnston.
He said: ‘We have a strong emphasis on close contact with drivers and we are focused very much on service.’
Velo’s stated aim is to produce tangible improvements in the way fleets are funded, managed and run, with additional services for cash-for-car drivers.
About one-fifth of Velo’s customer fleet is employee car ownership scheme drivers, an increasingly competitive area for leasing companies.
But Johnston argues that the company’s focus on driver support and service is a vital differentiator in making car ownership schemes a success.
He said: ‘If schemes are working well and delivering savings and the processes are good, then they work. Most of our customers use car ownership schemes as part of an overall solution including company cars, so they can meet the needs of individual drivers, depending on their circumstances.’
Velo’s service has recently grown further with its launch of SafetyNet, billed as a total fleet safety and risk management solution.
Although it is bespoke to individual fleets, the service includes the offer of telematics technology, legal advice, driver training, compliance checking and a mileage capture service to monitor business and private mileage, backed by a duty of care check.
Johnston added: ‘It is an all-encompassing service to fleets that have concerns in this area. We can work with the customer on what they need and determine what we can provide, depending on how exposed they are.’
As part of its service, Velo is part of the innovative European Fleet Alliance, established in 1997 to provide a network of like-minded fleet service providers capable of meeting customers’ needs across the world.
Currently covering the United Kingdom, France and Germany, Italy and Poland, the alliance is working on developing its approach to global fleet management with ongoing evaluation of its service offering and potential partners in new countries.
Its partner in Germany is ASL – Auto Service-Leasing, founded in Munich in 1969 to provide a comprehensive solution to the professional mobility requirements of German companies.
One of the services it is able to provide, thanks to the partnership, is VAT-efficient cross-border leasing, where a pan-European fleet can source a vehicle in one country and use it in another to make the most of fluctuations in VAT reclaim rules to maximise savings on car purchases.
It is a niche benefit that may currently only be relevant for a few international fleets with the right global structure, but it shows the company’s commitment to innovation and product development, according to Stephens.
Although it is a fraction of the size of the biggest leasing companies, Velo is using its innovation to introduce partnerships and alliances to keep costs down, Mike McRae, operations director, claimed.
He recently launched a partnership with FleetAssist, a buying group of large companies that pool their purchasing power to reduce prices among suppliers. Looking to the future, the company is determined to maintain its edge through continued development of products, but most importantly through its investment in staff to support fleet managers and their drivers on the road.
Stephens added: ‘We are different. We are geared to meeting and beating our clients’ expectations.
‘We are a company that differentiates ourselves, giving quality service, outsourced business and focusing on innovation in our product development.
‘The staff-to-fleet ratio is quite high, but we are meeting employees needs. For us, satisfied customers equals customer retention.’