During this time, the industry has moved from an entirely paper-based operation to a fully-functioning cyber facility.
The internet was ‘officially’ launched in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, way before the birth of ebay, Amazon and Hotmail. Berners-Lee developed the first web page, server and browser, developed from a basic internet system used by the United States Defence Department in 1969 and initially used to share academic information.
By 1995 it was a huge phenomenon, with 20 million worldwide users and many more to come.
Like many others, the fleet industry took advantage of the new-found technology and in 1995 the first websites were already taking shape.
The industry had its internet boom at the start of this century. Internet start-ups generally progressed rapidly from 1995 to 2000 before dropping due to a flood of overly-ambitious projects.
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) was one of the first groups in the industry to launch its website in 1996.
Back then, the group told Fleet NewsNet: ‘Members will be entitled, at no charge, to one page of descriptive text detailing services, together with a listing and map location with the A-Z index of rental and leasing companies.’
The industry body was closely followed by National Tyres and Autocare, which became the first fast-fit company to set up an internet site including a revolutionary new site locator giving fleet customers the chance to find their nearest branch anywhere in the UK. The thought of not being able to locate a branch online today is difficult to envisage but back in 1996 it was a novel concept.
Fuel companies were beginning to appreciate the endless possibilities of the internet and fleets were starting to realise that the web could relieve much of the workload burden.
Shell and other fuel suppliers were actively involved in the hi-tech revolution.
Speaking at the time, a Shell spokesman said: ‘Technological advances mean that in the future fuel companies will be able to bill fleets for their fuel purchases ‘without human intervention’, which will eliminate mistakes and the possibility of fraud.
‘Drivers will be able to fill up with fuel and a smart chip, which could be on a card, key fob or in a transponder in the car, would be read either in the cashier’s office or on leaving the filling station and information on the car, driver and purchases downloaded online immediately.’
In 1997, the AA became the first breakdown and recovery service to establish an internet site catering specifically for the fleet market. A new addition to the AA’s existing internet website, AA Fleet Services, aimed to provide the industry with ‘special features to support customers, as well as encouraging other companies to become members’.
Most manufacturers were taking advantage of the internet and electronic invoicing was the latest buzzword, with Ford announcing the launch of its online flagship fleet service enabling online invoicing this year.
Fast-fit companies were also working towards a paperless office system and in the same year ATS Euromaster launched its website which allowed details of individual cars to be logged on the ‘unique vehicle record’ option, enabling the user to create a register of details, including tax renewal and service dates.
As the industry looked towards 1999, the internet was really beginning to take off and it was becoming a must-have for companies wanting to forge ahead with their fleet customers.
BCA’s website was attracting about 250,000 hits per month, a fourfold growth in the 10 months since the service had been launched.
BCA’s group sales and marketing director, Tony Gannon, said: ‘Having been the first to develop this high-tech service for the fleet and motor industry, we are now delighted to open up the online stock locator Auction View to all BCA’s customers.’
Internet use was beginning to pay off for fleets, who were saving costs and freeing up time previously spent by staff on manual paper-based desk tasks.
Speaking at the Fleet News UK Congress in 1999, Shirley Collins, fleet and insurance services manager for global medical products giant Glaxo Wellcome, revealed that she had slashed more than £1 million in a single year from her fleet running costs through the use of internet-based technology.
However, life for fleet managers was about to become even easier as CAP announced plans to launch a service that would ‘give true comparisons between cars for the first time’.
Those dealing with the fleet industry which had not at this point signed up for internet use were at risk of being left behind. One industry group issued a stark warning to body shop repairers dealing with fleets: ‘Use internet or be left out in the cold.’
A spokesman at the RMI’s Bodyshop Services Division warned that the motor industry must embrace new technology to combat continuing pressure on running costs.
It was evident from data issued by companies that the internet was here to stay. In April 1999, sales generated through inquiries to the c.2K Automotive Solutions website exceeded those from traditional phone and fax methods for the first time.
Ken Trinder, c.2K’s director at the time, said: ‘We saw a split of about 60:40 between internet and other sources, which we see as a very significant trend and a signal of the way the market is moving.
How the web was one: Fleet News’ internet articles
TO give a profile of the internet, we researched the number of associated articles appearing on Fleet NewsNet.
In 1996, there were just three stories on the subject, while in 2000 this had surged to 38. In today’s industry, it is impossible to imagine life without the internet as every company dealing with fleets seems to have a website.
Fleet managers rely on the web for hundreds of daily tasks and, as technology advances, the way fleets conduct business is likely to become even more reliant on the internet.