Fleet News

Guest opinion: Technology comes at a price for us all

AS a fleet driver, I welcome any advancement in vehicle technology that will make the 40,000-plus miles I drive each year safer and more comfortable. Yet all this comes at a price to the modern fleet manager.

They are under constant pressure to maintain their fleet and keep it on the road as well as control running costs. This is becoming increasingly difficult as vehicles become more and more technology-driven.

As the sales and marketing director of a service provider to the fleet industry, I am aware of the unrealistic service expectations this new technology can give fleet managers.

Due to the speed of technological advancements, fleet managers may not be aware of the increased repair time or costs, particularly in the first six weeks to two months of the launch of a new vehicle, until something goes wrong. RAC Auto Windscreens’ own fleet manager reports delays of up to three days to get hold of components for vehicles that are new to the market.

Simple jobs like tyre or windscreen replacement have become more complex. This complexity is leading to greater costs and longer repair and replacement times for both the supplier and fleet manager. The introduction of the run-flat tyre is a classic example.

When run-flat tyres first appeared they were, and still are, a revolutionary new concept in the tyre industry. So revolutionary that in the first few months of their launch, fleet managers had to wait up to three days for a replacement. A run-flat tyre is not repairable so the cars were off the road until a replacement could be sourced.

This in a market that is known for supplying its products ‘off the shelf’.

Within a couple of months however, run-flats were readily available.

Now it is estimated that within three years, 10% of the high performance sector of the tyre market with be utilising run-flat technology.

Like the tyre industry, the automotive glazing industry is experiencing the same technological breakthroughs, which are affecting fleet managers’ maintenance budgets and residual values. On average, the cost of windscreens has risen by 56% since 1999.

This figure does not include the increased costs associated with fitting which has become more complex as car manufacturers now incorporate light, mist and rain sensors as well as satellite navigation technology in the windscreen.

As a service provider RAC Auto Windscreens has an in-house technical team which liaises with motor manufacturers to keep up-to-date with new technology. We send out regular technical updates to all technicians and have a 24 hour helpline.

One such incident involved a technician replacing a side window in a vehicle. In order to complete the job he dutifully removed the door panel only to find what looked like a bomb pulsing and ticking away. A panicked phone call to the technical helpline revealed it was in fact an airbag and one wrong move could have led to it exploding in his face.

Virtually every week the fleet media reports the introduction of new vehicle technology to aid driver safety, security and the general driving experience. Just recently Volvo announced a list of technology it has added to the new S80, including a Personal Car Communicator, which remotely checks if the car is locked, alerts the owner if the alarm has been activated and warns if there is anyone else in the car. I read the article and thought ‘I want one’.

But, in the unlikely event it should experience a fault, how long will it take to get a replacement component and will my fleet manager be cursing me when the repair bill comes in?

Both the fleet industry and those that supply it need to work together to understand vehicle technology before a problem arises. This means getting involved with the vehicle designers and manufacturers before the technology hits the market. By doing this, service providers, fleet managers and drivers will be better informed and better able to manage and plan for potential fleet downtime. Could this be the argument for having a single manufacturer choice policy?

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