Think of the sites that let you compare prices on everything from flights to the cost of a DVD or the machine to play it on.
It’s this idea that forms the basis for Fuelcards.co.uk a website that claims to offer fleet managers advice on which fuel card to go for by comparing the major players in the market.
Mark Kilvington is sales and marketing director of Fuelcards.co.uk.
‘There are a lot of consumer sites out there with information on things like gas and electricity bills,’ he says. ‘If you were to ask a fleet manager about fleet fuel cards you’ll find all sorts of different opinions about how easy it is to get information about them. There’s a mixed bag of messages, and we just want to make it easy.’
Kilvington says the market, and information about fuel cards, is continuously changing. He says the site allows fleet managers to easily keep an eye on who is offering what, rather than signing up for a particular card and then forgetting about it, perhaps missing out on a better deal.
He adds: ‘The days of fleet managers having to ring around every single fuel card supplier for a quote are numbered.
‘As legislation like the EU’s 6th VAT Directive comes in, pay-and- reclaim schemes on fuel will die away.
‘For the smaller fleets there’s an immediate need to switch to systems, like fuel cards, that enable direct payment to suppliers, which allow them to reclaim VAT. From the outset, these fleets need to know they have the best card available and fuelcards.co.uk is the fastest, easiest and most reliable way to reach that decision.’
Kilvington continues: ‘The internet is an important tool for everyday business life and people want information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are not saying this will answer everybody’s questions, but it starts the process going.
‘It’s able to compare and contrast all sorts of cards, including networks, prices, card charges, how people want to be priced, whether fixed or pump pricing, and offers results according to the number of vehicles.’
All the information possible is important to fleet managers, Kilvington feels, but one aspect is most important.
‘Ultimately, when people make a fuel purchase they are driven now by cost,’ he says.
‘Price is driving where people want to go and that’s what’s making them look around at the market more.’
As well as the web results, Fuelcards also has a small team available to give advice over the phone.
It seems straightforward but there are complications. Although at first glance the site appears to be independent and impartial, a closer look reveals that it is owned by ‘one of the largest fuel card companies in the UK’.
That company is Bayford, although Fleet News could not find the name actually mentioned on the site.
This throws up the question of a possible conflict of interest. Could Bayford be using the site to promote its own cards ahead of those belonging to rivals?
Kilvington is quick to assure users that the site is as impartial as they come.
‘We as Bayford do have cards on there and they will come up in results. But we don’t just recommend one card, it will compare it against a variety of others and display the data on all of them.’
But other fuel card providers and industry sources raise serious concerns over the independence of the site. Fleet News spoke to a number of critics who, because of their dealings with several oil companies and card suppliers, refused to be named.
Concerns range from the quality and independence of the advice being offered to fleet managers and those responsible for fuel purchasing, to an oversimplification of the fuel card market.
Can a fleet manager choose a supplier on the basis of a tick box exercise? Some of the suppliers say not. Many of them offer prices based on volume, rather than flat rates, so it’s hard to see how the website can factor this in.
With some suppliers telling Fleet News they don’t publish their prices, you have to wonder how accurate and up-to-date the information on Bayford’s rivals is. In several tests run on the site, results tended to favour Bayford fuel cards. This will only, ahem, fuel speculation that Fuelcards is biased.
Kilvington is baffled by the claims and assumes competitors are trying to pour boiling oil on their rival.
‘We talk to BP, Shell and Esso amongst others to get information and we have up-to-date information and are kept up to speed all the time,’ he says.
‘All of the cards on there, we have their prices. That’s the whole point of the site. The key concerns come from competitors more than the end users. The consumer would be free to qualify the information provided by speaking to suppliers.
‘It’s easy for other people to wish they had something out there very similar and they don’t like to not be there, leading the market, which is what we are trying to do.
‘Fleet managers are getting impartial advice. The site is there to be impartial and it’s a separate thing to the rest of the Bayford business. It stands alone.’
It might help if Bayford was more up-front about its involvement in the site. Hiding behind a web interface that at first glance seems to be independent will only fuel suspicion.