Leasing companies say lessons learned from the first lockdown have prepared them well to maintain services to fleets second time around.
People are once again being urged to work from home, non-essential retailers have been ordered to close and pubs and restaurants can only sell takeaways, after the Government imposed a month-long lockdown in England, from November 5 until December 2.
During the first lockdown in the spring, hundreds of thousands of company cars stood idle as fleets felt the full force of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost three-quarters (72.6%) of respondents to a Fleet News survey said fewer than 10% of their company cars were being driven for work.
Any semblance of normality was reserved for just one-in-20 fleets, which said more than 75% of their company car drivers were still on the road.
Vehicle deliveries and collections were halted as leasing companies worked with fleet decision-makers to extend contracts, where possible, and mitigate potential charges being incurred during the pandemic.
Six months later and experience gained during the first lockdown has better prepared the leasing industry to remain fully operational for fleets during lockdown No2.
LeasePlan UK told Fleet News that one of the main challenges it faced in March was keeping essential workers on the roads while ensuring that all vehicles were roadworthy and safe, all against a backdrop of widespread closures and backlogs across the manufacturing and maintenance sectors.
“We really learned a lot from the first lockdown, and this time round we were fully prepared and had already put all the necessary processes in place to ensure our customers stay mobile throughout,” said a spokesperson.
Guidance issued by BVRLA and Government
Guidance issued by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) and Government is also helping keep both employees and customers safe, according to Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions (HCVS).
Managing director Jon Lawes explained: “As a result of our preparations, we are able to remain open for business and all our services including collections, deliveries and vehicle maintenance are continuing with minimal disruption throughout this national lockdown.”
It was a similar story at Alphabet, where Gavin Davies, general manager, customer relationship management and public sector, said it remains “open and operational”.
“New vehicle deliveries are continuing using a click-and-collect-style service through our retail partners, servicing and repair support is ongoing, as are end-of-contract collections, with contactless precautions already in place,” he said.
Alphabet’s focus on enhancing digital platforms to simplify and streamline services, has proven key in maintaining business operations for its customers, according to Davies.
He added: “We’re continuing to pivot our business to bring more remote services to customers and partners, such as using an e-auction platform to support with online remarketing, removing the need for face-to-face contact.”
As well as digitising and simplifying services, leasing companies continue to work with fleets facing financial pressures and changes in vehicle usage.
“What’s clear is that customers need ongoing flexibility,” Andy Barrell, Lex Autolease
Since the first lockdown came into effect in March, Lex Autolease said it has helped customers optimise and improve their cashflow by, for example, amending mileage limits to reflect their changing short-term needs. More than 3,000 of its customers have also benefited from payment holidays.
Andy Barrell, head of business development at Lex Autolease, said the leasing company is committed to working with customers to help them navigate their way through the pandemic.
“What’s clear is that customers need ongoing flexibility,” explained Barrell. “Some sectors will be hit harder by the second England-wide lockdown, and other restrictions in Scotland and Wales, and remain cautious amid future uncertainty.”
Short-term rentals and informal extension agreements have helped reassure fleets in the interim, allowing them more time to assess what they might need in future, he said.
The latest unemployment figures highlight the tough economic backdrop companies are having to endure. The UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up from 4.5%, as coronavirus continued to hit the jobs market. This was before the furlough scheme was extended until March.
Redundancies rose to a record high of 314,000 in the same period, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Analysts suggest the furlough extension came too late to save some jobs and further rises in unemployment are likely in the coming months.
This article was first published in the November edition of Fleet News.