John Maslen, Supplement and Events Editor for Fleet News, a magazine targeted at fleet decision-makers within the UK presents his top tips for managing a fleet, successfully.
The job title of fleet manager is increasingly rare in British business. Instead responsibility is hidden in a wealth of other roles, ranging from HR manager to financial director, even chief executive or telephonist.
The truth is that anyone in any role can be given the heavy burden of running a company fleet, mainly because the people handing out the responsibility don’t really understand what an encumberance it is.
When it comes to a company’s finances, the cost of providing company cars and vans is just below the cost of salaries and is often equal to premises.
Yet the only time you will find most managers worrying about company cars is when the time comes for them to pluck their own newly-registered transport from the choice list.
The lack of interest is worrying, as the difference between an effectively managed fleet and its poorly run equivalent can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on the number of vehicles involved.
Even the basics can make a massive difference. At one company, an employee who took over the company car fleet of more than 200 vehicles found that she was able to slash costs by tens of thousands of pounds in the first week, just by asking manufacturers to offer a discount off list price.
Other companies have found that effective management of insurance costs, fuel, accidents, funding and remarketing can dramatically reduce the amount of money the company has to spend on providing employees with vehicles.
So what are the key secrets of fleet management success? Here are just a few tips to get you started on the road to an efficient fleet.
Step 1: Get trained This is one of the worst oversights in companies. Fleet management is seen as a chore, something to be given to someone else, rather than an opportunity to make a real difference. For a 100 vehicle fleet, where each car has a list price of about £14,000, the headline investment is a staggering £1.4 million. And that is before fuel, insurance, taxation and a raft of other costs are taken into account.
With any other investment, a company would make absolutely certain that it only put that money in the hands of a trained, responsible employee. Why should fleet be any different? The unfortunate truth is that, all too often, fleet managers are left to pick up the tab for training themselves, because their company ‘can’t afford’ a few hundred pounds – even though the investment could lead to savings worth thousands. It is a shortsighted approach that doesn’t fit with modern business. There are plenty of training courses available and they will almost certainly pay for themselves within the year. Try the Institute of Car Fleet Management as a good starting point (www.icfmonline.co.uk).
Step 2: Get advice Remember, you are not alone. There are thousands of people in exactly the same position, trying to handle the fleet with no recognition and often no support. Find like-minded fleet managers and share ideas and views. A great starting point is Acfo, the fleet managers’ association, which holds regular regional meetings to share hints, tips and news (www.acfo.org).
Step 3: Get your facts right There is a well-known saying in the fleet market that what you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Get to grips with exactly how much the fleet is costing. This means understanding the concept of wholelife costs – a figure that represents the actual cost of each vehicle, normally on a pence-per-mile basis. Investigate hidden costs, often related to accidents where individual departments are picking up the bill, and come up with a realistic figure on how much it really costs to provide staff with vehicles each year. A full list of suppliers is available on the Fleet News website (www.fleetnewsnet.co.uk).
Step 4: Spread the word If you have been put in charge of the fleet, then it is your job to explain to the company – especially senior managers how important it is to the financial health of the business. To effectively run a fleet, you need the support of management, from the line manager right up to the managing director. Simple punchy messages will have the best effect. Make them listen with easily understood initiatives that show how much can be saved through reducing accidents, cutting fuel use and so on. It is also your duty to explain that they are responsible for employees on the road and that the Government is focusing on a new Corporate Manslaughter Bill that could put them in the dock if they ignore safety. That normally makes them listen. The Department for Transport and Health and Safety Executive publication Driving at Work is also a useful guide for managers.
Step 5: Get support There are too many examples of managers without power in this industry. They are given the job of running a fleet effectively, but have no power when it comes to implementing new ideas. By constantly using step four, you can make the company listen and get managers to support you when you need to introduce initiatives to cut waste in the fleet by more effective purchasing, reducing accidents and most importantly managing drivers. Having the authority to discipline our train drivers who crash or abuse company cars can save a company thousands of pounds on its bottom line. It may not gel very well with the traditionally more friendly approach of HR, but the potential gains are so massive, a ‘no more Mr/Mrs Nice guy/gal approach’ could pay dividends.