Key to fleet performance

By Jane Garcia

Don’t underestimate the changing role of the fleet manager.

In the past 10 years, the fleet manager has gone from somebody who used to just look after re-registration of vehicles to a business manager within an organisation, according to the Australasian Fleet Managers Association (AfMA) executive director Marja Thompson.

“The skills the modern fleet manager – I’m talking about someone who handles a reasonably sized fleet of say a couple of hundred vehicles – needs is actually quite broad when you consider that to buy a hundred vehicles will cost you around $3.5 million dollars,” she says.

“You will lose 50 per cent of that value in three years, so you’re going to lose over $1.5 million just by owning 100 vehicles for three years. If you add to that the cost of actually running the vehicles – servicing, fuel, insurance – then you can add another $500,000 a year per 100 vehicles, so it has moved from somebody who used to look after registration to somebody who is looking after a department within the organisation that has an expenditure of $1 million per year per every 100 vehicles it has in its fleet.”

Ms Thompson says the fleet manager has to be somewhat of a systems analyst: they have to look at what the organisations needs, come up with specifications, and find the most cost-effective way in which to meet that requirement. If the manager’s costing is say $1000 per vehicle out then it quickly adds up to $100,000 in additional cost.

Some of the key issues in fleet management today include using whole-of-life costing for vehicles; dealing with the dramatic decrease in the residual value of vehicles experienced last year; coping with rising fuel prices; and the push over the last year or so for the introduction of 10 per cent ethanol to fuel, she says.

Another issue of interest is the impact of technology, with AfMA recently pushing for manufacturers to provide electronic stability control within vehicles that are available for fleet.

“The new system can only be introduced on vehicles that have ABS and is known as electronic stability control,” Ms Thompson says.

“The system comes to a conclusion that the vehicle is not going in the direction that the driver really wants it to go and corrects for it.

“If you were taking aggressive steering action to try and get out of the way of something and you were losing control of the vehicle, the vehicle would actually sense that and would make a decision to apply brakes on all or an individual wheel to stabilise the vehicle so you will not get an uncontrollable slide.

“The data in the USA is that this technology is of real benefit and a real life saver. They estimate that a number of fatalities could be avoided if vehicles are fitted with electronic stability control.”

An emerging issue for fleet managers in the UK and USA, and one that is opening a can of worms, is the evolving nature of duty of care. She says some jurisdictions have legislation indicating the vehicle is considered to be a workplace.

“You as management have a responsibility to ensure two things,” Ms Thompson says.

“One that your employee is given a safe working environment; and two that nothing you do as an organisation, and that includes your fleet, is likely to have an adverse affect or impact on a member of the public.

“It has some real implications, for instance if you’re an organisation that has a sales-type fleet and a person has had a number of speeding tickets. If you don’t do anything about it and that person has a high-speed crisis and someone gets killed then the driver themselves may not be liable, but the organisation may be liable because of the action that you did not take.”

The challenge these sorts of duty of care issues present to fleet managers is that there are rules but they are not hard and fast. It is difficult to know where to draw the line to say an organisation has taken reasonable steps and it may create a ‘moving target’ for fleet managers, she says.

“If I say, ‘if you work for me and drive for the company then I want to periodically see your driver’s license’, so what is adequate? Should I see it once a year? Once every three months? What systems do I put in place to try and make sure the company is not put at risk?”

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