Fleet Managers: Can Fuel Efficient Driving Benefit You?

For fleet managers, there are various unavoidable costs bound up with running commercial vehicles. These include the cost of fuel, maintenance and servicing.

However, there are means of reducing these costs that don’t involve major restructuring or downsizing. Together, the Department for Transport and the Energy Trust recommend fuel efficient driving techniques to save on money and harmful emissions.

 

What Does Eco Driving Involve?

This is about changing the way drivers drive, highlighting methods that will save on how much fuel vehicles consume, while improving driver safety and fleet efficiency, and reducing emissions as part of the process.

The main technique for improved fuel efficiency is smoother driving. This is about drivers anticipating situations as far in advance as possible so that, by seeing ahead, they avoid unnecessary braking or sudden acceleration.

Regulating speed in this way, and maintaining an even control of pedals helps reduce engine strain and how much fuel the car requires.

Another technique is to try to reduce the instance of engine idling. Sitting in traffic feels like a waste of time, but if the engine running it is also a waste of fuel.

Many modern vehicles have a stop-start function to help with this, but if your vehicle doesn’t, then consider switching off the ignition if you’re waiting in traffic for more than a minute at a time.

Another way of reducing engine idling is through careful planning, choosing routes that avoid the worst traffic congestion. Route optimisation is available through telematics technology.

 

Long Term Benefits

Changes in driver behaviour can have long-term benefits, both for the drivers themselves and for the businesses employing them.

Whereas vehicle technology is helping reduce fuel consumption to a degree, but consumption still also depends on how vehicles are driven, so promoting efficient driving can help ease the pressure on fleet budgets.

Other eco driving techniques include a more moderate use of air conditioning in the vehicle; shifting up to higher gears earlier; reducing vehicle drag by not carrying unnecessary extra weight; and regular servicing.

For fleet managers, they can explore different options for encouraging and training staff to take up fuel efficient driving, such as on-the-road training and online courses.

To some extent, this may be a staff engagement issue, with fleets incorporating eco driving into their corporate values.

For information on how AYCEN look after vehicle fleets, please call 0161 223 5335 or visit aycen.co.uk.

Can Vehicle Fleets Improve the Air We Breathe?

In 90% of the UK’s urban areas, Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have been above legal limits since 2010. These fumes come mainly from diesel vehicles, and are estimated to cause 23,500 early deaths a year. The situation is so serious that in 2016 a cross-party committee of MPs declared the problem a public health emergency.

The UK Government’s controversial air quality plan is controversial is attracting criticism from diverse quarters. Environmental lawyers are sceptical towards it and see it as weaker than what they wanted, while some businesses, particularly with vehicle fleets, view it with some worry.

 

Clean Air Zones

The main issue is around proposed clean air zones. These would be set up to exclude vehicles with the most harmful emissions. However, under the Government’s draft plan, these would come under local authorities, and would not be automatically chargeable to polluting vehicles.

For environmentalists, not charging makes a mockery of the whole plan. But for fleet businesses, the possibility of a charge is still a cause for concern, as it might eat into profits and margins.

Under the proposals, local authorities would still have the charging option if they exhausted all other possibilities first.

 

Alternatives and Incentives

Fleet managers have welcomed some aspects of the Government’s plan. It wants to encourage local authorities to improve traffic flow, and find ways of reducing the amount of engine idling.

It also includes proposals for a national scrappage scheme in the technical report accompanying the plan.

In contrast to the clean air zones, which have the potential to penalise vehicle fleets, a scrappage scheme could work as an incentive for them to modernise, by offering cash in exchange for them trading in older diesel vehicles.

The scrappage scheme, along with the plan, will be subject to Defra’s consultation process before it can go any further.

Clearly the pollution in urban areas is an issue in need of urgent action, but it is also clear that aspects of the proposed air quality act, if implemented in certain ways, will have a potentially negative impact on some businesses, including those operating vehicle fleets.

While a national scrappage scheme may be costly to implement, as an incentive-based concept, it has much to recommend it from a fleet management and transport business viewpoint.

This post has been adapted from AYCEN’s interview with Business Aspects Magazine.

Fleet Managers: Why Is Preventative Maintenance Important?

How safe or reliable is the vehicle you drive? For fleet managers, this question is business-critical, because vehicles that breakdown frequently impact on the reliability of the service, and on the credibility of the business itself.

What about grey fleets, where employees use their own private vehicles for official business purposes? Recent research from Enterprise Rent-A-Car reveals that significant numbers of drivers ignore warning lights in their vehicles and perform no regular maintenance checks apart from an annual MOT.

For all fleets, and fleet managers, there is a certain amount of risk that comes with not maintaining vehicles.  And this can have legal implications if a vehicle is involved in an accident and its lack of maintenance is found to be a contributory factor.

Even if a business or organisation allows its workers to use their own vehicles and claim back the mileage, it still has a responsibility for their welfare, which means it should have a vested interest in the upkeep of all vehicles used for business purposes.

 

Why Does Preventative Maintenance Work?

Vehicle maintenance can be either reactive or proactive. If it is reactive this means unscheduled breakdown servicing, which is both costly and disruptive. It is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

On the other hand, proactive maintenance takes a preventative approach. This involves scheduling in regular servicing, inspections and repairs for vehicles.

Preventative maintenance maximises a vehicle’s availability and should include a thorough vehicle inspection, adjustment, lubrication, cleaning, testing and repairing or replacing worn parts.

The aim is to reduce, or avoid, vehicle breakdowns by looking at things like mileage, engine hours and how much fuel has been used.

Working out preventative maintenance intervals is a crucial part of adopting it as a programme. This should consider things such as whether the vehicles:

  • are used for commercial deliveries
  • have multiple drivers as part of a car pool or similar arrangement
  • operate in off-road conditions
  • are subject to excessive idling or low-speeds

For private, grey fleet drivers, the administrative burden is likely to be considerably less than that for a fleet manager, where adopting some sort of software scheduling solution for preventative maintenance may be helpful.

To keep your vehicles running on the road safely and reliably, please call AYCEN on 0161 223 5335 or visit aycen.co.uk.

How Will Telematics Change Fleet Management?

What do you know about telematics, and how well are you applying that knowledge?  Sure, you can record vehicle locations and distances travelled.  But are you exploring the true potential of technology to change your fleet management?

 

What are the Benefits of Telematics?

Formula One teams have been using telematics for years, helping them with strategy and tactics by analysing performance.  It is both strategically and tactically that telematics can make a valuable contribution to fleet management and, in so doing, revolutionise it.

From a strategic viewpoint, having accurate, fresh data to hand about routes and journey times can be enormously helpful in planning and reducing costs.

From a more close-up, tactical perspective, also knowing how individual vehicles are performing, and how they are being driven, can also assist with fleet management.

Telematics are helping to integrate GPS and on-board communications with other data which, when combined, can contribute to a complete picture of how a fleet is performing.

 

Increased Integration and Improved Performance

Joining the dots, in fleet management terms, can be a headache. But the technology of telematics now helps with the development of single data and control centres. This enables fleet managers to accurately monitor how individual depots operate and co-ordinate their efforts in line with the entire business.

The right analytics can also contribute to reductions in speeding, and therefore fines – through managing individual driver performance – and improve fuel economy.

Identifying faulty components and being seen to be able to demonstrate improved safety and maintenance procedures to insurers, with the object of reducing premiums, are also key management benefits arising from the adoption, and improved use, of telematics.

There are also wider business implications.  Improvements that fleets make to their own management will mean efficiency benefits for their customers, improving the overall capacity for business growth.

Change is coming to fleet management.  While, at present, it may not have reached smaller firms, within five to ten years, telematics will be properly integrated into fleet management practices.

When Will Business Fleets Lessen Their Reliance on Diesel?

Arval, a subsidiary of French bank BNP Paribas, conducts an annual survey called the Corporate Vehicle Observatory Barometer. Talking to business fleet managers in 2016 revealed that the majority (86%) of corporate fleets vehicles in the UK are still currently fuelled by diesel despite hybrid and electric vehicles having come to the fore recently.

Arval forecasts, however, that fleets’ diesel vehicle composition will reduce by a further 5% over the next five years.

The study highlights a clear pattern, namely, that smaller business vehicle fleets are less likely to switch to alternative fuels compared to those of larger organisations.

Fleets comprised 40+ vehicles are expecting to see their diesel composition decrease from 88% to 76% by 2021, whereas those running 40 or fewer vehicles only predict a 1% reduction.

This distinction is echoed by data from many car leasing firms such as Manchester-based Contracthireacar.com, 85% of the firm’s SME clients still leasing diesel cars and vans – a figure they don’t expect to significantly change by 2021.

Business fleet managers who rely on garages like AYCEN to service their vehicles constantly have to deal with tougher BIK, VED and other financial mechanisms as the government strives to encourage the adoption of greener vehicles.

Sadiq Khan, London Mayor, is introducing a £10 T-charge in 2017, penalising pre-2005 vehicles entering the capital, as they don’t even meet Euro 4 emissions standards, let alone the current Euro 6 levels.

This additional fee combined with the London Congestion Charge will see business vehicles pay £21.50 to access central London and although this won’t affect modern fleets with Euro 6-compliant vehicles, it will affect older ‘grey fleet’ vehicles hard.

Mr Khan also wants to speed up the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone so that it’s introduced in 2019, with cities like Manchester surely contemplating similar schemes.

 

What are the Arguments For Diesel Alternatives?

Modern petrol engines are capable of delivering fuel consumption figures not far behind diesel vehicles, particularly for low-mileage use in a localised area, which can prove damaging for diesels because of the particulate filters many are fitted with.

Petrol cars and vans are generally more cost-effective to purchase, fuel and service. Diesel is still by far the best fuel for longer-distance drivers and will remain dominant for many years to come, though, because more affordable electric cars have limited ranges of around 150 miles and few can afford a Tesla Model S to enjoy a range of 250+ miles.

Arval’s Barometer found that 34% of UK fleets already run at least one conventional hybrid, whilst just under one fifth are considering purchasing or leasing at least one electric car or van in the near future.

The VW emissions scandal and the subsequent spotlight on harmful NOx emissions and public health effects, like asthma, have spurred UK fleet managers towards making their fleets not only more financially efficient but also more environmentally friendly. New conventional hybrid, plugin hybrids and fully electric cars and vans are launched on a regular basis, and Toyota even shone the spotlight back on hydrogen fuel cell technology with its Mirai.

March 2016 saw the government’s Plug-In Car Grant split into tiers, the highest discount reduced by £500 to £4,500 for ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEV) that emit less than 50g/km, with £2,500 available for cars and vans with CO2 emissions between 50 and 75g/km, if they provide a zero-emissions electric range of at least 10 miles.

British Gas, Center Parcs, Manchester Metropolitan University, Leeds City Council and other large organisations have been proud to announce orders for significant numbers of electric vans and other vehicles. But until the comparatively expensive price point of electric vehicles and indeed plug-in hybrids falls, or cheaper leasing deals are offered, smaller business fleets will undoubtedly take longer to follow suit and diesel will continue to lead.

AYCEN Group successfully support Fleet Managers to keep their vehicles on the road.  To discover how we can add value to your business, please call 0161 223 5335 or visit aycen.co.uk

 

Driverless Vehicle Technology: What Does the Future Hold?

The Past

Driverless vehicles have only begun to dominate automotive industry headlines in more recent years but the concept can be traced all the way back to 1478 when a self-propelled waggon was designed by Da Vinci.

The 1990s saw a surge in driverless vehicle development attempts.  The most recent significant breakthrough came in 2009 when a computer-controlled Audi TTS was let loose around the Bonneville Salt Flats in America. The German company maintained its pioneering efforts as a leader in the field and in 2014, Bobby the driverless RS7 hurtled around Germany’s Hockenheimring at over 150mph.

 

The Future

Nowadays, almost all car manufacturers are in on the act, along with a whole host of technology companies, the most well-known being Google and Apple. Several American states including Nevada have licensed autonomous vehicles from Google, Tesla and increasing numbers of other brands to be tested on their public roads.  Marques including Nissan, Honda, Volvo and Mercedes are marching ahead with their technologies, too.

Although industry leaders such as Tesla’s Elon Musk are hoping driverless cars owned by actual customers will be trundling along real roads within a few years, the reality is that it could be a decade or more before autonomous vehicles are an everyday sight.

Whether anyone will actually own vehicles privately by that point is another debate, as ‘on demand’ fleets of cars that can be ‘summoned’ may then dominate.

 

The Pros and Cons

Humans are largely blamed by Google for the collisions its vehicles have been involved in, but humans still have the upper hand when it comes to making moral decisions.  Computers, programmed to be overly cautious, have failed to cope with assessing the safety risk posed by distant joggers.  They certainly wouldn’t be intelligent enough to weigh up black ice versus water, or pass through a traffic light just changing to red in the name of safety if another car is very close behind.

Self-driving vehicles would undoubtedly result in a huge reduction in accident numbers.  For the time being, mixing driverless cars and trucks with human-driven ones is a recipe for disaster, so we may start seeing autonomous vehicle lanes introduced in certain areas, alongside cycle and bus lanes.

Tesla’s software updates already allow their cars to run on AutoPilot.  The technology is definitely here, with only legislation, cost and public appetite holding it back.

There’s also the small snag of humans enjoying driving, cars viewed by many as an expression of their personalities and the open road a source of enjoyment. Perhaps the future will therefore see people owning, leasing or summoning autonomous cars for certain journeys like the daily commute or a ride home from the pub, then conventional or switchable cars for weekend leisure.

For now, so many questions and issues still need to be resolved, from changes in the Highway Code to the insurance industry. Legislation will be a mountain to overhaul and software and technology will need to become clever enough to cope with drivers sneaking into gaps. Then there are the issues of how to deal with autonomous vehicles if they break down and how to make such vehicles affordable to the masses.

Eventually, cars driven by humans probably will be phased out in a sci-fi kind of world, but in reality, it’s a while off yet.

How Will Connected Cars Be Good For Business?

Spotlight: Connected Cars

Business Insider UK’s BI Intelligence report 2014 forecasts that three-quarters of the 92 million cars estimated to be shipped globally in the year 2020 will be internet-enabled connected cars.  They will be able to interact with all manner of hardware, software and even domestic appliances that are part of the ‘Internet of Things’. But are such strides in automotive technology more likely to benefit businesses or consumers?

The aforementioned Connected Cars Market report from BI Intelligence revealed that, of those surveyed;

  • 69% of drivers surveyed desire in-car online music streaming
  • 57% want to surf the internet from their car, and
  • 40% desire social media functionality to be present

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For private motorists, such technology is already a reality in many new cars.  Volkswagen and Audi are showcasing gesture-controlled infotainment screens set to be safer to interact with.  Audi and Bosch have unveiled haptic touchscreens that vibrate and give buttons a real-life feel.  BMW is aiming to replace wing mirrors with cameras, again in the name of safety.

Ford envisions its Sync technology being able to communicate with connected homes in the not-too-distant future.  Here, motorists will be able to turn their hallway light on, schedule the recording of their favourite TV shows and set the kettle to boil, all from the comfort of their car whilst driving. Such connected technology will offer almost limitless possibilities and will make life more convenient for many in today’s increasingly busy world.

When it comes to business drivers, Lex Autolease’s 2015 Report on Company Motoring reports that, of the 812 respondents;

  • 13% feel their time is regularly wasted because of traffic congestion, and
  • 24% spend over 15 hours each week behind the steering wheel.

 

The amount of time fleet vehicles, and indeed private vehicles, are off the road or stuck in traffic will be reduced by car software updates being provided via Wi-Fi and traffic data being crowd-shared in real time.

Harman announcing that their collaboration with Microsoft will bring Office 365 capability to car infotainment systems might not be universally welcomed by business drivers in the way consumers are likely to embrace connected cars and homes. Employees being able to listen to and dictate Outlook emails on the move, update tasks and appointments and dictate letters may be embraced by some.  Other employees will see such advances as distractions or even intrusions into their cars, representing personal space.

Safety technology such as the eye pupil monitoring system developed by Harman will benefit all types of drivers, through, monitoring cognitive workload, alertness and energy levels. Fleet managers and concerned relatives alike will be comforted by knowing colleagues or family members are being monitored for their safety.

The future, and indeed the present, is certainly more amazing than ever as a result of such strides in vehicle technology.

How Will Smart Motorways Fix Manchester’s Congestion?

smart motorways: road works

In Manchester, businesses, commuters and private motorists are currently having to deal with a treble whammy of congestion;

  • the M60 smart motorway upgrade in progress on the ring road
  • the Metrolink tram extension necessitating roadworks and closures across the city centre
  • the after-effects of the sink hole that occurred in Mancunian Way

A study jointly carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research along with INRIX predicts that by 2030 congestion in the UK will have risen by a further 63%, resulting in the economy losing £21.4bn. Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, alone, estimates that congestion costs local businesses £3m every day.

Smart motorways are currently being hailed as the chief solution.  The opening of the hard shoulder as an extra lane at certain times, along with a variable speed limit governed by live traffic data sent directly to cars, claim to improve traffic flow and allow more vehicles to use key stretches of motorway.

Six months after the M42 smart motorway was introduced in Warwickshire, the Highways Agency reported that journey times had been reduced by an average of 27%, complemented by fuel consumption being reduced by 4%.

With more and more vehicles taking to the road each year, it is feasible that by the time the smart motorways go live, the increased volume of traffic will nullify their advantage.

After the M60 smart motorway upgrade has been completed, it hopefully will improve traffic flow on the motorway itself.  With arterial roads such as the A6 and A57 experiencing increasingly worse congestion especially during rush hour, a wider suite of improvements and initiatives need to be rolled out to produce any real improvements.  Perhaps businesses need to look at implementing flexible working hours to reduce most employees driving during traditional commuting hours.

Bus lanes frustrate many motorists, especially in cities where lines of buses aren’t a common sight.  Cars, vans and HGVs find themselves having to compact themselves into one lane simply to provide room for an individual bus every so often.

Traffic light sequences and priorities also need to be assessed and optimised, additional one way systems introduced, and incentives devised to encourage car sharing, park and ride and electric or ultra-low emissions vehicle uptake. Various notorious pinch-points would benefit from being remodelled, too, to alleviate congestion.

With motorists in the North West having to wait until at least autumn 2017 for their smart motorways to be completed, the disruption in the meantime will continue to escalate, with more pain for businesses and private drivers.

Fleet Managers: Should Diesel Be Your Only Fuel?

diesel

There is a concerted push by the automotive industry to develop new and genuinely useable electric vehicle technology.  This provides fleet managers with a plethora of choices.

In recent years, petrol engines have become more efficient, not just diesels, and manufacturers from a cross section of the price spectrum have introduced hybrid and electric models in the last twelve months.

Diesel’s advantage, when it comes to CO2 emissions, hasn’t so far translated into lower Benefit in Kind (BIK) thresholds, as the government has imposed a 3% diesel levy.  This is set to change from the 2016/17 tax year onwards.

79% of over one thousand company car drivers surveyed by Lex Autolease still drive diesel vehicles, 65% of these comprising large saloons or medium-sized hatchbacks.

Self-employed business people are free to choose any vehicle and some still opt for petrol, especially if they don’t drive long distances on a regular basis, but increasing numbers are choosing hybrid or electric vehicles such as the e-Golf or Tesla Model S, doing their bit for the environment.

Surprisingly, one third of the 249 fleet managers polled by Lex Autolease ranked the environmental impact of their fleets as their second-lowest priority. Hybrid cars are deemed practical by 43% of fleet managers, while only 12% consider all-electric vehicles to be an answer.

British Gas’ fleet contains a number of Nissan e-NV200 vans and Center Parcs runs forty electric Renault Kangoo vans, demonstrating that large companies are able to rely on such new technologies. It’s worth noting, however, that the aforementioned companies’ vehicles aren’t likely to cover long distances and will remain within reach of charging facilities.

Nationwide couriers, north-south chauffeurs, sales executives and perhaps even police forces would struggle if they relied on fully electric vehicles, due to range anxiety, which still overshadows many electric cars.

Until the majority of electric vehicles offer a range of around 200 miles, they, along with petrol hybrids, will continue to prove more suitable for short-distance fleet drivers for the foreseeable future, especially around London where they are Congestion Charge exempt.

Diesel hybrids will likely form a larger share of the company car sector, although fleet managers will need to monitor their real-world fuel efficiency, owing to the typical effects of heavy batteries on board.

For now, mileage and purchase or leasing costs are the two most pertinent factors for fleet managers to weigh up, but as electric vehicle technology becomes much more affordable, the future is set to be very interesting and unarguably greener.

For more information on this issue, please read our recent interview in Business Aspects Magazine, Which Fuel is Good For Your Fleet?

Colour matching

The biggest problem I face with vehicle refinishing is colour matching. It’s a moving goalpost.

As soon as the car leaves the factory it’s bombarded by the elements particularly the radiation coming from the sun. It cause subtle changes that only become apparent when a repair is carried out.

Add to that the make up of the materials in modern cars all these factors can change the way the paint appears to the eye. A plastic bumper and a metal wing painted at the same time, in the same way, with the same paint, in the same oven can look completely different.

To help combat this most modern paint finishes consist of at least two different products. A matt finish base coat and a clear (laquer) top coat. This allows some degree of manipulation of the colour as the matt coat does not have to provide a high quality finish, this is achieved with the clear top coat.

Where possible an area of a panel is usually used to blend out the colour so the eye cannot detect a variation. This  means adjoining panels to the one being repaired or replaced, are often painted to allow colour matching to take place.

This involves spraying the edge of the adjoining panel in the same colour as the repaired/ replaced panel and then apply less and less over the rest of that panel. The end result is there is a  heavy coat of colour close to where the panels meet but ending up with no colour at the end of the panel where it joins the original colour of  the car. The finish is then achieved by painting both panels with a clear top coat.

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