A question of fleet

What are your priorities as new ACFO chairman?
Becoming chairman earlier this year is a really exciting opportunity for me and marks the highpoint of my career with ACFO.
I joined the ACFO board more than three years ago having been involved with the organisation for over a decade through its South West and Wales Region.

Over the years I have found the knowledge and experience of fellow ACFO members tremendously helpful in assisting me in managing a fleet, and through my work as chairman I hope I am able to return that assistance and help other fleet decision-makers.
As a result, a key priority for me is to expand ACFO’s membership, particularly among employees who, like me, have part-time fleet management responsibility within a wider job brief.
ACFO offers members’ tremendous value for money through its website – www.acfo.org 
– and an array of benefits including regional meetings, networking opportunities and access to a wide range of knowledge and experience, and seminars and conferences.
Consequently, ACFO’s influence will naturally grow and that is another key objective for me as chairman. I want ACFO to grow its influence among all fleet decision‑makers – not just those that focus on fleet 100 per cent of their time, but employees whose main role is perhaps in HR, finance or procurement, for example.
Additionally, ACFO already has strong relationships with a range of external agencies.

They include Government departments, such as HM Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Transport and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

Additionally, ACFO works closely with the likes of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, Freight Transport Association, Institute of Car Fleet Management and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
I want to further strengthen ACFO’s relationships with these organisations – forge partnerships with other representative groups in the transport and travel arena – and ensure ACFO’s voice is heard loud and clear on a wide range of Government and transport issues.

What are the main challenges for fleet managers these days?
Irrespective of whether we are talking about cars or light commercial vehicles cost management remains the critical issue as it has been for a number of years.
However, that broad term covers a multitude of issues and vital to both car and van operations is a corporate focus on vehicle emission reduction. In turn that also brings into play numerous management issues around the so-called ‘grey’ fleet – employees who drive their own cars on business which are typically older than if they were to drive a company, hire or pool car on work-related journeys.
The Government’s emission-based company car benefit-in-kind taxation policy is driving manufacturers to produce vehicles with ever-lower CO2 figures. Taken at face value that means that HM Treasury’s tax take from the sector will reduce at a time when its coffers need rapidly replenishing.
Therefore, the long-term tax treatment of company cars is a key issue and tied in with that is significant uncertainty around the true fleet operational viability of alternative fuels from a cost perspective – tax, service, maintenance and repair and residual values.

Simultaneously, there are major challenges around educating the company car driver population around the viability of the alternative fuel options available given that when selecting their vehicle they must take into account both their work and private requirements.
Turning to LCVs and ‘white van man’ syndrome remains an issue. Too often the public and the media in general – I exclude the specialist fleet press – use the ‘white van man’ as a derogatory term.
Yet, the vast majority of these fleets operate the cleanest and most efficient vehicles on the market in accordance with best practice as highlighted by, for example, the Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence programme.
But, there are always exceptions and as a fleet industry we must unite to spread the message that actually operating vans in line with best practice in terms of vehicle choice, maintenance procedures, driver behaviour, and so on, we can ensure that ‘white van man’ really is a myth.

Which greener fuels do you see as being the most successful?
There remains much discussion around the fleet viability of electric vehicles. ACFO’s view has been consistent for many years and it is that such models are not financially or operationally viable except in a handful of niche circumstances.
One of the key viability issues for fleets is vehicle range and pure electric vehicles currently do not meet the majority of corporate needs in that respect. Therefore, ACFO believes the most viable fleet alternatives to a 100 per cent petrol or diesel engined car is either a hybrid, in which a petrol or diesel engine is combined with an electric motor (albeit that zero emission range is restricted to a few miles), or range extender vehicles where a small generator, powered by a petrol engine delivers a more ‘reasonable’ range.
In the longer term, ACFO would expect hydrogen power to become a force, but there is a long way to go in terms of ensuring operational cost and a suitable refuelling infrastructure meet fleet requirements.

What is stopping other greener fuels from being as successful?
List price, service, maintenance and repair costs including battery longevity, residual values and a viable recharging infrastructure are key concerns impacting on widespread fleet adoption of electric vehicles in addition to limited battery range.
Additionally, there are concerns as to whether the Government’s plug-in car and van grants to support vehicle acquisition will remain in place post the 2015 general election.
Given the state of HM Treasury coffers it is difficult to believe that the grants are sustainable. Therefore, manufacturers must cut list prices significantly to encourage demand.
Equally, tax breaks may go along way to help stimulate fleet demand for electric vehicles. However, current company car benefit-in‑kind tax policy suggests that rates for zero and ultra low emission cars will increase from 0 per cent to five per cent in 2015/16 and to seven per cent in 2016/17. Such tax rates are not conducive to encouraging demand for technology that is in its infancy.
Meanwhile, hydrogen has long been viewed by motor manufacturers as the Holy Grail of future vehicle power sources as there are no harmful emissions with water vapour the only tailpipe emission.
The UKH2Mobility project published a report earlier this year that sets out a roadmap to commercialise hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and supporting hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in the UK from 2015.
However, the same issues that impact on fleet adoption of electric vehicles will potentially effect operation of hydrogen vehicles.
Fleets are conservative by nature and need to be certain that business efficiency and costs will not be impacted by the introduction of new technology. Unless fleet decision‑makers can be assured that utilising this new technology will not send budgets soaring and transport operations will not be impeded by breakdowns they are unlikely to become early adopters in any significant numbers.

What advice would you give to fleet managers who would like to reduce their carbon footprint?
As head of operations at Bracknell Forest Council, I have signed-up to the Government‑backed Plugged-in Fleets Initiative to discover if electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles make sense for the authority.
As part of the Initiative, which is funded by the Department for Transport and Transport for London, the Energy Saving Trust is undertaking a free bespoke analysis on 100 fleets to help them understand where ultra‑low emission vehicles could work for them.

The application process is not onerous – after all, I have done it – and the EST will deliver a detailed report and analysis with recommendations of how plug-in vehicles could work; a whole life cost analysis comparing the fleet’s existing vehicles with suitable plug-in alternatives and infrastructure advice.
Armed with that independent report I can then either dismiss such vehicles as not viable for the Council’s fleet or undertake further research and discussion with a view to delivering the case for investment to the authority.
I understand that the EST is still recruiting fleets to the programme so my advice would be to visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/pifi
Aside from that I would suggest that all fleet managers should be following what has become established best practice and operating cars with CO2 emissions of sub-130g/km subject to them being fit for purpose; have in place effective journey and mileage management techniques; and analyse whether ‘grey’ fleet usage should be allowed when clear alternatives are proven to save money, trim corporate carbon footprints and reduce occupational road risk.

What can the Government do to help organisations ‘green’ their fleets?
Over many years, irrespective of Government party make-up, ACFO has called for measures to be in place that enable fleet decision‑makers to plan for the long-term.
Unfortunately, that does not always happen. For example, private, public and voluntary sector fleets buy the majority of new vehicles in the UK and therefore assume the position of early adopters.
The Government is keen for ultra low and zero emissions vehicles to take to the roads. To that end, it introduced its Plug-in grant scheme to assist in the purchase of such cars and vans. However, in Budget 2012 Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne shocked fleets by announcing that company car benefit-in-kind tax rates on zero emissions cars would leap from 0 per cent in 2014/15 to 13 per cent in 2015/16 and rates on ultra low emissions models would jump from 5 per cent to 13 per cent. In Budget 2013, he realised the error and performed a partial U-turn saying rates would rise to 5 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.
Unfortunately, such moves do not give clear long-term financial incentives for the take up of alternatively-fuelled vehicles that give confidence to fleet managers’ decision making process.
Similarly, the Government has said that Plug-in grants will remain in place for the duration of the current Parliament – May 2015 – which is less than 18 months time.

Long-term fleet decisions cannot be based on such short‑term incentives. On some issues it is important that an all-party consensus is reached so fleet managers know what the future holds.

What has your role as head of operations at Bracknell Forest Council taught you?
In short, expect the unexpected. The fleet industry changes on a daily basis and that means keeping up to date on trends, new initiatives and the potential impact of legislation emanating from both Whitehall and Brussels is a full time job in itself.
Therefore, it is critical to be surrounded by a great team that is fully focused on ensuring the transport operation functions at optimum efficiency and effectiveness and continually questions the status quo.
It is also vital to join ACFO as the membership with its knowledge and experience
will support you through best practice guidance and ensure that what can sometime seem a lonely existence is not.

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