Whether five or 5,000 vehicles, the tasks to be tackled when managing a fleet are wide-ranging. Fuel consumption, trip logs, service life, servicing, repairs – these are just some of the parameters that need to be monitored. This is where digitalization can help. Or an entirely new mobility solution that handles a lot of the work for the fleet manager.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed working life dramatically: A lot of people are working from home offices, meetings are being held digitally, and a lot of business travel is cancelled. "Distributed working" calls for a change in thinking by fleet managers, because it has practical effects on the use of company cars. This is revealed in a data analysis by the Berlin-based fleet management specialists Vimcar: Whereas employees were still covering an average of 376 kilometers per week in their company cars from November 2019 to February 2020, over the same period one year later that figure had dropped to 297 kilometers per week.
But the work of the fleet manager has not become any easier as a result of the fewer kilometers driven – quite the opposite, in fact. The crisis is forcing many companies to economize, and so greater attention needs to be paid to cost efficiency, including in the vehicle pool. Itineraries need to be further optimized, capacity utilization and savings potential analyzed and exploited more fully.
And all that sits alongside the wide range of tasks that fleet managers have to handle in any case: They need to know at all times where which company vehicle is. They need to maintain an overview of fuel consumption, servicing and repairs, along with vehicle lifetimes or kilometers driven and new orders. Monitoring costs, negotiating with suppliers, structuring contracts, and complying with the legal requirements throughout. And they also need to coordinate and make arrangements with workshops, insurance companies and leasing providers.
On top of that, there are the challenges of the mobility transition: Sustainability criteria and CO2 emissions limits need to be respected. Many companies are considering switching their fleet over to e-cars. E-bikes and company bikes are establishing their place in some fleets. As a result, managing a fleet is becoming a complex task, well before the fleet runs to a large number of vehicles.
Meeting these requirements takes time: Even in SME businesses, a fleet manager can spend between three and ten hours per week on them, as Vimcar established in a study of the building trades. Generally, several colleagues are engaged in tasks such as claims management, maintaining trip logs or planning itineraries. The most time-consuming activities are claims management, planning and documenting itineraries, live location of company vehicles, and managing fuel consumption. Over 60 percent of those surveyed indicated that analog trip logs were often poorly kept. One in every two companies complained that fuel receipts were recorded incompletely.
Just one software program, instead of multiple Excel tables or files full of stored fuel receipts - and yet, in many companies, various systems and programs are used for the various data relating to the vehicle fleet. So if documents are needed when handling a claim or to purchase a new company car, or if offers need to be checked, calendar entries created or various tables and lists maintained, the data often needs to be laboriously tracked down.
A software program geared to the needs of fleet management offers a common database, to which the fleet management team has shared access: Data can be called off and reported via a digital archive – regardless of whether it relates to a car booking, billing, documentation or servicing. Drivers can be included in the work processes too, and all relevant information shared efficiently between everyone involved. Processes can be automated, and potential optimizations and savings become apparent. Hand-written trip logs, for instance, are a thing of the past: A single movement of the hand over the surface of a telematics box enables the driver to let the program record whether the trip in question is for private or business travel.
The Berlin-based start-up Vimcar, for example, initially offered an electronic trip log. Today, using software modules that can be combined with this, it is also possible to manage documenting itineraries, vehicle scheduling and fuel cards. Transactions are maintained automatically in the software via interfaces, and as a result high fuel costs, for instance, are quickly noticeable. Using fleet management software can save up to EUR 10,000 and 25 percent on time per year, the service provider has calculated.
The Swiss software provider Avrios offers a platform that processes data automatically, regardless of format or source, using teachable software, and then offers options for actions. For example, it reveals whether the way vehicles are actually being used is in line with the leasing terms and conditions. That way, it is possible to avoid expensive supplementary payments for excess kilometers driven.
Another innovation is the damage analysis and cost estimation tool "FastTrackAI" from Deutsche Automobil Treuhand (DAT). Whether it's a wing, a bumper, wheel rims or door-handles: The Artificial Intelligence (AI) known as "DAT7XM" is claimed to spot individual damaged body parts on vehicles automatically in photos. Users identify the car to be analyzed via the VIN or number plate recognition – simply on their smartphone. The software tells them which photos need to be taken, from what angles, and analyzes any damage on the vehicle automatically. The user then receives an initial estimate of the repair costs, and a forecast of the residual value.
Auto Flat, Car Subscription, Auto Abo or Auto All-Inclusive: Many names for the mobility offering originating from the USA that handles some of the load on fleet managers. So far, though, this solution has rarely been taken up by fleet managers – surveys for the DAT-Barometer in July2021 found that only 21 percent of the fleet managers interviewed see car subscriptions as an alternative to leasing. But part of the reason for that could be that 59 percent of those surveyed had not looked into the car subscription model.
Car subscription offers all kinds of advantages: Fleet managers no longer have to deal with vehicle licensing, and they also no longer need to spend time on insurance, car tax, or car inspections and emissions testing (TÜV, HU or AU In Germany). All that is handled by the subscription service. Even servicing charges and workshop inspections are included in the monthly fee. Only the fuel costs need to be met by the car user themselves. What's more, many providers allow the car to be changed during the subscription period. Easy access to various vehicles and predictable costs for billing, flexibility, unrestricted availability and not being tied to long service lives are the advantages of a car subscription.
ViveLaCar is one provider, for instance, offering an 'Auto Flat' service. From EUR 169 per month, a car can be leased permanently. For fleet operations, cars can be chosen in different classes, e.g. from IAA MOBILITY exhibitors. The Mini Cabriolet, Hyundai i30 or BMW X4 are available here. As are hybrid cars from Kia or the Citroën C5. The Hyundai Ioniq also sees a pure e-car included in the offering. ViveLaCar offers business customers scope to adapt their fleet flexibly to their needs – even if a car is only needed at certain times of the year, for instance. The main advantage of 'Auto Flat' arrangements is that fixed monthly instalments make cost estimates transparent. And the time-saving on organizing repairs or servicing is invaluable.
Thanks to smart networking and new processes, the work of the fleet manager is being made easier, despite the growing requirements – not just for large companies, but even in smaller businesses.
(Stage photo: © Volkswagen AG)
The IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: the Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.