Green technology and company vehicles - what are the options?

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In today's challenging business climate, cost control is the number one concern for most companies and, given the size of most fleet budgets and the rising price of fuel, it is no surprise it's one of the main issues faced by all businesses.

According to the Fleet 200 Report published by Sewells in January, the largest 200 fleets in the UK across ten-industry sectors spent £1.2bn pa on fuel spend alone last year. What that figure might be at the close of this year is anybody's guess but one thing is for certain, if a fleet can achieve a fuel saving of 10 per cent, that's a huge figure in anyone's budget.

In response, many fleets are showing interest in alternatives but whilst electric vehicles fill the 'column inches' in newspapers, they are unlikely to be filling the UK roads in the next 10 years.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association estimates we'll see less than 10 per cent of new car sales being electric by 2025; even then, this being reliant upon the resolving of key issues.

Purchase cost is still a major issue and whilst government grants help, how long can we realistically expect such financial assistance to continue? The support infrastructure - from recharging to servicing - has a long way to go before it satisfies the needs of users. Range anxiety remains an ongoing operational fear - access to suitable recharging facilities and the ease and length of the charging process being critical to future take up. And for those early adopters - who knows how the technology of 'today' will be viewed in three or four years time? It wouldn't be the first technology to be obsolete within a few years.

On the other hand, telematics is a proven technology when it comes to reducing fuel consumption; not just in the reduction of miles being driven but in how much fuel is used in driving them. Fleet managers need to know more about their fleet's movement, not just how far their vehicles are travelling but how they're being driven too.

Accurate mileage capture has, for a long time, been the holy grail of 'best practice' fleet management - not just for correct reimbursement of fuel cost but also to have greater visibility of any potential private mileage abuse or unauthorised driving. The logic is simple: fewer miles, lower cost.

Telematics also has the functionality of being able to record and report on particular driving styles - whilst on these journeys - most likely to impact on cost, for example, where a driver leaves their vehicle 'idling' or drives at excessive speeds - or even harsh braking and acceleration. All of these scenarios contribute to increased fuel consumption.

Telematics will help the fleet manager identify which drivers are most likely to be a greater 'cost' or 'risk' to their business - and highlight in what areas they could improve either by targeted driver training or by just having a quiet word.

Where telematics has occasionally received 'bad press' in the past - with the negative perception of 'big brother' - this has, quite understandably, caused many companies to dismiss the benefits of the technology without further investigation.

Driver 'privacy' has long been an issue many have been concerned about. Acknowledging these concerns, however, the key is to offer an online consent process to ensure the only 'driver' information their fleet manager can see is data the drivers are happy to 'release'. Visibility of 'business journeys' only - rather than private journeys outside office hours is one way of ensuring a positive driver response.

What's important to the successful implementation of telematics is the 'buy-in' from drivers whose vehicles are fitted with telematics whatever the company's key driver is, whether for cost, legal or moral reasons. I think that we are now seeing a sea change in attitudes from drivers and businesses alike with regards to telematics.

With fleet costs increasing and the wider adoption of electric vehicles a long way off; the time has arrived for telematics.

Keith Allen is the managing director of ALD Automotive

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