Has the role of the fleet manager changed?

The role of the fleet manager was once relatively straightforward. At its most basic level, the job often simply required an organised individual with a good knowledge of cars to source and supply staff with a company vehicle.

Changing legislation, increasing cost pressures, and a greater onus on employers’ duty of care in recent years, however, means that the fleet manager’s role is now far more complex. Amanda Philp, marketing manager at Alphabet, explains: “”In the past, the fleet manager was concerned with sourcing the right car at the right time, but now it has to be far more strategic. There are far more areas for the fleet manager to be an expert in today.””

Finance is one such area, as it is essential that a fleet manager can understand and calculate complex tax issues and the factors that can affect this, such as a vehicle’s CO2 emissions. Dean Woodward, contract services manager at Daimler Fleet Management, says: “”In the past the fleet manager had to deal with the cost and running of the vehicle, and very little else. Now, they have the complexities of the tax situation for both the employer and the employee, and also new legislation [which affects this].””

Forthcoming tax changes may mean it is worth fleet managers identifying and sourcing more fuel-efficient cars. Changes to capital tax allowances, which come into effect in 2009, will penalise the ownership of traditional company cars with high CO2 emissions. Employees with polluting vehicles will also be penalised by changes to company car tax scheduled for 2010/11.

Fleet managers must also keep on top of rising costs, such as the price of fuel. In looking to more fuel-efficient cars, or those with lower carbon emissions, fleet managers may also be called in to contribute to their organisation’s green credentials by helping to reduce its carbon footprint. If they haven’t already done so in a bid to cut costs, they may be asked to source more environmentally-friendly cars, such as hybrids, for staff.

The quandary is that, while these cars are often more fuel-efficient, they can be more expensive to purchase, which may pose a challenge for fleet managers looking for the best deal.

Legislative requirements can pose further complexities for fleet managers. One of the most significant changes over the past year was the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 in April, which imposed greater penalties on organisations where a fatal accident has occurred and they are deemed to be grossly negligent. In order to reduce their potential liability, therefore, it is vital fleet managers have a clear understanding of these laws and are able to act accordingly.

In some cases, these issues mean that the role of the fleet manager has become too much for one person to handle. The job may, therefore, have been divided among other business areas where specific expertise can meet its demands.

At Thomson Local, for example, a dedicated fleet management role no longer exists. Instead, it has retained some aspects of fleet management in its operations department, while the rest have been placed in other areas of the business. Chris Field, facilities manager at Thomson Local, says: “”There was a fleet manager role here about eight years ago, but it simply became too big, so the job was merged with other departments.””

The company has also outsourced a portion of its fleet management. This is useful when employers do not have the necessary expertise or manpower in-house. According to the Employee Benefits/SureFleet Fleet research 2008, for example, just 39% of companies manage their fleet in-house, a fall from 51% in 2007.

Even if employers outsource their fleet management, they must retain some central control in-house, particularly when it comes to decision-making and managing any external providers. “”I don’t think there is such a thing as a 100% outsourced [fleet]. Someone is still managing us, [as] we don’t make the decisions, we just manage the fleet as we are required to do,”” adds Philp.

What is clear is that the role of the fleet manager is no longer a one-man job, as both increased internal pressures and the trend towards outsourcing has meant the role in its original form is almost obsolete. The way forward to remain cost-effective and comply with complex legislation in an evolving industry, is to make use of in-house expertise in departments, such as HR and finance, and outsource aspects where necessary EB†

If you read nothing else, read this…

The traditional fleet manager’s role was relatively straightforward in that they often sourced cars and arranged their loan to staff.

New legislation, tax changes, the need to control fuel costs, and the growing importance of being environmentally friendly means the role of fleet manager is now often too big for one person.

Some employers have divided the role, splitting responsibility for different tasks between internal departments, such as HR, and external fleet-management firms.