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to outright purchase vehicles, a leasing company as a result of signing a contract hire with maintenance deal - is the most obvious solution to ensuring that maintenance expenditure controls are in place.However, for small organisations that continue to insist in ploughing a lone furrow, experts say they should 'put in a little bit of effort' and apply manage­ment techniques used by bigger organisations to ensure cost control.Franchised dealer or independent - the choice is not straightforwardIndependent SMR providers and franchised dealers have their individual benefits, which is why leasing and fleet management companies often use a combination of the two to meet their own and clients' fleet needs.Montacute says: "We have developed relationships with both franchise dealers and independents to achieve the optimum balance between service, commercial terms and risk on behalf of our customers."This approach ensures that we deal with suppliers that have the experi­ence and capability to deliver excellent customer service and are committed to adding value with their performance measured on an ongoing basis."Some leasing and fleet management companies feel supplier selection should always take into account vehicle type and maintenance require­ments. With in-vehicle technology becoming ever more advanced, some Continues from page 1516 March 2011 will be better equipped to carry out specific tasks than others.While there is no hard and fast rule, Arval says that some of its customers do prefer to send their more expensive and higher spec vehicles to franchise dealers for maintenance.It's a view shared by Alan Lilley, head of technical services at ING Car Lease. He says: "While we tend to use franchised dealers for higher spec work on prestige marques, we now consider independents more often for lower spec work on standard models, especially those out of warranty."But, despite the improvements independents have made to their service levels, diagnostic equipment and image in recent years, there is, according to Lilley, an element of 'SMR bias' in the industry. He said: "While drivers of marques such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz would expect to have their cars serviced via the franchise network, we still see residual values holding up slightly better when a de-fleeting car presents a full service history from a franchised dealer. "However, the industry is developing and the independents are already out-performing many of the franchised dealers when it comes to lead times and accommodating emergency repairs."Those are two of the advantages - in addition to price - put forward by independent fast-fit giant Kwik-Fit as it increasingly focuses on winning company car and van servicing and MOT work.Last year, Kwik-Fit reported a 50% year-on-year rise in the number of MOTs carried out on fleet vehicles and a 16% rise in the number of services on company cars and vans.This year it expects volumes to increase further, partly as a result of employing master technicians to handle the most complex electrical and March 2011 17Top tips 1If using an independent garage, ensure that it's reputable and reliable. 2Before selecting a supplier, understand the total costs of the repair, including labour and parts.3If vehicles are acquired on contract hire, make sure it is inclusive of SMR. It means the leasing provider will arrange for work to be carried out by an approved supplier and will also monitor all work carried for quality and price.4If purchasing vehicles outright learn from the leasing companies and build in a series of pre and post SMR controls to ensure value for money or turn to a fleet management company to ensure the quality of repair work is monitored, invoices are correct and there is no upselling of replacement parts.5Some suppliers will be better equipped to carry out specific tasks than others so select one based on the job and the vehicle.6Make sure that using an independent won't invalidate warranty and manufacturer goodwill.7Ask a leasing/fleet management company for the cost difference for having a car serviced inside and outside the franchise network.8If new vehicles are available with a service-inclusive package - such as BMWs and Minis - it makes financial sense to buy one when acquiring the vehicle.9There are no shortcuts with SMR work. In an increasingly litigious society, maintaining vehicles strictly in accordance with manufacturer recommendations is a crucial part of occupational road risk management.Fleet management Service, maintenance and repairmechanical repair work on company cars and vans.Mechanical work at Kwik-Fit centres is undertaken by service technicians, who are effectively GPs (general practitioners). But, just as GPs refer work to specialist consultants, so Kwik-Fit is recruiting master technicians.They have typically previously been employed by franchised dealers, the AA or RAC and invariably undertake complex repair work relating to, for example, vehicle diagnostics, electrical wiring and sensors.Kwik-Fit Fleet sales director Peter Lambert said: "We have master techni­cians to cover virtually every make and model of vehicle on the road. They enable Kwik-Fit to broaden the range of work undertaken on behalf of fleet customers and deliver for them huge savings on dealership labour costs."Lambert says that Kwik-Fit is winning business at the expense of franchise dealers, but Lilley argues: "While there is a common perception that inde­pendents offer much more competitive labour rates, many of the franchised networks have taken steps to combat this customer drift. By marketing very competitive service packages and offering loyalty schemes, they have largely fended off the threat of undercutting from independents."He adds: "With the increasing use of technology to maintain and calibrate vehicle systems, we are also seeing franchised dealers differentiate their service offering by focusing on the training and knowledge their engi­neers bring to the job compared to their independent cousins."Everitt says businesses could be assured that franchised dealers had the skills to undertake even the most complex repair work in accordance with manufacturer service, maintenance and warranty guidelines.Evidence of manufacturers and franchised dealers fighting back comes from Citroën, which has launched a new customer service team as part of its recently introduced Business Class programme.The new team will liaise directly with Citroën dealers and leasing company customers to ensure vehicle downtime is minimised, booking refusals are reduced and service work is scheduled quickly and efficiently.In launching the initiative, the manufacturer says that it "understands that work can be lost to independent repairers if its dealers are slow to respond or if they cannot book a time suitable for the driver". Citroën fleet director Andy Wady says when placing aftersales the quality of the interaction with the franchised dealer network was a 'signficant consideration' for business customers.He adds: "I am clear that further improvements in our aftersales perform­ance is key to winning more sales business in the future."Renault is among other manufacturers that have made significant strides to raise its aftersales experience for corporate customers with the advent of its Business Promise programme.The Renault Business Promise is founded upon five pillars to ensure that business customers of every fleet size benefit from the most complete care package through a combination of warranty, recovery, servicing and delivery promises. It includes reducing SMR costs for customers.The initiative is designed to keep businesses on the move and cut vehicle downtime to an absolute minimum. Delivering a top drawer service to customers is the priority for leasing and fleet management company Ogilvie Fleet and sales and marketing director Nick Hardy believes that can only be achieved by using franchised dealers. He says: "Generally, the facilities franchised dealers have, the support they can provide to drivers, the ways in which they can keep drivers mobile and the ambience of the dealerships better serves the client."While Hardy admits that may sound as though it's an expensive way to work, he adds: "But we have identified that there is in fact very little net difference in overall costs. While labour rates can be lower in the inde­pendent network, they can also spend more time to complete a job and the advent of an increased number of manufacturers with national pricing programmes has closed the gap to points where in many cases, the inde­pendents can't compete with the franchised dealers.""Independents are already out-performing many of the franchised dealers when it comes to lead times and accommodating emergency repairs."Alan Lilley, head of technical services at ING Car LeaseContinues on page 19