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The downtime dilemma

By / 8 years ago / Comment / No Comments

Recently, Vauxhall loaned us an Ampera for evaluation. And a very good car it is too. It’s also a long time since I drove a car which turned so many heads. And it set me wondering how other fleets deal with adding cars to a choice list.

If a new car comes to market, how long does it need to be in production before you allow it a place on the list? And what criteria do you insist upon? For me the obvious attributes are fit for purpose, vehicle safety, maintenance costs, practical ability to deal with warranty issues in a timely manner, and dealer network. And from the cost angle, purchase or lease cost, likely residual value, maintenance spend, and actual fuel consumption, all figure. As it turns out, I’ve missed a critical factor here, but we’ll get to that later. I also prefer to wait for proven reliability whereas part of the attraction to the driver is having the first of something, being different from the crowd.

We’ve always operated a fairly free choice car policy on the grounds that the CEO wants our drivers to have a wide selection of vehicles within their allocated grade in order to promote feel good attitudes to their value. I hope that they will look after the car because they chose it, and I also hope that by having a wide spread of makes and models we won’t be caught out big time if one manufacturer has a major component failure or shortage. I’m an optimistic soul, aren’t I?

As ever, there are pluses and minuses on both sides of the all makes versus restricted badge argument. Which option is best depends upon the type of operation you are running. If you are motivating sales people, you offer an aspirational package and probably give them a superior vehicle choice; if your drivers are all doing the same job – perhaps carrying equipment – a single model which you can bespoke, wrap and use as free advertising may be just fine.

So long as the drivers drive to a good standard, and are never seen speeding, gesticulating or otherwise causing offence! Who are your clients – will they take offence if your drivers turn up at their premises in flash cars, giving the impression they are paying you too much money for your services; or, are you selling a high-value product where advertising success in an overt way is key?

Recently we needed a new windscreen for a car which has been readily available for about a year and is becoming a popular model on our fleet. We discovered that no patent glass is yet available for this car, and the original manufacturer was unable to supply for three weeks. Because of the nature of our business, it wasn’t appropriate for us to turn up at a client’s premises with cracked glass so we had to pull the car off the road and hire something else in – an expensive exercise we could have done without.

That parts shortage also made me think about whole life cost in a different way. Should I factor in the cost and annoyance of a few weeks’ downtime ”just in case”, thus rendering the car more expensive and perhaps denying it a place on the choice list? If I was in a solus arrangement when a technical problem arose, I could have a number of cars off road at the same time; but equally I would have contracted for greater support from the manufacturer, with replacement cars being provided to cover the gap.

Clearly I missed a trick in not adding ”major parts availability” to determining factors for what does or does not make it on to the choice list. I really hadn’t anticipated that particular scenario. There is always something new to learn in fleet, isn’t there?


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