It goes against the general narrative of the fleet world when you don’t tie people into long contracts, but it can make sense to keep things open-ended,” says John Wright, managing director of Ford Fleet Management, the latest venture of one of the UK’s biggest-selling car manufacturer.

The company represents a joint venture between Ford and leasing giant ALD Automotive, and it began supplying cars, vans and management services to the fleet sector at the beginning of this year. While it bears the Blue Oval and is only too happy to point you in the direction of a Fiesta, a Focus or a Puma, coupling with a major leasing company means it can just as easily source cars from other brands. Traditional products such as contract hire and finance lease are all part of the offering – as are the total cost of ownership modelling and funding analysis – but the company is aiming to carve a niche as a provider of flexible products at the shorter and medium-term end of the spectrum. 

“Lead times aren’t great for new cars because of the semiconductor shortages, and a lot of fleets are waiting for them,” explains Wright, “we are looking at solutions to get them moving in the meantime, and the flexible leasing fleet we’ve got in place will be a key part of that, but not just for the temporary issue of supply shortages. 

“If a customer’s business needs to scale temporarily, or they just want to try vehicles before they settle on them permanently, they can take one from us for three months, six months, 12 months. They don’t have to commit to a three or four-year term.”

The try-before-you-buy element is especially pertinent for electric vehicles (incidentally, the company also offers a complementary EV consultancy service). While some businesses have breezed into EVs, others are still exploring the practicalities of integrating them on to a fleet. That, according to Wright, is another area in which a shorter term can make sense. 

“Our proposal is they can take an electric vehicle, or a number of them for, say, six months or 12 months, and really see how they can embed those vehicles into their business in [a] low-risk way.

“They can buy themselves some time to work out the details and practicalities of the infrastructure and the charging, and we can work with them on those things. We can also help to blend their fleet – carry on providing ICE vehicles alongside the EVs until they are ready to make a full transition.”

Along with flexibility, Ford Fleet Management is also striving to offer businesses the maximum amount of vehicle uptime. Its own fleet can be drafted in as replacements if customers find themselves in need of a vehicle at short notice, but it is not simply a case of handing over the keys in the event of a breakdown. The company is employing a pragmatic, data-driven approach to minimise the time vehicles are off the road, and maximise the effectiveness of maintenance and repairs

“Say a vehicle has a relatively trivial problem – it’s run out of AdBlue or it’s the particulate filter,” explains Wright, “looking at the data we get from our connected vehicles, we can say, ‘Right, we know it’s got to come off the road; we also know it probably needs two tyres, and it looks like it’s due an interim service.’ Instead of having three separate off-road events, we pull them all together into one.”

He concedes that the car might spend an extra half a day in the workshop, but asserts that “everything gets done in one go – ultimately, with less time off the road and less inconvenience to the customer. And if we can put an appropriate replacement vehicle
in place as well, which is what we do, then they have not had any disruption to their business.

“It’s not just giving them a courtesy vehicle; it’s giving them something that is appropriate for their needs and as close a match as possible to what they normally operate.”

On the subject of data, the company is also developing a management system to soak up information from vehicles and present operators with a comprehensive analysis of their fleet. It is currently work in progress and due at the beginning of next year, to coincide with a series of developments to Ford Telematics. 

“The reason we didn’t include the fleet management system from launch is because Ford Telematics is evolving super quickly,” says Wright. “In the six months we’ve been trading, telematics has changed a lot – we’re adding huge amounts of extra functionality. So we want to make sure we can present the data to customers in the most useful way before we give them a fleet operator dashboard that will depict the ins and outs of their vehicle operation.”

In the meantime, Ford Fleet Management customers can already reap the benefits of Ford Telematics, which absorbs data from connected vehicles to monitor their condition and pre-empt scheduled servicing and repairs, which can be arranged at times to suit the fleet and the driver. Those on the move can view their vehicle’s vitals via the FordPass mobile app, and for anyone running older models without factory telematics or non-Fords, plug-in devices can be supplied to glean the same information and put all vehicles and drivers on a level playing field.

“Fundamentally, Ford Fleet Management is about flexibility and tailoring bespoke packages for our customers,” says Wright. “The sales team has been sitting down with them and asking what doesn’t work rather than what does, then honing in on those issues and designing packages for them. 

“It might be clichéd, but we want to help our customers’ businesses thrive, and we’re quite happy if that’s a handful of cars for a small business right through to a 1,000-vehicle national or global fleet. We can accommodate all of them as long as we are doing what we said – tailoring solutions”.

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