Designed specifically for employees requiring access to pool vehicles, alphabet believes its new Alpha City corporate service will save businesses both time and money, as Jack Carfrae reports

Leasing firm Alphabet has launched a new corporate pool car service aimed at making better use of shared vehicles and reducing costs. Known as Alpha City, the scheme is said to cut administration for fleet managers and allow businesses to tailor the use of work vehicles to specific employees and duties.

Alphabet’s chief executive Richard Schooling says of the scheme: “What we find with a pool fleet is that it tends to be someone’s responsibility to look after a bunch of keys somewhere, and the day you need the vehicle, is it clean? Has it got fuel? Has it got damage on it? Is it suitable for you? Pool cars also tend to be a very inefficient way of managing vehicles, as you have vehicles standing there just in case, or doing nothing over the weekends.”

The system works via a membership scheme, which employees sign up for and are then able to reserve cars via a live online booking system. Each car has keyless entry and start and is locked and unlocked via a smart card – each driver has one as part of the membership service – which is scanned over a receiver beneath the windscreen.

Prior to starting the engine, users are asked a short series of questions about the condition of the vehicle, covering areas such as cleanliness and whether there is any visible damage. Depending on the car, this takes place on the multimedia screen or on an additional touch-screen system adjacent to the steering wheel, which also commences and completes the booking.

A period of rental can only be completed when a car is parked in a specific geofence, such as the company car park or another site set by the business. There’s also a fuel card in the glovebox, itself fitted with a chip to monitor usage more closely, and drivers will automatically be prompted to fill up when the fuel level reaches a quarter of a tank.

Alphabet claims that firms using Alpha City will maintain complete control over it, down to minutiae such as where the geofences are and which staff members can use the cars. Businesses will pay a premium for the service on top of the basic contract hire costs for each vehicle, with available cars comprising the Mini hatchback, Clubman and Convertible, and the BMW X1 and 1-series. The upper medium 3-series is due to join the list of available vehicles at the end of 2012.

The firm believes it can achieve significant savings by cutting down on the amount of time pool vehicles spend off the road. This also involves making them available for private usage over the weekend, which employees will be billed for at an agreed rate.

Alphabet’s mobility manager, Kit Wisdom, who is in charge of the Alpha City project, tells BusinessCar that private users are an important part of the financial equation. “We believe we can achieve up to 30% savings from private use, and that’s on the assumption of somebody using that vehicle, and that they would use it for five private hours of rental.”

Wisdom admits the scheme is not aimed at high-mileage business car drivers, rather those that have access to a fleet of pool cars and use them regularly: “It’s really aimed at the users that don’t have a company car, so grey fleet users or people that are going to drive a daily rental vehicle because they don’t have a company car and they need to travel on business. Not all of those user cases will fit that scheme, but I think enough to deliver significant savings will do.

“It’s quite an easy replacement for a pool car, so for a customer that has a large fleet of pool vehicles this is an efficient scheme and efficient utilisation of those vehicles. Instead of having 50 pool cars you could have 25, helping you to reduce your fleet and getting it to work a little bit harder for you.”

Alphabet had been in conversation with a small number of its existing customers about the project prior to its launch, which is where it intends to market the service to begin with. Following that, Wisdom says the long-term plan is to sell the service based on the benefits that can be recouped by using it instead of mileage reimbursements for grey fleets.