Aaron Powell’s passion for the transport sector started from the very young age of 15 and he then started at a company called Hernway Transport (who later became DX freight). 

In fact, he left school at the age of 15 to open his own transport company and from there built up experience in various transport manager roles. Ten years ago, Powell took his first role at Speedy as fleet compliance manager, and although he left the company for a six year period, his career went full circle nearly two years ago when he accepted his current position as Speedy’s head of fleet. The hire company provides the construction industry with tools and equipment and its car and van fleet is key in providing this service throughout the UK. “When I joined back in 2020, I had a vision to provide this same service but with a renewed and greener fleet,” Powell tells us. He addressed the ageing HGV and car fleet with a new company car fleet list, introduced the first 27-tonne electric powered access vehicle within the industry, and set some aggressive CO2 targets for the 1,500-strong fleet, 500 of which are cars, the rest being commercials. 

And aggressive is the right word. The target, Powell explains, is for the entire fleet, including the commercial vehicles, to be electric or hybrid by 2030. 

“The construction sector accounts for 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions and we recognise that the hire industry is uniquely placed to introduce innovative, sustainable solutions that can reduce this for our own business and for our customers,” says Powell. 

In a bid to meet this target, the Speedy fleet, led by Powell, has been shifting to alternative fuels. When he was first appointed to the role in 2020, he quickly began to introduce a new company car list. “It was the first thing I identified to change, as when I arrived the car list consisted only of petrol and diesel.” The new list saw the introduction of PHEVs and pure EVs and within the next two years, Powell tells us the car list will be 100% electric.

The Speedy fleet has not been immune to the challenges presented by the persistent global shortage of semiconductors and has been struggling to acquire new lease vehicles. “On the list currently, there are 14 models that are no longer available from the manufacturers, resulting in a rework of our car list,” he explains. 

The road to electric 

Despite this challenge, Powell explains that the company car scheme he introduced was a big hit with the fleet drivers. “Previously we had quite a big grey fleet population but now, more drivers are opting back into company cars, and not just because of tax benefits,” Powell tells us. “When we introduced alternatively-fuelled cars onto the fleet, the options went from a low spec car to a BMW 3 Series and a Mercedes CLA, for example. Our drivers are jumping at the chance to drive a better car as well as save themselves money on fuel, especially now as the prices are rising,” he says. 

Gone are the days when the range that an EV could travel before needing a charge was the problem, Powell explains. “Some people still have to make some longer journeys, but most of our company car drivers are hybrid working so can charge up overnight at home and top up throughout the day if needed,” says Powell. 

The distance the electric vehicles can travel is getting longer and who does 400 miles in a day anyway? Our drivers are really happy with the mileage but are asking questions about their towing ability and a few other areas where electric vehicles still need to improve,” says Powell. 

The impact of the pandemic has not only lowered the mileage of the fleet but may also result in the shortening of company car leases. “We currently lease for four years or 20,000 miles per year and we were getting a credit at the end of the lease. We’re looking at leasing for 18,000 miles per year to save that money upfront. There’s always going to be those drivers who drive many miles but the truth is, there are more who don’t,” he explains. 

Another positive to shorter leases is the ability to better keep up with changing trends. “We don’t want to be stuck with EVs that have a relatively low mileage to the new ones on the market,” says Powell.

The 2030 roadmap

Powell explains that the Speedy fleet has conducted work with a number of partners to create a roadmap for the company car fleet but that it’s hard to keep track of which new cars will be available and when. “Manufacturers don’t tell you what’s coming until it’s there which makes my job as a fleet manager challenging, so shortening leases is one way to stay as up-to-date as possible,” he says. “We get snippets of information on a new electric car but then find out it’s out of budget so we need to reconsider.” 

The goal is for the fleet to be carbon neutral by 2030 and includes gray fleet drivers too. “We have a gray fleet compliance process which involves checks on insurance, licenses, fines and penalties. We will also be encouraging our grey fleet drivers into PHEVs and EVs and we will also set time limits, but we are giving them six years before that choice is necessary,” says Powell. “Although we’d ideally like to get them into company cars, as long as all cars are in-line with our zero carbon goals, we’re happy.” 

Powell’s 2030 zero carbon goal is not reserved for the car fleet. “The plan is to reach carbon zero across our cars and HGVs as well, but we’re really hindered by the lack of car availability and production when it comes to electric HGVs,” he says. “Not only are rentals hard to get hold of but long-term leases are seeing the same struggles. Pre-COVID, you’d get rental cars in a couple of hours and now we’re lucky if we can get one in a week. The biggest problem is that everyone is aware of this so they’re getting the rental cars and hanging onto them.” 

Initially, the availability of EVs into the car fleet was driving down Speedy’s emissions, and Powell tells us there are finally some electric HGVs coming to market. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the switch will be easy, or cheap. “The problem we’re seeing is that they’re twice the price of normal diesel HGVs, and additionally, the range is really low due to their payload.” 

The Speedy fleet has spent some time looking into the possibility of hydrogen, but Powell explains the problem is availability of the infrastructure. “We had a Toyota Mira on the fleet but the driver of it really struggled to refuel – his nearest refuelling station shut down and by the time he drove to the next nearest, he’d used half of his fuel.” 

The reality of hydrogen becoming a practical fuel for long-haul road transport in the UK is getting closer, believes Powell. “We’ve recently seen the announcement of a new Daimler Trucks and BP partnership, which aims to create a UK network of 25 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2030,” he explains. 

Although it may not be the solution for cars, Powell believes hydrogen will be the answer for large trucks, while electric seems the obvious way forward to vision zero for the car fleet. However, Powell says he will adopt whatever technology enables his fleet to reach its goals. “We’re willing to go with the best all-round solution. If a manufacturer suddenly releases a truck that will do 400 miles on electric, we’ll be the first to order it.” 

A green business

The services company has recently opened an Innovation Centre in Milton Keynes; a low carbon facility that showcases net-zero equipment and provides an extensive hire range for contractors.

The centre also demonstrates solar and hydrogen-powered technologies that are helping to lower contractors’ environmental impact. “The centre is the first in a series of estates designed around the same format and plays a role in our net-zero future,” explains Powell. In addition, all commercial vehicles operating out of the site are electric or fuelled by hydrotreated vegetable oil, which emits up to 90% less CO2 when compared to diesel, minimising the environmental impact of deliveries. “The centre is powered by 670 solar panels and utilises pioneering bespoke energy efficient lighting and climate control technology. It’s also home to a wellbeing and wildflower garden, an 18-metre living wall and beehives made from repurposed hard hats,” Powell tells us. 

Employing more than 50 staff, the site is strategically located in Milton Keynes to support contractors building the first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham, and provides low-emission equipment to help meet the project’s sustainability goals, including electric lighting towers and track laying machinery.

Ensuring a safe and compliant fleet 

The car and commercial fleet is monitored closely when it comes to maintenance and safety. Powell employs a compliance manager who carries out compliance audits via The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). Powell is particularly interested in the use and integration of telematics and camera systems on the fleet via Masternaut and VisionTrack to obtain instant footage of an accident. “I receive an email within 10-15 seconds of any incident happening, so before the driver even reaches for the phone to call and let us know,” he explains. 

Driver training is particularly important at Speedy to reduce the chance of these accidents happening in the first place. Powell says, “Specifically, if our drivers have an accident they go on a 1-1 compliance training and safety course to help them develop their driving skills. Our cars have all of the top safety features and an anti-crash system but someone can still hit you no matter how much avoidance technology you have installed.”