Fleet Profile: ABM
28 July 2021
Author: Rachel Boagey
Managing an extremely dynamic fleet is no easy feat. Rachel Boagey learns how Denise Hawkins runs the car fleet for facilities services provider ABM.
Denise Hawkins describes her entrance into the fleet world as a "happy accident".
Hawkins began her career in the retail and leisure industry, gaining experience and transferable skills in working to budgets and people management, which she explains stood her in good stead to take on the management of a fleet.
Hawkins began working at ABM, then called Westway, seven and a half years ago in a hybrid role that consisted of a mix of fleet, logistics, and office management. At this time, the total fleet for the facility company consisted of fewer than 100 vehicles, but within a few months it had tripled in size due to contract wins. A year later, Hawkins' job morphed into the UK group fleet and insurance manager role she's in today.
One of the challenges of operating a fleet in the facilities industry, explains Hawkins, is that the size of the fleet changes greatly depending on contract wins and losses, and acquiring vehicles for a new contract is often done at short notice. These days, the fleet, described by Hawkins as "extremely dynamic", fluctuates from around 400 to 600 vehicles, and currently sits at around the 400 mark - including light commercial vehicles and around 80 cars.
"The nature of our business is ever changing," says Hawkins. "Sometimes we will win a contract and will then need to quickly pull in all of the elements to make sure we have everyone on the road when they need to be. This requires quite a bit of preparation to ensure they're all safe out there, as well as the practicalities of actually getting the vehicle on the road."
The good thing about a busy role? It's never boring. Hawkins explains: "Every single day is different for me as I work closely with various departments within the company."
Hawkins' role involves lots of looking ahead and strategically planning the next steps for such a dynamic fleet to make sure it is best placed for the future, and not rushing to keep up with an ever-changing industry. "Longer term, my role as fleet manager also involves reviewing policies and making sure procedures are up to date and to the highest standards," says Hawkins.
Outside influences, such as legislation, also keep Hawkins' role interesting and challenging. "With the amount of changes happening, specifically from a company car point of view, tax and the budget are changing so much from year to year that it's almost impossible to predict what will happen next, but it's vital to keep up with it and prepare your fleet for what may come and make sure there aren't any surprises lurking around the corner," says Hawkins.
The team managed by Hawkins deals directly in the front-line support for all ABM fleet drivers. Hawkins explains, "I have two members of staff who help the drivers do their job day-to-day. If the drivers run into any issues, such as not being sure who to call for a service or they need help with fuel cards, parking charges or congestion charges, I'm always there to support that team and help with any escalations.
"On any given day, I could be working with Human Resources regarding the car fleet, the operations team on the van fleet, or with the sustainability manager and health and safety director to ensure the entire fleet is running as efficiently and as safely as possible,"
The rise of the company car. again
Over the past seven years, Hawkins notes that the fleet has seen a steady decline in the popularity of company cars among its drivers. The main reason is due to tax increases encouraging drivers to opt for a cash allowance instead. However, that has all recently turned on its head in Hawkins' fleet.
In 2020, ABM had a complete shake-up of its company car policy. By switching the company car choice list from being based on monthly lease costs to whole life costs, the company made savings, thereby allowing electric and hybrid vehicles into
"Now, we're seeing a huge change in the fleet since we've introduced electric vehicles. The reason is because driving an electric vehicle for work makes such a difference in personal tax for our drivers, and they are opting for company cars again. From our perspective, it's a real advantage from a fleet compliance and safety perspective, not to mention environmental. Any move away from the grey fleet for all of these factors is a win in my eyes."
In a bold move off the back of this feedback, and after lots of discussion and planning, Hawkins decided to change the policy to ensure every single new car order is electric or hybrid only. "For now, the fleet is including mild hybrids for a smoother transition, but that will only be for a limited amount of time as we will want to bump them off the
As for the reactions of the drivers to the new policy, Hawkins was pleasantly surprised. "We didn't have as much of a push back as we expected. We really thought the drivers were going to be reluctant to step into electric vehicles but they've instead been really enthusiastic. We currently have ten electric or plug-in hybrids on the fleet and we already have orders in for another nine."
Although tax was a big factor for the enthusiasm of the drivers towards electric, Hawkins explains that electric cars have undoubtedly increased in popularity on the fleet due to their advancements. "There is so much range out there now, whereas only a few years ago you could only buy a few crazy expensive or boxy EVs with very limited mileage. Now there's such a variety that there really is something for everyone,"
The impact of Covid-19 also had an interesting impact on the uptake of electric cars on the ABM fleet. "It's mind boggling but coming out of the last 18 months, we've seen that ways of working have changed significantly so business mileage has dropped. It turns out, more people are actually able to adopt electric cars from a logistical point of view, whereas before the range might have put them off, but now they work from home a few days a week and don't have to travel as far on the other days, allowing for full charges and sufficient mileage."
In terms of the projections Hawkins' fleet has, its move to electric has happened much quicker than expected, partially as mentioned due to Covid-19. "It's looking like there are going to be around 50% non-conventional vehicles on the fleet by this time next year, which is way beyond our targets. We originally projected around 10% last year, 15% this year and 20% next year, so the adoption is just naturally progressing at a fast pace," says Hawkins.
As a facilities solutions provider working across more than 15 industries with a host of job roles, including engineers, cleaners and security officers, ABM has experienced both challenges and opportunities from
The majority of ABM's cars are used by managers who have been working from home during lockdown and having virtual meetings using Microsoft Teams rather than driving to face-to-face meetings. "The drivers have continued to have private use of the vehicles rather than the vehicles being mothballed, but mileage has, naturally, reduced,"
Towards the tail end of 2020, the company was actively trying to dissuade its staff from using public transport because of the high-risk level of infection, which in turn has led to fleet mileage creeping up quicker than predicted from the low levels it fell to during the height of Covid-19 "It's true that our fleet mileage is making a comeback, but it's definitely not at the level it was previously, which from an employee well-being perspective is great news," says Hawkins.
As for the future of those company cars, the vehicles are contract hired and, while none has reached end of contract yet, Hawkins plans to extend those that do on a case-by-case basis. "I think some may be going on to an informal, monthly rolling extension and others potentially being extended for four or six months,"
The power of data
Whether looking at making changes, improvements or finding innovations on a fleet, it all boils down to analysing data, says Hawkins. "We have data coming in from everywhere: telematics, service history, mileage reports, fuel usage and accident reports, so we can actively monitor and manage fuel consumption, among other things, to make positive changes on the fleet," she continues.
Hawkins is confident that through effective data monitoring, ABM can meet its target of average CO2 emissions for the entire fleet being 100g/km or lower by 2023. Currently, the average is 139g/km (the car fleet has an average of 104g/km while vans
For those ICE vehicles and hybrids that are still on the fleet, it's all about management. ABM uses telematics and also puts drivers through e-learning packages to help them to drive as efficiently as possible. "I believe that monitoring CO2 will always affect the bottom line and get the fleet cheaper fuel bills, but it has environmental benefits as well, so it's a double bonus in that respect," says Hawkins.
Safety is also key for the ABM fleet, so Hawkins ensures that every driver also gets an induction where they're introduced to their car to ensure they are confident in driving it. Hawkins explains, "We also do what we call 'toolbox talks' that are focused on actual driving as well as defensive driving and avoiding confrontation as a lot of aspects of defensive driving. Those trainings will always happen throughout the year and we focus on certain drivers who have had incidents and near misses."
Looking to the future, Hawkins would like to utilise its position as an electric charge point installer to increase awareness of electric vehicles among its own drivers through educational events. "I had plans that got waylaid through the last 18 months in terms of trying to pull together an electric vehicle charging event for drivers and our clients. The idea is to bring our drivers and clients together to knock down any barriers that may still exist in the adoption of electric vehicles. If all goes well, we'll go ahead with the event next year and then we'd like to make it a regular occurrence going forward," Hawkins explains.