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Fleet Profile: J Murphy & Sons Ltd

Date: 07 September 2022   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Long-standing Murphy & Sons fleet manager Tony Murphy is on a mission to address the challenge of decarbonisation, despite multiple industry challenges.

Headquartered in north London, J Murphy & Sons is an established engineering and construction company founded in 1951 that operates a large and diverse fleet of vehicles comprising around 1,350 commercial vehicles and 350 cars. 

We sat down with Murphy fleet manager, Tony Murphy, who jokes that he has worked for the construction company "forever", starting out as a stores administrator in the 80s and progressing through the company as an apprentice, mechanic, service manager, before finally reaching his current role as fleet manager, which he has held for almost six years. 

Despite the changing nature of his job roles over the years, Murphy explains that the biggest changes he has witnessed in his whole career have taken place in the past five years. "My job as fleet manager started off really well but then we were hit with the diesel scandal, BIK rates delayed by the government, a semiconductor shortage and Covid - it seems that every week brings a new challenge." 

The fleet opened up its order book around a year ago to ensure drivers had a wide selection rather than a fixed list. The main reason for this was to attract people back into company cars and away from gray fleet. "We saw a trend a few years ago whereby people naturally moved back into company cars due to their BIK benefits, so we ensured they had plenty of brands and models to choose from, but unfortunately now it's more a case of getting whichever car will arrive sooner." 

Uncontrollable factors 

With many of its vehicles soon up for renewal, Murphy is keen to support its employees to choose EVs and PHEVs and play their part in reducing their impact on the environment.

The decision by the UK Government to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in 2030, with hybrids to follow in 2035, is welcomed by Murphy, but simply switching the fleet over to electric tomorrow is not feasible due to the shortage and subsequent wait times on lease cars, he explains. 

"This deadline has pushed everyone forward into the electrification world and I truly believe cars are where we need them to be now in terms of technology, but availability is such a challenge right now. Practically everyone in the fleet industry is waiting for their new cars to arrive and sometimes, six months into waiting, the manufacturer cancels the order. For some vehicles, the wait is up to 15 months." 

The case is similar for electric vehicles too, says Murphy. "Many of our drivers made the switch to electric due to the 2% BIK rate but it's only in place until 2025, with no indication from the government on what the new rates will be." He argues that the Government being open about the BIK rates for further years will only help the electrification push. "Currently, electricity might be the cheaper option, but who knows what the future will bring and it's a bit unsettling." 

Currently, all of the vehicles on the fleet are leased on four-year terms, which are needing to be extended to account for the lack of vehicle availability. "Even if we opt for a short-term rental, we can't even guarantee they are available either. Being a fleet manager right now is all about trying to juggle everything to guess at what may be the most cost effective. It's a challenge to say the least, because when we hire new staff, we need to ensure they have a vehicle and that's not the easiest task right now," explains Murphy. 

Currently, the fleet has around 20 electric cars and another 74 on order, so will be pushing 100 electric vehicles in the next six months if all goes to plan. Furthermore, there are 88 PHEVs already on the fleet with another 64 on order. "We're in a good place and have managed to significantly reduce our emissions from 122g/km four years ago to around 79g/km on the car fleet," says Murphy. "With the adoption of more and more EVs onto our fleet, the average CO2 on our new orders is around 20g/km, which is a really exciting prospect." Murphy's commercial vehicle fleet is a bit of a different story. "Whereas our car drivers are generally in admin or management roles, our commercial drivers need to carry their construction tools and therefore have a large payload. We have strategically been placing BEVs in the commercial sector of the business and we are looking at ways on how we can embrace this further, " says Murphy. 

The company has installed chargers in all of its depots to ensure its EV drivers can do their job effectively. "We're building out our charging infrastructure by installing 7kw chargers in all depots and also 50kw chargers where possible. It's helping drivers who were previously lacking in confidence to change their way of thinking," Murphy explains. "When these drivers need to travel long distances, they can charge at any of our depots around the country, and if they need to top up in between they can use the public network."

Murphy believes that while a mindset change is slowly occurring with his drivers, it's not something that will happen overnight. "The problem is we have people coming straight out of diesels and into electric and it's a big change for them, but what they need to realise is that it's just adapting an EV into your life and planning trips a little better. If you have a quarter of a tank of petrol, you'll go to the petrol station, so having 100 miles left means you should start planning a stop where you can grab a coffee and have a bathroom break," he says. "Most EVs now have over 200 miles of range so you would need to stop for a break driving this far in one trip anyways, and the infrastructure is really developing to make it less stressful and more manageable." 

That being said, there are still infrastructure issues and recharging is clearly not as easy as refuelling, says Murphy. "I stopped on a long trip and put the car on charge to come back an hour later and find the charge didn't work. I had charge left but it was more of a test to see what having an EV would be like and sometimes, in real life situations, it's still a struggle." 

For now, Murphy believes cars are well on track for a switchover to electrification and are well received within the fleet, but that commercials need more work when it comes to range, payload and charging infrastructure. "We have been strategic but cautious as Hydrogen may still have a bigger part to play," he explains. "Imagine one of our drivers had a job in the middle of Oxford Street. They're hardly going to park an electric charger down the road wheelbarrow their tools to the job. Maybe hydrogen is the answer for our commercial fleet but right now we're just being strategic about our vehicle choices, making what we think are the right decisions for the here and now." 

The new norm 

Murphy strongly believes in the road to net zero and helping educate employees in the benefits of sustainable fuels, while removing concerns around range anxiety or charging point availability.

But training drivers in the real world is something Murphy believes is vital to familiarise them with new technologies, so the fleet has adopted e-learning into the training for its drivers. 

"You can read about how to ride a bike but you can't learn how to do it until you get on one, and the same applies to cars, especially EVs," he said. 

Saving money is always a task for Murphy in his role as fleet manager and driver risk is something the fleet has been focusing some of its efforts on to reduce avoidable costs. A couple of years ago, the fleet implemented the Driver e-learning programme, which aims to prioritise driver safety and well-being through e-learning modules that provide ongoing tuition and support for drivers.

Since its introduction, the fleet's driver e-learning programme has been working well and having a positive effect on driving standards.

This education will play a part in not only increasing the confidence and skills of drivers on the road, but also save the fleet money in the long-term. "My colleague rang me while driving his EV and told me he didn't have enough mileage to get home. I told him to take his foot off the accelerator, come down to 60mph and turn the air conditioning off. He made it home with miles to spare. Similarly, I've left the head office in Hemel Hempstead and arrived home 13 miles away with more miles that I started off with. It's an education piece and we're learning that investing in education upfront will serve us down the line," Murphy tells us. 

"Since we introduced driver risk profiling and specific modular interventions, we have seen a marked improvement in driving behaviours, with well over 50% of our most at-risk drivers moving from red to amber or green," Murphy says.

"The e-learning programme allows us to identify areas where our at-risk drivers are weakest, such as speeding or awareness for example, and then use specific online learning modules for those particular issues to help correct their driving behaviours," he added.

Despite the many challenges facing the fleet sector, Murphy believes a step by step approach is what will help his fleet come out of the other side. "We will keep adopting EVs onto our fleet and help to educate drivers on adopting them into their everyday lives as we truly believe that's the direction we should be moving in," explains Murphy. "We will continue to take each new challenge as it comes while working towards a greener, safer and ultimately more cost-effective operation, for the business but also for our drivers who are key to our success."