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Fleet Profile: Miele

Date: 03 November 2023   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Having recently taken the fleet hotseat at Miele, James Walkington fills Rachel Boagey in on his plans to make the fleet safer and greener.

Although James Walkington has worked at Miele for just shy of 20 years, he has only recently stepped into the fleet hotseat, replacing the long-standing and now retired fleet manager Mandy Vanstone. 

In preparation for a seamless transition, Walkington worked closely with Vanstone for seven months prior to her retirement. 

Vanstone's tenure as fleet coordinator left a significant legacy, with initiatives improving safety, compliance, cost reduction, efficiency, and laying the foundation for electrification. 

The company's headquarters are located in Abingdon, conveniently near Walkington's home, who explains this adds a touch of irony to his role as a fleet manager who doesn't drive to work. 

Having a background as a fleet driver and years of sales experience at Miele, Walkington is well-equipped for the role. He brings a hands-on approach and leverages transferable skills from his previous sales experience, making a strong start in managing the 44 cars and 160 vans on the fleet while making a start on achieving his goals. 

Increasing visibility 

Despite his previous structured days in sales, Walkington now faces the unpredictability of the fleet manager role, where unexpected challenges can quickly alter his daily routine.

Walkington soon realised the importance of managing driver emotions, emphasising the need to handle situations with an HR-focused approach to ensure driver satisfaction.

Interestingly, Walkington believes that although he will excel at improving the fleet's processes, he expects his biggest challenge to be the fleet drivers and their differing personalities. 

"You have to act with a HR head to make sure the drivers are as happy as they can be," he explains. There will be some people who will buy in if they see a benefit to them but on the flip side you'll get the people who have always done things the way they've done them." 

In his first few months at Miele, Walkington has wasted no time in addressing what he identifies as his 'top priorities'.

First and foremost, his strategic focus lies in enhancing the current fleet through a comprehensive revision of the fleet policy. This task particularly resonated with him due to his proficiency in optimising processes and ensuring compliance. "While I acknowledge the need to pace myself and not attempt everything simultaneously, one of my primary areas of concentration has been our driving for work policy, previously crafted by Vanstone."

He emphasises that the refinement of this policy will significantly reduce any ambiguity for fleet drivers, guaranteeing clarity, comprehensiveness, and rock-solid compliance. "It is imperative that our drivers not only read and understand the driving for work and driver handbook policies but also wholeheartedly embrace them. Our goal is to attain 100 percent compliance from all our drivers in this regard." 

Currently, the majority of the fleet's car drivers are grey fleet cash, with 30 company cars managed internally. Walkington explains if a driver does more than 5,000 business miles a year, they must become a company car driver. "This is so we can make sure the drivers doing the big mileage are having their cars regularly maintained and we have heightened visibility," Walkington points out. 

He is actively working on introducing a salary sacrifice scheme with the objective of encouraging existing grey fleet drivers to allocate their car allowance toward a salary sacrifice vehicle. This not only results in tax savings for the drivers but also bolsters the fleet's environmental credentials

Furthermore, in collaboration with their partner, Independent Fleet Consultants (IFC), Miele systematically uploads all driver information onto the Licence Bureau's website, aiming for complete compliance across the entire fleet. "This process guarantees that driver licence details remain current, undergo thorough licence checks, and, in cases of six or more penalty points, are subject to quarterly checks as an additional precaution," Walkington outlines.

As well as being fully involved in running the fleet, Walkington also turned his head to the introduction of dashcams. "I was a company car driver at one point. There are a lot of grey areas, but at least with dashcam footage, you can clearly say it wasn't our fault, or it wasn't the fault of someone else. It cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend analysing reports as I will have the footage there ready if needed," he says. 

He tells us a concern he has with the introduction of dash cams is the perception of intruding on the privacy of drivers, "but the safety of the fleet and the mitigation of liability will ultimately outweigh any of these concerns," he says. 

"I plan to work closely with the drivers to see what the best option is. While I want to keep everyone safe, I also want their buy-in and belief that ultimately, we're looking out for them and hopefully it breeds a good environment."

Walkington is also eager to overhaul the way the fleet handles accident and incident reviews on the road. His motivation stems from his participation in National Highways safety conferences, where he learned the importance of treating every incident as a critical event. "Whether it's a minor bump in the car park or a major multi-vehicle collision, each incident warrants a comprehensive examination to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences in the future," he says. 

Walkington elaborates on his ongoing discussions with dash cam companies, each offering unique solutions. "I've engaged these companies, requesting training sessions to help our drivers recognise the advantages these technologies bring to their roles. My objective is to organise workshops or informative sessions to ensure that our drivers are not only comfortable with the technology but also clearly understand its benefits even before its installation in their vehicles."

Electrification journey 

Once his driver safety policies are outlined, another priority for Walkington is installing more electric vehicle charging points at the company headquarters alongside the new facilities and building services manager. 

Currently, the number of chargers are limited as the site of the company HQ was built in the 1980s. "A challenge we've faced has been installing enough power for the electric chargers, but we're getting there.

"We have some charging points now but not enough for the number of electric vehicles we're running, and the drivers have been getting annoyed. Installing more will help with their perception of the technology as well as cutting the public charging costs, which we cover for business mileage," Walkington explains. 

Although Miele doesn't offer the fleet drivers charge point installs for free in their homes, they work with Annexus EV, a company under the IFC Fleet Services umbrella, to offer drivers good installation rates at around £1,000 per charge point and a 12-month interest-free credit, meaning the BIK savings the vehicle driver is seeing covers the work.

Walkington has been mindful so far not to push the drivers into EVs. "We've left it open to their choice and highlighted the pros and cons of both diesel and EV. Of course, the biggest attraction is the cost saving on tax and the biggest stumbling block for drivers is the range and moving into the unknown, but we're lucky that our finance director has driven an EV for 10 years so was an early advocate and commutes from Bristol every day, so is a really good example of when EVs can work." 

The fleet is also exploring the introduction of new manufacturers to satisfy the wants and needs of its drivers. "We are already on the journey to transitioning the fleet but more choice is never a bad thing, especially for those drivers who are not fully on board with driving an EV yet," Walkington notes.

"It's a significant benefit for our drivers to have the option of free charging at work, which not only eases their concerns but also encourages the transition from a well-established mode of transport to one that's relatively newer. Expanding our fleet's green initiative is a key focus for me in the coming year," he emphasises.

The fleet is made up of internal combustion engines and EVs. By the end of the year, more than half of its 44-car fleet will be fully electric. Last year, the fleet welcomed a Volkswagen ID Buzz electric van, facilitated by Miele's head office in Germany. The UK operation is contemplating the addition of ten more electric vans in the coming months, to be integrated into the van fleet in 2024.

Walkington expresses his satisfaction with the performance and suitability of EVs for his fleet. He recounts how one of his sales representatives, based in Scotland, recently visited the headquarters and made only two charging stops along the way. He says, "I believe the requirement to charge actually contributes to driver health and safety, as it compels them to take breaks they might not have in a diesel vehicle."

To foster driver trust and enthusiasm for EVs, the fleet has established a Microsoft Teams channel where drivers can discuss and exchange tips about their electric vehicles.

Despite the incentives and the impending 2030 deadline (since delayed until 2035) for the discontinuation of new internal combustion engines, Walkington retains an open-minded approach. He aims to see a significant portion of the fleet transition to EVs but acknowledges the need to explore other emerging technologies, such as hydrogen cell technology, which he notes is advancing rapidly.

The decision to lease all its EVs provides Walkington with flexibility, enabling him to pivot to alternative technology. "Traditionally, Miele adheres to a 'if you can't afford to buy it, you don't do it' philosophy. However, with EVs, uncertainties surround future residual values and maintenance costs, so we've built in a four-year safety net."

Moving forward, Walkington says he is excited about the potential to greenify the fleet and improve the all-round visibility and safety of its drivers. He concludes, "Our journey towards a greener and safer fleet is not just about embracing new technologies but also fostering a culture of environmental consciousness and responsibility among our drivers. Together, we're driving toward a brighter and more sustainable future."