Grey fleet is an ever-present trope in our industry. It is always there in the background, undulating between the well-managed – those who check licences, vehicle condition, that drivers have business insurance – and the frankly dreadful – fleets which, innocently or otherwise, do not do any of that. 

It is also a tricky thing to clean up in the environmental sense. The degree of control a business exerts over its new vehicle choice list is far greater than its grip on employees’ own vehicles, which inevitably equals older cars with higher CO2.  

Following its October 2022 webinar, the AFP reported that grey fleet emissions were drawing attention at board level. Directors were said to have broadened their focus to Scope 3 emissions – those from assets not directly owned by the organisation, but indirectly involved in its operations – and were allegedly questioning the worth of electrifying their core vehicles when grey fleet lagged so far behind. 

Both are legitimate concerns, and they come against a backdrop of increasing levels of grey fleet. In February, rental firm Europcar conducted a survey of “500 fleet/office/facilities/general managers and business travel managers” and, among other areas, quizzed them on employees’ use of their own vehicles for work. A total of 80.67% of respondents said their staff used personal vehicles for work, and 60.74% claimed their organisation’s grey fleet usage had increased in the previous 12 months compared to pre-Covid.  

Such figures should not come as a surprise considering how workplace logistics have changed. According to the Office for National Statistics, around 12% of working adults said they had worked from home at some point in the previous seven days when surveyed before the pandemic. That peaked at 49% in the first half of 2020, dropped to 38% in May 2022, then rose to 40% in the most recent survey that was taken in February.

Home and hybrid working has clearly stuck around, and it is not at all uncommon to hear employees say, ‘I just pop in once or twice a week, now’. For those who drive to work, that absence of commutes obviously represents a CO2 saving. Couple it with Teams and Zoom calls in place of far-flung physical meetings, and things have unquestionably improved from a sustainability perspective, but these dynamics also feed grey fleet. 

Forget the ecological angle for a second: commuting has never been a company’s responsibility, but a predominantly home-based employee occasionally driving their personal car to an office is. Business Car has also heard anecdotal cases of traditionally office-based staff resorting to personal vehicles where there would previously have been no need to drive, such as IT workers travelling to colleagues’ homes to collect or drop off laptops, often unaware they were on a business trip.  

“You have people who, until recently, were commuting in whatever vehicle they wanted to drive and [fleet managers] would have absolutely no interest or inclination to understanding what was going on,” says Fleetcheck’s managing director, Peter Golding. “Suddenly, we’re looking at tens of thousands of vehicles that are now technically a company vehicle travelling to the office, or between offices, or to do anything. Those vehicles are grey fleet.”

Grey fleet is fine in well-managed moderation. That 90.5% of respondents to Europcar’s survey said they were looking at ways to stop or reduce it suggests it often does not work out like that. A portion of those concerns will no doubt be from an environmental perspective, others by the wild west that is employees’ own cars, and how difficult they can be to police. 

“If you’ve got any employee travelling on any business trips, you’d be absolutely nuts not to be checking driving licences,” says AFP chair, Paul Hollick, who recommends the usual assortment of checks, including the vehicle’s age and condition, evidence that it has been serviced and maintained, and that the driver has business insurance. 

Golding thinks these things are now more overlooked than ever. “You’ve got this very significant increase in grey fleet users, often without any management of them. The standard checks of MOT, insurance, driving licence, are unlikely to have been asked in a lot of cases, and it’s highly likely the vehicle they’ll be driving will be substantially older than anything you would have allowed to be specified if [drivers] were looking to opt out of the company car scheme.”

He says it is worth distinguishing between cash allowance employees – subject to more stringent standards about what they can drive because the company funds their purchase – and casual grey fleet drivers.

“Car allowances are people who would have had a company car but elected to have a car allowance instead. Whereas if you take nurses, care operators, for example – they’re driving around in their own car, and it could be a 15-year-old Micra. 

“In terms of the environmental issue, what you are dealing with is a grey fleet driver as a used vehicle buyer. If you are talking about somebody who is on a limited budget, most people can’t afford to spend 15 grand on a used [electric] vehicle. There is not a compelling commercial reason.” 

Golding adds that is impossible to mandate EVs for employees’ own vehicles, so businesses are better off seeking alternatives if plug-ins are their end game. Hollick points to a couple of standard-issue, low-CO2 grey fleet substitutes. 

“One is offering a salary sacrifice scheme because, obviously, it only works on EVs, and that means you are then converting all those grey fleet miles that were in dirty diesels and petrol vehicles into nice, clean, brand-new EVs.

“[Then], particularly those drivers that are doing long journeys rent them a vehicle – but rent them an EV.”

He concedes that neither method is perfect, the former due to new vehicle supply, which has improved but still varies by manufacturer. The latter is down to the rental firm’s approach to EVs. 

“If the rental company has developed the infrastructure to make sure the vehicle is relatively well-charged when it is dropped off, and they’ve got a big enough scale – the depots are quite close to where they are dropping off vehicles – then they work. The ones that are more national and less hub distribution might struggle, because you need to find a way to deliver a vehicle to a grey fleet driver that is relatively well-charged. You can’t guarantee that grey fleet driver is going to have the ability to charge it up at home. 

“Also, the market on daily rental for one and two days has kind of dried up, so you are looking at week hire plus, these days.”

Pool cars are another oft-mooted, low-CO2 substitute for grey fleet, and they can work in the right circumstances, as Golding explains. 

“We’ve got a district council that put on 20 electric pool cars, which took a substantial amount of miles off grey fleets. It’s a booking scheme where the cars are in various locations throughout the city. [Employees] are given a code that allows them to access the key. It’s a very good scheme that’s been working for a number of years, and you’re actually pushing people into EVs.” 

Golding freely acknowledges that pool cars have their limitations when employees are dispersed in home-working roles. Assuming fleets have also explored rental and salary sacrifice, the next best thing from an emissions perspective is a policy that requires employees to drive a Euro 6 vehicle, and that is about the extent of the company’s reach. 

It is perhaps for these reasons that the rise in grey fleet seems most acute in large organisations, where it was rising even before the pandemic. In Europcar’s survey, 60% of respondents said their reliance on grey fleet had increased pre-Covid, a trend that is found to be most prominent among organisations with 250-500 employees. 

“We found out that large companies were relying on grey fleet more than smaller ones,” says Mark Newberry, Europcar’s commercial director, “it’s perhaps slightly counter-intuitive; you might have thought it would be the SMEs that were more reliant on it.

“We also found it was some of the biggest firms, those with more than 500 employees, with less propensity to complete the licence and insurance checks. It feels like there’s some work to do there. and maybe that’s a symptom of the way grey fleets have expanded rapidly.” 

Hollick’s experience supports the results. He describes a trend among some blue-chip companies to lean more on the theory of paperwork than the practice of hard checks.  

“They have more of a policy on the white-collar side, and tend to include in their statements, contracts of employment and fleet policies the need to. keep the vehicle well-serviced, maintained and appropriately insured – and they expect that to be done by that employee. If there are any issues, how they defend themselves is to say, ‘that’s our policy and the driver should have done that’. 

“Blue-collar fleet companies are less trusting of their staff. They have better controls in place on their van fleets, and they will normally follow a similar sort of road map on their car fleets – because why would you treat any employee any differently?”