28 January 2021

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We ask editors from the HGV, van and company car titles for their thoughts on a turbulent past 12 months and to give their predictions for the year ahead.

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Stephen Briers, editor-in-chief, Fleet News

How has the latest lockdown affected fleets?

Those in non-essential services, particularly car fleets have seen a dramatic reduction in mileage and, with staff furloughing, many cars not travelling at all. Their challenges have been around ensuring vehicles are maintained and ready to go when the business starts up again.

For essential services fleets, in particularly van operators, there has been a massive increase in business demand, from growth in home deliveries to, of course, emergency services. They’ve had to bring vehicles onto fleet at short notice, many employing flexi rental products, and introduce new ways of working which incorporate social distancing and sanitisation.

For both elements, fleets needed to step up their communications with stakeholders, both business directors and drivers, to ensure everyone was updated on new processes and remained engaged with the fleet team.

What do you think businesses have learnt from the last year about fleet operation? 

That they needed to have disaster contingency plans in place, which most didn’t. That they need flexible funding options which protect them from short-term issues – a recent Fleet News survey suggests a big swing away from outright purchase to leasing for cars and, interestingly, vans. It also taught them a lot about their supplier partners – which ones reacted well and were supportive during the crisis.

And they learned that not all businesses needs to be carried out face-to-face; virtual meetings are sufficient in many cases, which will change the travel hierarchy plans in many businesses.

There is lots of advice on this available, including our own section: Coronavirus - COVID-19 - Advice

Are any impacts from Brexit being felt yet?

Very limited at the moment. Unless you are a freight and logistics operator crossing borders, the immediate impact has been negligible.

Do you think businesses are managing to successfully transition to blended fleets of petrol, diesel and electric?

Certainly, the bigger operators with dedicated fleet decision-makers are making the transition. They have set ambitious targets and have clear strategies to achieve them. Smaller operators are a bit further behind. The biggest challenge is the introduction of workplace charging infrastructure.

What will be the biggest new issue for 2021 in fleet?

Fleets tell us that their biggest challenge is the migration to electric, although Covid will continue to cast a shadow over the economy and the ability for some companies to operate. There’s the full story in our latest issue: FN January 2021

For electric, there are many things to think about, the most complex of which concerns the workplace charging infrastructure. It isn’t simply a case of changing the vehicle from diesel to electric. There’s plenty of help and guidance out there (including: Electric Home), but fleet decision-makers will need to be much more involved in facilities management and planning.

If you could ask the Government to do one thing, what would it be?

Start considering now the future taxation policy for the business market. There are murmurs that road pricing is coming on to the agenda, but it needs to be a considered discussion not a kneejerk reaction to falling revenues. This needs to be resolved but in a way that doesn’t put additional cost burdens onto the fleet sector. With the Government facing massive debt due to the Covid-crisis, we’d urge ministers not to consider vehicles as an easy win for revenue.

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Steve Hobson, Editor, Motor Transport

How has the latest lockdown affected fleets and your readers?

Road transport is one of the most resilient and flexible industries in the UK and after nine months of the pandemic it is well prepared to react to the latest measures to control the virus. For some sectors such as grocery and home delivery the last six months have been described as ‘Christmas every day’ which is a double-edged sword for those transport firms struggling to cope with unprecedented volumes

What do you think business have learnt from the last year about vehicle operation? 

Transport has always been very good at doing more with less and the pandemic has just ramped this up to another level. While HGV drivers to an extent naturally self isolate in their cabs for much of their working day the industry as a whole has seen a proportion of workers off sick with Covid-19 while volumes have increased. Running vehicles to the maximum productivity has been essential, which has been helped by low levels of traffic congestion and a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules.

Are any impacts from Brexit being felt yet?

Yes! The Government’s handling of the pandemic might be excusable bearing in mind it was new and unexpected but with Brexit it has had four years to prepare, and it is inexcusable telling the industry to prepare when it had no idea what it was preparing for. As ever a flexible and realistic approach has avoided chaos at the Channel ports but there are problems with paperwork on the Irish Sea are already causing shortages of some food products. Some parcels companies have also had to stop sending consignments to Europe as incomplete paperwork means they are being returned.

What will be the biggest new issue for 2021 in logistics?

After the last 12 months, who knows? Expecting the unexpected is a way of life for road transport and Covid-19 was certainly unexpected. Maybe one thing that could prove a game changer for decarbonisation of road transport could be a breakthrough in either battery or fuel cell technology.

If you could ask the Government to do one thing, what would it be?

Keep Grant Schapps as transport secretary. He is knowledgeable, responsive and a breath of fresh air compared with some of his predecessors.

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John Kendall, Editor, Van Fleet World

How has the latest lockdown affected businesses?

It’s a mixed picture. For vans overall the 20 per cent fall in new LCV registrations shows how Covid impacted the UK market overall in 2020. That said, some manufacturers had a good year, mainly smaller players such as MAN, Renault Trucks, Isuzu Trucks and Fuso.

The lockdown has brought big demand for delivery services, with supermarket deliveries and online retail deliveries seeing particularly high demand. That in turn has been good for manufacturers who could supply models with automatic transmission ready for fridge conversions for supermarket deliveries. With online retail deliveries relying more on self-employed drivers, it has been used van sales that have benefited, with strong demand keeping used prices high.

Are any impacts from Brexit being felt yet?

Generally, it’s too early for many, but I know that increased prices of raw materials are expected soon, which will affect the manufacturing and service sectors. Otherwise, the lateness of the deal and lack of information in the run up to the end of December meant it was very difficult for many businesses to prepare in advance.

Do you think businesses are managing to successfully transition to blended fleets of petrol, diesel and electric?

Yes. Electrically powered vans would be a viable option for a number of van fleets, or segments of van fleets and many have been trialling vehicles over the past few years. As time goes on the electric vehicle choice is expanding and range extending, making the decision to include them easier. Diesel is still the primary fuel choice for most van fleets though and I think that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

What will be the biggest new issue for 2021 for your readers?

I suspect it will be how to re-organise working practices as the Covid pandemic starts to recede, after more of the population have been vaccinated, which could bring about changes in working practices that may have an impact on fleets.

If you could ask the Government to do one thing, what would it be?

Sort your communications out. Businesses know what they need to do to be successful and they need as much certainty as it is possible to give them to be able to get on with it. The Covid pandemic was unforeseen but it was very difficult for businesses to prepare for Brexit with so little information about what they would need to do.

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