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Company cars now less about status and more about practicality

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Changing employee priorities could see company car fleets start to become ever less hierarchical in the near future.

That’s the view of fleet software specialist says FleetCheck, which believes that a number of current and emerging trends could converge, causing less interest in the car as an indication of managerial status. 

Peter Golding, Managing Director at CheckFleet, said: “Historically, in a corporate environment, there has been quite a strong emphasis on the company car you were given as a signifier of your position within the organisation. It has been part of fleet culture. However, that situation has already been changing and hierarchies could further flatten significantly, we believe.

“Part of this is simply attitudinal. There appears to be less emphasis among younger people when it comes to seeing the car as an extension of their personality or a reflection of their personal success. It is more of a means of transport. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want a ‘nice’ car – they probably do – but the model and grade is less of a priority.

“Similarly, they may well be more concerned about the car from an environmental point of view and their priorities about the vehicle may well be different from a more traditional company car driver. Certainly, there are indications that larger numbers of younger people are more interested in zero emission vehicles than outright performance, for example.”

Golding added that developing financial pressures were also playing an important part: “The latest company car benefit in kind changes are just the latest development in an ongoing trend that is designed to encourage drivers into ever-less polluting company cars. Again, this is likely to lead, over time, to further reduced interest in the kind of faster, bigger engine vehicles that have dominated the upper echelons of choice lists.

“It is arguable that what we are seeing is the final stages of the company car sector moving away from perk to job-need cars, something that has been underway for a while. Really, anyone who is interested in an expensive, powerful perk car has probably already long since shifted to take a cash option that is now channelled into a PCP or PCH.”

FleetCheck says that, ultimately, this trend was a positive one for organisations that provided company cars, because it allowed more effort to be concentrated on maximising efficiency.

Golding concluded: “Businesses want their fleet transport to be as cost effective as possible. The gradual removal of the requirement to provide a hierarchy of choice that includes, by design, models that are less efficient, is very much a move to be welcomed. It allows the company car to fulfil its primary role as the best transport solution available in many instances.”

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

AI likely to be used to identify common fleet documents

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The first widespread use of artificial intelligence in fleet management is likely to be to identify common documents.

That’s according to Neil Avent, IT director at FleetCheck, who explained that AI was good at looking for patterns within clearly defined boundaries, so would work well for this kind of task.

“The important factor to understand about current AI technology is that it has no innate sense of context. It works well in situations where there are a limited number of possibilities and outcomes,” said Avent.

“For example, if you give it a thousand pictures and ask it to find all the ones that include kittens, you could teach it to do this pretty effectively by providing enough examples of pictures containing a kitten.

“This is why it is likely to first find its practical use when it comes to documentation. When different sorts of document arrive into a fleet department, it could be used to simply answer a series of questions – is it an invoice? A driver’s licence? A speeding fine notification?

“AI is good at a singular type of task such as this. It can be taught to identify some of the key features of each kind of document and then place them in the appropriate queue for action with a high degree of accuracy. This saves a lot of administrative time and effort.”

However, Avent also explained that the current boundaries of AI were revealed by the fact that the technology was not currently sophisticated enough to then manage the documents.

“A separate process would be needed to know what to do with those documents in terms of the next action. That is because a more general type of software-driven intelligence, in terms of the technology available, is a long way away.

“Going back to the pictures of kittens, AI’s intelligence about kittens would end with being able to identify images. It knows nothing more about kittens than the visual characteristics of the example images containing kittens. It does not know what a kitten is.”

Several paradigm shifts would be needed before AI could take over even some quite basic fleet management processes, Avent added.

“In a sense, it is a shame that AI as a term includes the word ‘intelligence’ because it provides a very misleading picture of its capability. It has no intelligence of its own and is, in many ways, just a further development and refinement of existing IT processes that gives the illusion of intelligence to users not aware of its constraints.

“However, it does have potential for some pretty significant gains and one of the things we’ll be looking at within FleetCheck later into 2019 is how some of those can be incorporated into our fleet management software.”

Maintaining flexibility of business transport is ‘key to future mobility strategies’

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Maintaining the flexibility of business transport will be the key challenge facing fleets as future mobility strategies start to take effect, says FleetCheck. 

Noting the publication of the Government’s Future of Mobility Urban Strategy, the fleet software specialist says it is important to keep journeys as simple and effective as possible.

Peter Golding (pictured), managing director at FleetCheck, explained: “We fully support the ultimate aims of the Government in improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions, cutting congestion and making cities more pedestrian friendly.

“However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the success of fleets in underpinning business comes from their sheer usability. You can get into a car or load a van and drive straight to your destination. This is especially true of multi-stop journeys.

“Ultimately, anything that undermines this core tenet needs to be treated with extreme caution. While fleets must play their part in the future of mobility and meeting the Government’s environmental and social aims, we must also work to ensure that businesses continue to enjoy the benefits of flexibility as much as possible.”

Golding added that this did not mean that the industry shouldn’t be positive about mobility strategies – for example, last mile zero-emissions delivery strategies were an excellent idea – but that everyday fleet journeys were not easily replaced.

“We are actually very enthusiastic about last-mile delivery and, to us, it appears to be a good solution to the air quality problems in urban areas. During the next few months, we are hoping to be working with some of our customers on this development.

“However, it needs to be recognised that many multi-stop journeys, such as a sales person in a car visiting three locations in a day, or a technician in a van servicing a dozen different sites, simply cannot be displaced by any other transport method.

“The cars and vans used for those applications will change over the next few years and we have great hopes for the ultimate level of adoption by fleets when it comes to electric vehicles, but those journeys require one vehicle and one driver.”

Golding said that there also needed to be much more detail about some of the ideas within the Government’s document, as many of them appeared to already be in operation to some degree, if not in all parts of the country.

“There is mention of using technology to cut congestion and make journeys smoother, but no real explanation of how this might be done in a way that is substantially better than existing sat nav and traffic monitoring services.

“Also, there is quite a lot of promotion of flexible transport provision but, in most cases, it is difficult how these represent substantial advances over existing Uber-style taxis, cars clubs and short term hire. Again, any benefits appear to be incremental rather than revolutionary.

“However, we look forward to seeing how the contents of the document play out in the real world and working with the Government and the fleets that use our software to reduce the impact of business transport over the coming decades.”