FLEET MANAGEMENT WITH A MODERN TOUCH

FLEET MANAGEMENT WITH A MODERN TOUCH

Hot industry news earlier this year was an £85 million cash injection from auto giants Hyundai and Kia into London-based Arrival, an electric vehicle start-up whose cubist Gen2.0-EV van is tipped for adoption by a raft of huge logistics firms including Royal Mail and UPS.

It’s a significant breakthrough for commercial vehicles, which have lagged somewhat behind their passenger counterparts in terms of electrification and autonomous capability development. The high-profile tie-up could also be a promising sign of things to come for smaller fleet operators – particularly factors – in the UK, who are engaged in a constant battle with rising fuel costs, wage allowances and insurance premiums, as well as ever-stricter emissions regulations and MOT requirements.

Take Euro Car Parts as an example. As of August 2019, the Tamworth-based distributor has around 2750 cars and vans running between its 16 distribution centres, and making around 60,000 parts deliveries daily from its 200-plus branches. It’s quite an operation, and the man in charge of coordinating it, Ted Sakyi, said the key to things running smoothly is that “suppliers and their customers continue to talk to each other ”. It would have to be – the demand for ultra-fast delivery, which I call the ‘Amazonisation’ of today’s e-commerce sector, means customers (including garages) aren’t as willing to twiddle their thumbs for days on end while crucial components are delivered, and communication issues are less excusable than they were in the pre-smartphone era.

JUST IN TIME

Darren Wykes, Managing Director of nationwide supplier Motor Parts Direct (MPD), concurred: “The simple question of ‘when is it needed?’ is now a priority to avoid over-servicing customers.” MPD’s fleet consists of a mixture of vehicle makes and sizes and serves 128 stores across England and Wales, but is equally dependent on the justin-time business model that ensures no fuel or time is wasted by its delivery drivers. “Each branch carefully manages its own logistics, bearing in mind customer demands as regards arranging each delivery schedule,” Wykes added, ‘ensuring van runs are done in the most efficient manner’. Unnecessary delays brought about by garages returning parts or calling the factor out multiple times in short succession can threaten the firm’s ability to meet its quotas.

So how long does a factor of this size allow for each call-out? Wykes considers a case-by-case approach to be best practice: “At present, in line with competitors, there are no hard and fast rules. It is down to the branch team to apply a common sense approach.” It’s unlikely that a factor would consider sending a van and driver out for an hour just to deliver a £10 part to a remote workshop, but would more likely incorporate that delivery into a larger route with multiple stops.

ECP’s Sakyi elaborated: “Ultimately, we want to help independent garages deliver top quality repairs for their customers with the shortest possible wait-times. This means both parties need to communicate effectively – us asking whether they need anything and, if so, what time they need it, and them letting us know what they need, where possible, ahead of time.” The message is that efficiency is a two-way street, and factors can’t be held accountable for disorganisation on the customer’s part. 

ELECTRIFICATION

But just as important as timing deliveries right is considering which vans to use for them. ECP recently bought 300 diesel-fuelled Peugeot Partner vans, showing a commitment – at least in the medium term – to combustion power. Currently, there are only a couple of alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles on sale suited to the firm’s needs, which offer usable ranges and relatively low purchase costs, but would entail such significant investment in supporting infrastructure that they are presently an unrealistic option for any large distribution firm. Sakyi said: “While battery technology and charging infrastructure are still developing and improving, higher-mileage job roles will be best-served by the newest, cleanest diesel and petrol options.” He added, however, that ‘electric vans are already suitable for relatively low-mileage job roles, provided there is access to adequate charging facilities’. As electric commercial vehicles become more accessible and their ranges increase, it’s likely that factors will start to explore their suitability for use in urban areas, particularly where low-emission zones restrict the use of combustion engines.

For now, though, MPD’s Wykes said that “no suitable electric vans are available bearing in mind range and re-charge times,” adding that the Essex-based company is currently trialling a Nissan e-NV200, and looking forward to an electric version of Citroen’s Berlingo arriving next year. ‘Van choice is decided based on various criteria, such as fuel efficiency, overall running costs and initial purchase price,’ he said.

Amanda Brandon, Director of Fleet Services for the British Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, acknowledged the issues. “The lack of availability of suitable electric vehicles, inadequate charging infrastructure and significant up-front cost differential are all factors affecting the uptake of electric in the CV sector,” she said, echoing industry bosses who bemoan the slow roll-out of chargers and tax incentives. “In the van sector, the consensus of opinion is that the future is electric, but this transition will not happen overnight until the issues of availability, affordability and access to charging facilities are resolved.”

It remains to be seen how firms like EPC and MPD will be affected by the expansion of London’s ULEZ and the creation of low-emission zones in cities like Bristol and Oxford. One thing’s for sure, though – it’s unlikely the commercial vehicle parc will look the same in 10 years time.

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AIR CONDITIONING: KEEPING LEGAL

AIR CONDITIONING: KEEPING LEGAL

There’s one environmentally damaging aspect of the motor vehicle that mass electrification won’t eradicate: air conditioning. While there’s nothing harmful about the refrigerant gas while it is cooped up in the system, when it leaks (and it invariably does) there is a problem. For example, each gram of the most common refrigerant, R-134a, is equivalent to releasing 1.43kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

For this reason, R-134a is being phased out in Europe and the UK. Gas producers have a quota of how much high-GWP (global warming potential) gas they can sell in a year, which reduces each year. The quota includes various blends of fluorine gas used in applications such as supermarket chillers. It is up to refrigerant suppliers to decide how much of the quota to use for mobile air conditioning (MAC) and how much to use for the others.

As an aside, R-134a was itself introduced as a greener alternative to R12, which was withdrawn in the 1990s as it was depleting the ozone layer.

R-1234yf, also known by the trade name Solstice, is the refrigerant fluorocarbon gas that has been phased in over the last few years as a replacement for R-134a. Despite early concerns from one VM, which felt its mild flammability was a safety risk, it is now an industry standard. However, motorists wishing to fill with the new gas will find that it is not a drop-in replacement. While in theory, you could rebuild the system to make it compatible, in practice owners of R-134a equipped vehicles will have to accept that the gas will soon be obsolete, but in the meantime prices will be higher.

CERTIFICATION

However, just like anything else, wherever there is a demand someone will pop up to fill it.. Recently, the problem has been the growing number of illicit products on the market, often sold as R1234yf, but just like any chemical bought from the street, they could contain absolutely anything. These illegal products have been criticised for being damaging, not only to the environment or potentially to the internals of a vehicle’s air conditioning system, but also to the state of the market as the sale of these illicit products has a financial impact on producers, distributors and garages buying gas through legitimate channels. Apart from the gas itself being questionable, and money from its sale funding crime, all shipments seized in Europe so far have been in a type of canister that isn’t legal for use in the EU or the UK.

A trade body called The European Fluorocarbons Technical Committee (EFCTC) has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of the issue. The organisation hosted a seminar late last year, at which Dave Smith, Business Director at fluoroproduct supplier Koura (previously known as Mexichem Fluor) said: “We believe that up to 20 percent of the European market for refrigerants is possibly smuggled product. It is essential that the financial community is fully aware of this issue and that it checks and, if appropriate, red flags any financial transactions that may involve the purchase of HFCs.”

Honeywell is also concerned about the amount of rogue gas on the market. Speaking to us last year, Tim Vink, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the company said that the problem had become so acute that genuine suppliers faced an ‘existential problem’ for their businesses. “The members of the EFCTC have taken the initiative to set up an ‘integrity line’ where people can report anonymously if they are offered anything suspicious in the market and that information can be used to build a picture of where these products are coming from,” he explained. The hotline and any legal action taken against perpetrators will be taken by an independent third party, because, Vink says: “We are not experts in providing the right sort of evidence.”

QUOTAS

Anyone working on mobile air conditioning needs to be trained and certified under the F-gas regulations. As these rules were introduced by the European parliament, there was concern that the rules might change after the transition period. However, DEFRA has confirmed that they will remain the same.

protracted negotiations have produced welcome clarity and certainty for firms that operate in different parts of the EU, who feared their proof of competence would cease to be recognised after the UK formally withdraws from the EU at the end of January.” The deal, which will see the UK continue to work with EU trade bodies to ensure the integrity of F-gas trade, lays to rest concerns that UK businesses would lose their certification and be unable to trade with continental suppliers. Head of Refcom Graeme Fox commented: “Our industry is in the fortunate position of now knowing exactly where we stand on professional certification.” The announcement was welcomed by F-gas licensing body Refcom, which said, in an official statement: “Months of

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BREAKING: SPARTAN ACQUIRED BY MOTORMANIA PARENT

BREAKING: SPARTAN ACQUIRED BY MOTORMANIA PARENT

BREAKING: News has been confirmed that Spartan Motor Factors has been sold by the administrators at Deloitte to MWR Sales Limited. The following statement has just been released by Deloitte:

Richard Hawes and Matt Cowlishaw were appointed as joint administrators to Spartan Motor Factors Limited (“the Company”) on 13 March 2020. Following the appointment, the business was successfully sold to MWR Sales Limited on 18 March 2020.

READ: MotorMania chain bought by Tetrosyl

The Company is a motor parts business operating a central hub in Newport and ten other branches across South Wales and the South West serving over 1,400 customers. The Company employs 135 across its network.

READ: SPARTAN LEAVES PARTS DISTRIBUTION PARTNERSHIP FOR IFA

MWR Sales Limited operates the motor factors and retail businesses of Motor World, Motormania and Sparesworld. The Company’s employees will transfer to the new owner.

Richard Hawes, joint administrator, said: “We’re extremely pleased we managed to find a new owner for the business through these particularly challenging times. We’d like to thank the employees for their support and wish the new owners every success in the future.”

 

We’ll bring you more information on this breaking story as we get it.

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UPDATE: SPARTAN MOTOR FACTORS ENTERS ADMINISTRATION

UPDATE: SPARTAN MOTOR FACTORS ENTERS ADMINISTRATION

***UPDATE: March 19, 14:30. Branches are trading again and CAT understands talks are underway with a potential buyer*** 

 

***UPDATE: Spartan acquired by Motormania holding company ****

 

Cardiff-based Spartan Motor Factors, which operates a number of branches and employs 145 people across South Wales and the west of England, has entered administration.

The administration process will be carried out by Deloitte’s Cardiff office. CAT spoke to a Deloitte representative, who confirmed that the firm was appointed on 13 March.

Deloitte also said there have been no redundancies so far, but was unable to confirm whether Spartan’s Newport head office and 10 additional branches were operating as usual.

READ: GROWTH IN SPARTAN TIMES

Founded in January 2012, Spartan claims to have “one of the largest distribution centres and stockholdings in the South West”, with over 500,000 individual references available to order. A USP of the firm was a two-year guarantee on each parts sold. In its early years, Spartan won CAT’s Independent Factor of the Year award three times, and more recently picked up an award for enterprise from the Welsh government. 

READ: SPARTAN LEAVES PARTS DISTRIBUTION PARTNERSHIP FOR IFA

In 2018, Spartan rapidly expanded, opening two new branches in Blackwood and Swansea, shortly after cutting the ribbon at a new site in Pontypridd and a specialist cooling centre in Abercarn. Director Lee Gratton at the time said: “We are actively looking to expand the Spartan network further into England through either acquisitions or branch openings if the right individuals approach us.”

An official statement from Deloitte is expected to be released imminently. We’ll post it as soon as we have it.  

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BREMBO SHUTS ITALIAN SITES AMID CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

BREMBO SHUTS ITALIAN SITES AMID CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Braking components manufacturer Brembo has paused operations at four Italian production centres in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak in the Bergamo and Brescia regions.

The firm’s sites in Stezzano, Curno, Mapello and Sellero will all be closed from today (16 March) until Sunday 22 March, with the company citing the “objective impossibility of operation continuously” as the virus continues to spread across Northern Italy.

In an official statement, Brembo said: “The decision is in line with the extraordinary provisions of the Italian Government and has the aim of protecting people’s health and safety, in the face of the evolution of the COVID19 pandemic”.

READ: WEBASTO HQ SHUTS TO PREVENT CORONAVIRUS SPREAD

It continued: “Brembo made this decision with a great sense of responsibility and in agreement with all the social partners involved, to intensify the measures already adopted since the early stages of spreading the virus and to ensure greater safety and serenity for all its people.”

It remains unclear whether the closures could continue beyond Sunday, but Brembo claims it is “ready to resume its activities with the commitment and gaze towards the future that has always characterised it”.

The braking firm’s announcement follows a series of similar closures at firms all over Italy and Europe. The heavily industrialised Lombardy region – with a population of more than 10,000,000 – is particularly badly affected, prompting VMs Ferrari and FCA to temporarily shut down, as well as a number of crucial component and service suppliers.

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VIEW OF THE FUTURE: STATION VIEW GARAGE, DORKING

VIEW OF THE FUTURE: STATION VIEW GARAGE, DORKING

One only has to poke around Station View Garage to see that automotive diversity is the order of the day.

Our tour of the 6800sq ft workshop is soundtracked by the guttural roar of a TVR Chimaera’s V8, and takes in a variety of customer cars ranging from an engineless VW van to a crusty Peugeot 309, and even a pair of well-used Citroen 2CVs.

But times are changing, and two of the firm’s technicians have taken part in high-voltage training courses provided by Groupauto’s Auto Care network, with the aim of attracting more zero-emissions custom. But, for the moment, it’s business as usual; when asked if there’s been an uptake in local EV ownership, Co-Director Andrew Pirt says: “We see them spasmodically. There’s just not the volume.”

INFRASTRUCTURE

Part of the problem is the relative absence of any EV infrastructure in this rural Surrey town. “We’ve got people asking us whether we’ll be the first to fit chargers, because there’s nowhere in town apart from Dorking station,” says Knowle, adding that he abandoned plans for a pair of EV charge points when he found out they ‘would shut down the local grid’.

But the main reason for the lack of electric custom is that EVs just ‘haven’t got problems yet,’ according to Pirt’s partner Greg Wheeler, which is why the team is pursuing a slightly unconventional means of profiting from its newfound electrification qualifications.

READ: EDF ACQUIRES CHARGING FIRM POD POINT

KEEP IN LINE

Showing us a shiny new Hunter Elite four-wheel aligner, the duo explain that they encourage EV owners to get their tracking done to ensure maximum efficiency. “If your wheels are dragging, you could be taking 20 percent off your range,” says Wheeler, reiterating that public chargers in Surrey are scarce, making it easier for drivers to get caught short during the daily commute.

That’s not to say there’s been a notable surge in this type of work. “A lot of people are showing interest [in EVs], but I think the initial outlay is putting people off,” asserts Wheeler, referencing the £80,000 list price of the Jaguar I-Pace we arrived in. The fact that people are keeping their cars for longer could also delay the mass adoption of new technology, but there are positives to be found here as well – one longstanding customer continues to bring his trusty Ford Mondeo in for servicing, despite living 65 miles away in Southampton.

READ: ELECTRIC VEHICLES VS THE AFTERMARKET

SILENT REVOLUTION

So why get ready for electrification now, when nearly every car on the ramps still has an exhaust pipe? Well, says Wheeler, Autologic, one of the garage’s diagnostics platforms, “won’t even talk to you unless they’ve got a copy of your Level Three certification”, meaning that technical data – even tyre pressures and brake specifications, is unobtainable. He also thinks the end is nigh for combustion, stating: “We’re getting sick of diesel emission control. They’ve gone as far as they can, clearly, and they’re just trying to clean up the end product.”

But it could be a while before EVs glide, en masse, into Surrey. Wheeler notes: “We’re seeing a steady increase in them coming through the door for MOTs and stuff like that, but no significant increase in them having problems. We’re waiting to see. I think most of the independent industry is.”

However, asked if more Station View technicians will undertake high-voltage training, Knowle tells us: “We might as well send more. We don’t know when [electric cars] are going to come in, so the bigger pool of knowledge you’ve got, the more heads you can scratch.”

READ: COMBUSTION CAR SALES COULD END IN 2032

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UNIPART WINS THREE-YEAR JLR LOGISTICS CONTRACT

UNIPART WINS THREE-YEAR JLR LOGISTICS CONTRACT

Unipart has won a three-year contract to operate Jaguar Land Rover’s new Battery Assembly Centre at Hams Hall in Birmingham.

 

The site, which will be among the largest such facilities in the UK when it opens later this year, will provide electric vehicle batteries for JLR’s Solihull and Castle Bromwich production lines.

John Neill heads Unipart Group

More than 100 Unipart employees will be stationed at the Hams Hall facility, providing logistical assistance in line with the VM’s just-in-time production model.

READ: BOSCH TO ACQUIRE UNIPART CAR CARE CENTRES

John Neill, CEO of the Oxfordshire-based supply chain specialist, said: “The future of the automotive industry is in electric vehicles, and this contract with Jaguar Land Rover sees Unipart playing a key role at the heart of Jaguar Land Rover’s plans for electrification.

“Unipart is uniquely placed to make a positive influence on the UK automotive industry’s electrification which is set for terrific growth. Hyperbat, our joint venture with Williams Advanced Engineering, is at the forefront of manufacturing batteries for high-performance electric vehicles.

“Our lean practitioners are already working with automotive manufacturers looking to bring electric vehicle production into their supply chain successfully, and we can continue to bring added value through our expertise in both in-production and aftermarket logistics.”

Unipart has already worked with JLR, producing bumpers for all non-current models to allow the VM to clear a significant production backlog.

READ: UNIPART WINS EXTENSION TO JLR PACKING CONTRACT

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FORD TO CLOSE HALF OF UK DEALERSHIPS

FORD TO CLOSE HALF OF UK DEALERSHIPS

Ford is set to close around 50 percent of its UK dealerships as it embarks on a bold strategy to streamline its commercial operations.

The move, which was announced at an investor conference today (26 January), is part of the ‘Ford 2025 dealer plan’ which the brand says hopes will build “a stronger and more sustainably profitable Ford sales and servicing network”. Between 210 and 230 stores are expected to be affected.

It is hoped that the majority of the affected dealers will remain in operation as dedicated aftersales hubs, and the firm anticipates that 90 percent of new car buyers will still be able to reach a dealership within 30 minutes.

Some of Ford’s smaller UK dealerships will be converted into standalone service centres, with Ford claiming that “customers will not be unduly inconvenienced” by the shake-up.

An official Ford statement read: “We are working together in a spirit of partnership with our dealers and their investors to build a stronger and more sustainably profitable Ford sales and servicing network for the future in the UK, which works for the mutual benefit of our businesses and for our commercial and passenger vehicle customers.”

It is the largest consolidation of a VM dealer network in UK to date, and follows similar downsizing initiatives at Honda and Vauxhall. Despite heavy restructuring over the last 20 years, Ford has concluded that “dealer network profitability is still not sustainable”.

READ: SCOTTISH DEALERSHIP SALE SAVES 101 JOBS

Vehicle manufacturers are gradually exploring new ways of selling new cars. Last year saw Volvo launch the ‘UK’s most comprehensive’ online car sales service, while Mercedes activated a new digital showroom this week, which provides real-time stock availability data and a finance quote function.

At the beginning of 2019, Ford revealed the first details of its overhauled European business strategy as part of a $14bn drive to cut costs globally.

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TETROSYL REVEALS CARLUBE-SPONSORED BTCC RACER

TETROSYL REVEALS CARLUBE-SPONSORED BTCC RACER

Carlube’s racer will gain the brand exposure on national TV

Tetrosyl-owned lubricant brand Carlube will make its return to the British Touring Car Championship this season, as the chief sponsor of the Carlube Triple R Racing team.

The team, previously known as Ciceley Motorsport, will for the first time be running two cars in the same livery with experienced drivers Dan Rowbottom and Adam Morgan at the wheel. 

Carlube’s logo will be flanked by those of chemical brand Cataclean and Mac Tools. Speaking at the car’s unveiling, Team Principal Norman Burgess said it has been “a massive job” to obtain sponsorship deals with a group of such well-known brands.

READ: JAMES BRIGGS LTD ACQUIRED BY TETROSYL

He acknowledged that having a pair of cars ‘offers not only double exposure for our sponsors but also increases our chances of scoring points in the teams’ championship’. 

Burgess explained that the sponsorship package is doubly significant because of the team’s relatively small size. “We are a family team, there’s six of us full-time,” he explained, noting that it’s a landmark achievement ‘for a little team like us to have 3 major players’. 

He noted that the physical logos on the side of a racing car are becoming less and less important, as fans begin to engage more with social media and digital publicity campaigns. The BTCC is, however, a potentially significant platform for the Tetrosyl brand, given its primetime slot on ITV 4 and national reach.

Tetrosyl Group Chairman Peter Schofield was on hand to explain why the partnership is so important to his brand, which has long been known for its ties to national motorsport efforts: “I am delighted to return the Carlube Triple R brand to BTCC and to team up with Ciceley Motorsport, Cataclean and Mac Tools.

“We are all aware of the benefits that the BTCC brings with huge trackside audiences and massive television coverage and fan appeal so it is the perfect shop window for us. I am looking forward to a very successful relationship.”

Carlube has recently undergone a significant brand refresh, with overhauled packaging, colour-coded bottles and easier-to-read part numbers. There are also a number of new references available in response to increased market demand. 

Tetrosyl’s International Marketing Director Chris Chaplin said: “Our return to the BTCC signals our full commitment to the Carlube Triple R brand and our intention to continue to fully support our loyal distribution partners.”

 

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EDF ACQUIRES CHARGING FIRM POD POINT

EDF ACQUIRES CHARGING FIRM POD POINT

Energy company EDF has acquired electric vehicle charger supplier Pod Point for an undisclosed sum, as part of a drive to become “the leading energy company for electric mobility in France, the UK, Italy and Belgium”.

The new deal means EV drivers will soon be able to schedule charging times and take advantage of cheaper electricity supply during off-peak times. EDF already offers financial incentives to electric vehicle owners under the ‘Go Electric’ banner, and says its acquisition of Pod Point will allow it to include charging point installations as part of its packages.

The energy company claims it is “the leading generator of low-carbon electricity in the UK, avoiding 18 million tonnes of CO2 last year”.

READ: CHARGING NETWORK FLAWED

Pod Point produces charging units for private, public and commercial use, and claims to have installed 62,000 devices across the UK since it was founded in 2009. Its founder, Erik Fairbairn said: “We set out in 2009 with the vision that travel shouldn’t damage the earth and a mission to put a charge point everywhere you park. So far, we have made great progress towards those goals.

“By joining up with EDF we can take things to the next level and accelerate our national roll out of charging points and make it even easier for drivers across the UK to go electric.”

The news comes following last week’s government announcement that the sale of new combustion-powered cars will end in 2035, or sooner if possible. The plans have been repeatedly criticised by industry leaders and experts, who claim the UK’s electric vehicle infrastructure is not ready to cope with a large-scale influx of zero-emission cars.

READ: COMBUSTION CAR SALES COULD END IN 2032

In 2018, BP bought Pod Point rival Chargemaster for £130 million, giving the energy giant control of the charge point manufacturer’s 6500 UK devices. The newly formed BP Chargemaster has begun rolling its rapid chargers out at fuel station forecourts nationwide.

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