De-fleeting isn’t known as the most glamourous of fleet necessities, but it’s an impressive ever-evolving highly technical domain that shouldn’t be overlooked, finds Jonathan Musk.
It’s fair to say that the service maintenance and repair (SMR) industry is big, costing the fleet industry 26% more today than in 2014, according to Auto Bodyshop Professionals, and it is consequently a major contributor to vehicle whole life cost.
Allstar, the fuel card provider, says that keeping a vehicle on the road is the most time consuming aspect of looking after vehicles, with the average SME taking 32 hours each month to look after company cars and vans. But when a fleet car comes to the end of its life and needs to be moved on, fleets can recoup some of the TCO spent on SMR by bringing vehicles up to scratch ahead of sale, essentially making SMR work for the company rather than it being a cost.
Enter Smart Fleet Solutions, which specialises in doing just that.
“Traditionally, fleet operators have tended to rely on mainstream body shops to provide in-life repair services, while working with companies like ours to manage the end of life de-fleeting processes,” said Theo Kortland, managing director of Smart Fleet Solutions.
“There’s nothing wrong with that approach in principle, but today repair capacity is at a premium, especially in the body shop market,” continued Kortland.
The vehicle refurbishment company employs around 500 people across a number of UK locations enabling it to cater for fleet/leasing companies, rental companies and large fleets. The idea is simple in concept: bring in a fleet of cars, appraise them for any damage work, quote for repairs and estimate values thereafter. The whole process takes minutes and offers fleet managers a rapid and convenient way to see what needs doing to cars to get the most out of them.
Fleet managers can then decide piecemeal what work they want carried out, with the use of connected online software that allows Smart Fleet Solutions’ clients to assess the report, mark up what they want fixed and/or ignored and then Smart Fleet Solutions sets to work.
Once the work is complete, it’s a case of getting the car to auction or back to the fleet for end-sale.
It all sounds rather simple, but it couldn’t be more complex. With thousands of variations of car, Smart Fleet Solutions needs a lot of experts. Just imagine a fleet of just ten cars could have ten different brands, trims, paints, wheels, tyres and so on. Consequently, Smart Fleet Solutions has to be a master at repairing all types of car and employs people who end up specialising on certain vehicle brands.
The most common type of repair to be fixed is a paint scratch or scuff. With some paints including around 30 constituent parts and some cars having different paint colours on different body parts, for instance on plastic bumpers compared to doors, precise measurement and application of paint is absolutely necessary to ensure a premium repair. The work is painstaking and time consuming, with each paint mix made to set specifications direct from manufacturer-specific swatches. Paints also then need specialist and costly equipment rooms for both spraying and baking in massive ovens. And that’s just for paint. Naturally, other repairs include replacement parts, which means the conveyer belt approach to repair needs to be streamlined if, for example, there’s a delay on part arrivals from abroad.
But these are just small repairs requiring specialist but relatively easy to learn skills. More difficult and pressing for the fleet industry is the issue of increasing reliance on technically challenging equipment in cars, particularly advanced driver assistance solutions (ADAS) that the BVRLA predicts will be in 72% of fleets by 2030. Add to this the influx of electrification of vehicles and the challenge of repairing vehicles grows exponentially. Therefore, the difficulty for any repair workshop is to have qualified technicians able to accommodate these innovations.
“It also means that the refurbishment industry must be continually investing in the latest cutting-edge equipment, while at the same time training its people to utilise that equipment so that repairs can be carried out to the very highest standards – assuming those people can be found in the first place!
“While that investment must of course be borne by refurbishment companies, the shortage of skilled technicians and the increasing complexity of repairs is also impacting fleet operators in the form of increased repair costs and longer turnaround times,” Kortland said.
To help reduce off-road times and costs, Smart Fleet Solutions has rolled out new initiatives such as its Rapid In-Life Repair services for smaller, non-structural repairs.
Kortland explained, “The repair profile of a larger operator such as Smart Fleet Solutions allows us to take care of smaller repairs more quickly and cost-effectively than would ever be possible at a traditional body shop.”
Smart Fleet Solutions has invested millions in its technical centres, which are located in Cold Meece in Staffordshire, Westbury in Wiltshire, Long Bennington in Nottinghamshire and Livingston in Scotland to serve the entire UK and ensure its customers get the best possible service. This includes a recent £4 million investment in the Cold Meece site to reconfigure and extend its capacity and efficiency, as well as a £2.5 million investment in the Livingston site in 2018.
“The transformation of our technical centre in Cold Meece has been nothing short of incredible,” said Theo Kortland, Managing Director of Smart Fleet Solutions. “Our internal teams and external contractors have done an incredible job in bringing our ambition of creating the UK’s most advanced vehicle refurbishment centre to fruition.”