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SPOTLIGHT: Nick Butler, fleet director, DriveTech

DriveTech, part of the AA, is a world leader in fleet risk & safety management and driver training, as well as being the UK’s largest provider of driver offender retraining courses. The Great British Fleet Event spoke to Nick Butler, who joined the company as fleet director last year.

With a background working at some of the industry’s most recognisable names, including stints at Ford Contract Motoring, which he joined straight after university in 1996, and Renault Financial Services, Butler joined Alphabet GB in 2003 where he remained for nearly 15 years before joining DriveTech.

Fleet runs in Butler’s blood, having inherited his sister’s 1983 Ford Fiesta Ghia as his first car, which he remembers fondly for having a rusty wheelarch and a dislike of wet road conditions. A far cry from his motoring past is his current Audi A4 Avant, which he intends to run around for the next six months – preferring a cash allowance and short-term flexible contract in order to try out different products and technologies.

Despite evident sensibilities, Butler says he’d love to go back in time on occasion with his dream car being the stainless-steel DeLorean, as featured in the ‘Back to the Future’ movie series, though he’s not too keen on the idea of it being fuelled by plutonium.

Both formed in the same year as his first car, Butler’s ‘go to’ music bands include The Stone Roses and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, although his Spotify account offers a self-described eclectic collection that contains some “guilty pleasures” too. We can only guess what those might include…

What is DriveTech’s focus for 2019?

Our commitment is to maintain our prominent position in the business driver training and driver risk management arena – helping businesses to do more than just achieve their duty of care, but to materially help reduce their collisions, reduce fleet and business costs (bent metal, insurance, personal injuries, wear and tear), and to improve the economy (fuel-saving) and productivity (less downtime, less driver stress) of people employed in driving as a significant part of their work role. We are proud to serve the customers we currently provide services to, and are keen to serve more in 2019 and beyond!

Driver behaviour is changing and with factors such as drowsiness and mobile phone distractions still prevalent – both indications of the current modern demanding business world – we are seeing demand for driver assessments, driver education and training interventions and measurement of improvements coming more to the fore.

How much have you found the fleet sector is changing?
Powertrain, autonomous vehicles, telematics and ownership… name but four!

Of course there are other industry wide impacts such as WLTP – but in our more specific DriveTech sphere, the now increasingly rapid change in demand for less ICE and more electric powertrains has impacted our driver training with the increasing provision to train drivers in the idiosyncracies and differences in driving electric versus petrol/diesel vehicles. Talk of autonomous vehicles (as in truly driverless cars) is widespread, although the era of truly driverless units on public highways still appears a practical way off – with safety considerations making their development and testing a highly public challenge. Check out our own whitepaper on Autonomous Vehicle and where this leaves the “driver”.

Telematics technology means that this is a much more accepted enhancement to monitor and measure vehicle and driver performance. Where we have customers who employ telematics, we help analyse their data and this informs our driver training support.

Ownership: ‘mobility as a service’ summarises the shifting trend towards vehicles as a service rather than a capital asset to ‘individually own’.

What’s keeping today’s fleet manager awake at night?

Will the fleet manager as we know it have the same job? Is the fleet going to be the ubiquitous and clearly defined feature of modern businesses as it is currently – more grey fleet, more funding options, more mobility choice? Are the definitions greying and who takes responsibility? The health & safety lead, the fleet manager, finance, HR – who takes the lead and how do we ensure that we measure what we do to clearly benefit the business we work for?

How do you see that continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

The fleet manager will morph into a ‘mobility and safe travel facilitator’ with less focus on “the choice of metal” per se and more on helping people get from A to B efficiently, safely and effectively (or suggesting different ways than travelling as much at all). They must also help educate their users on the plethora of new ADAS (automatic driver assistance systems) on vehicles making sure they are used to the safest and best advantage.

What sort of challenges and opportunities could this present?

The role can become more expansive and business-wide critical and less pigeon-holed. Helping focus on safer driving can really add benefit to supporting a positive and progressive corporate profile (corporate social responsibility). Technical focus on knowledge of vehicles and how they work is important, but the focus is much more likely to be on driver attitudes, behaviour and mood.