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SPOTLIGHT: Theo Kortland, managing director, Smart Fleet Solutions

Smart Fleet Solutions employs over 400 people across a number of smart repair workshops dotted about the UK. The company is headed up by Theo Kortland and headquartered in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire. The Great British Fleet Event caught up with Theo to find out what’s fresh and coming soon.

As his first car was a Volkswagen Beetle – one of the most popular cars of all time – Theo today chooses to drive around in his Volvo XC90 listening to his numerous Spotify playlists, as his taste is quite eclectic ranging from Foo Fighters to The News Quiz on Radio4 – he admits. Like Neil Marcus from Selsia, Theo would buy an Aston Martin if money were no object. Theo said: “Not only are their vehicles beautifully designed and genuine driving machines, they are practical enough that I can still go to the supermarket and do my weekly shop!” Despite an ambition to drive a supercar to the local shops, Theo enjoys keeping fit and healthy and says he couldn’t do without a road to run or cycle along.

With a background stretching more than 25 years in the automotive and financial services industries with experience gained in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, Theo joined the Greenhous Group in 2008 before moving to Smart Fleet Solutions in 2014 where he is managing director.

What is Smart Fleet Solutions’ focus for 2019?

We’re rolling out new initiatives such as our Rapid In-Life Repair services for smaller, non-structural repairs and will continue to live up to our Smart philosophy by using technology to meet the increasingly complex repair profiles our customers present to us. Being used to these kinds of repairs, Smart Fleet Solutions will be able to take care of smaller repairs more quickly and cost-effectively than would ever be possible at a traditional body shop, which typically have a longer turn-around time due to saturation within their market sector.

How much have you found the fleet sector is changing?

The fleet industry is facing multiple challenges including new technology, margin pressure, pressure to lengthen fleet lifecycle due to uncertain economic outlook, pressure to reduce repair times while maintaining quality, need for more effective in-life repairs, pressure to manage costs and pressure to maximise value of every unit de-fleeted. To help our clients successfully manage their in-life repair and refurbishment challenges, our smart thinking has resulted in continual investment in the latest equipment, premises and technology, which includes smart proprietorial hand-held workshop technology to reduce key to key times by 33%.

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

Fleet owners are looking for more innovative and effective in-life repairs against a background of a shortage of skilled technicians and the increasing complexity of repairs. This is impacting fleet operators in the form of increased repair costs and longer turnaround times so we’re challenging the traditional one-size-fits-all to help reduce both off-road times and costs. We’ve invested more than £5 million in equipment and facilities at our four state-of-the-art technical centres across the UK in Wiltshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Scotland over the past four years, ensuring its technicians are using the very latest tools, techniques and technology.

How do you see that continuing to change over the next five-ten years?

New safety technology and the materials used in vehicles is going to be a constant in the fleet industry for the foreseeable future which means that the skills shortage is only going to get tighter. We have taken control of our future in order to help our customers by establishing apprenticeship and trainee programmes, which are supported by its own in-house training academy. At Smart Fleet Solutions, we’re determined to overcome the industry skills shortage by developing our own people into the very best technicians in the business, We’re also determined to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers and to maximise the benefit of every pound they spend in vehicle repair and refurbishment.

What sort of challenges and opportunities could this present?

The challenge for the fleet industry to reconsider is who they partner with for both in-life repairs and de-fleeting to ensure that their needs will be met in a cost efficient, high quality and timely manner. The opportunity lies in working in partnership with dynamic vehicle refurbishment companies to be prepared for the increasing complexity of car technology/electronics and changes in body architecture for the vehicles in their fleet. Preparing for the future will include sense checking the skill base of a company’s technicians and ensuring that there is a robust plan in place to keep these skills on point and up to date.

What would you like to see change in that time to help the sector move forwards?

We’ve invested significantly in training and development to help create a skilled and future proof workforce and would like to see more educational initiatives at a national level to generate more awareness among young people of the future potential to be involved in the fleet refurbishment industry: we’ve seen from those trialling paint spraying via our VR machine at recruitment events that gaming skills can be put to good use in our industry!

What’s in the pipeline from your company in 2019?

We’re continuing to invest in technology to showcase our philosophy: there’s always a smarter way. We now offer imaging technology to provide customers with accurate portrayal of vehicle condition plus a state of the art network of facilities fully equipped with everything from purpose-built inspection tunnels to digital imaging turntables which can support all repair types and vehicles, including hybrid and electric vehicles, so expect to see more smart innovations from us this year!