Giving the fleet manager his due
To run a cost-effective road-transport operation, it is essential that companies give their fleet managers the full authority and responsibility to do their job, writes VIC OLIVER
In a recent article published in FOCUS, I wrote about the importance of the key functions that a heavy-vehicle transport manager, and/or owner, must carry out in order to minimise costs and optimise profits.
Transport managers cannot succeed, however, if they are not given full authority and responsibility. Sadly, fleet managers in many large corporations in South Africa are not able to manage and control all the elements of their job, due to the company structure that gives other departments – like marketing or operations – control of drivers and the movement of the fleet.
In these situations, the main priority of marketing managers is to deliver the goods and they will often override the fleet manager’s request for the vehicle to be serviced, and send it out on a delivery. Even more concerning is when an un-roadworthy vehicle is sent out. This situation often occurs repeatedly, with the result that vehicles are not maintained and serviced correctly.
While fleet managers are usually expected to control all the variable operating costs – like fuel, repairs, maintenance and tyres – they often experience a lack of authority and control over drivers.
Trying to control a fleet of vehicles and work within a maintenance budget is virtually impossible without having control of the drivers, as they are the key element in determining the fuel, maintenance and tyre costs of the vehicle.
Drivers can reduce or increase these costs depending on their driving style and attitude. Factors such as speed, harsh braking, excessive idling, green-band driving, as well as clutch and brake operation, all have a direct influence on all the variable cost factors of a fleet.
To ensure that drivers are correctly trained and motivated, and that they adopt the right attitude to caring for the vehicle, fleet managers also need to control and manage driver training. When the management of drivers falls under other departments in large corporate companies, they often adopt the attitude that the driver’s job is to drive the vehicle and not be concerned about caring for it. If the vehicle breaks down, it is someone else’s problem.
Many senior managers in large companies regard the vehicles in the fleet as secondary to the main function of their business, and therefore override the fleet manager who is endeavouring to discipline a driver, or get a vehicle into the workshop for maintenance.
Another common problem that affects the fleet manager’s function is when the general manager instructs him or her to cut back on vehicle maintenance, in order to curtail expenses so that the company can show a healthy overall profit at the end of the term.
It is alarming to find how many heavy commercial vehicles are not serviced and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommended servicing schedules, as a result of these factors.
Vehicle manufacturers are endeavouring to extend service intervals, which reduces operating costs and makes the vehicle more available. However, it then becomes critical that services are undertaken at the stipulated time to optimise the life of the vehicle and reduce variable costs in the long term.
In many companies, especially where transport is not the core business, managers do not understand the negative long-term financial cost of not maintaining vehicles and giving the fleet manager the authority to control and monitor both the fleet and drivers.
To be effective, transport managers need the support of senior management and the cooperation of all the other departmental heads.
One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for over 50 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.