Close Brothers Vehicle Hire is using technology to power growth in the LCV market, says Dan Gilkes.
Close Brothers Vehicle Hire is a division of leading UK merchant banking group Close Brothers, providing a range of flexible vehicle solutions, from vehicle rental and leasing to fleet management and telematics. Having built the business primarily in heavy goods vehicles, along with the bus and coach market, the company is rapidly expanding its influence in the light commercial vehicle sector.
Managing director Terry Ottey explained that much of that growth has come from working closely with its customers to find individual solutions. The company also aims to be at the forefront of technological development, using new technologies to boost customer productivity and performance.
How big is the Close Brothers van fleet and how has it developed?
We’ve double in size over the last two years. We have a fleet of around 6,000 commercial vehicles, of which 3,500 are LCVs. We have put a lot of investment into the van side of the business. However, it has been very organic growth. We are based very much in the Midlands, though we do now have two branch locations in Grays in Essex and in Doncaster. We will continue to establish a bigger footprint.
Are you focused on particular industry sectors?
When you look at our strategy, we cover everything, from utilities, to distribution, couriers, welfare and traffic management. We’ve tried to build a one-stop-shop for our customers and we are very focused on working with our customers to meet their vehicle requirements.
Is the van rental and leasing business changing?
We have a traditional mix of contract hire and leasing products, but what we are seeing over the last year, are more short-term rentals. The transport market in general is changing, everybody wants a reliable product, but the main thing for us is technology. We have a telematic solution installed in every van and truck and the customer can chose whether to turn it on or not.
What are the benefits for your customers of telematics?
Everybody is getting smarter and more IT-savvy now. We can provide a suite of reports to the customer, from daily checks to diagnostics, fuel consumption to driver behaviour. We’re also working on artificial intelligence (AI) to assist with driver behaviour. At the moment that means things like autonomous lane departure systems, but we’re also looking at in-cab cameras, working with manufacturers to look at in-cab controls. In the future we could be monitoring the driver’s heart rate and their awareness.
Are you seeing increased demand for electric and alternatively fuelled vans?
We have got some electric vans out there with customers. The momentum is certainly there for electric and everyone wants to get on board, but they’re not all there yet. Almost 5% of our customers are ready for electric now, but the level of conversation is much higher. We’ll work very closely with the manufacturers and the customers on electric. Last year we put eight electric charging points into our own site.
Are ULEZ and Clean Air Zones having an effect on demand?
A lot of fleets are a mix of Euro 5 and Euro 6, though in heavier vehicles we are currently around 90% Euro 6 already. One thing that would help is consistency of approach, particularly on Clean Air Zones, rather than 12 cities doing things differently.
What does the future look like for Close Brothers in terms of your van fleet?
I would like to increase our LCV fleet from 3,500 to around 5,000 in two years’ time, as part of an overall commercial vehicle fleet of around 8,000. By that time, I would expect around 300 of those LCVs to be electric. We’re working with everyone, from smaller SMEs to larger fleets. The reality is that we have always been very supportive, to work with our customers. Going forwards I can see more of the same.