Themed "Launching the '90s." the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association held its annual meeting at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Houston, April 19-22, attracting 240 attendees.
The convention was kicked off by keynote speaker Jack Kolb, chairman of ARI, who discussed, among other topics, the consolidation of the vehicle leasing industry through acquisitions and mergers which he predicted would probably continue. In addition, Kolb spoke on the increasing importance of customer service on the part of vehicle lessors. "Service is the most explosive area of growth from both the lessee and lessor viewpoint," said Kolb. "Computerized individual service and listening to the concerns of the customer will be the hallmarks of excellent service in the 1990s."
Kolb also touched upon a recent development in lessee services, known as "total fleet management programs," where a lessor handles the day-to-day administration of a client's fleet. "Although there is a need to develop a closer partnership between the lessee and lessor, you can't replace the fleet manager. There will always be a need for an in-house manager," said Kolb.
One highlight of this year's conference was a panel discussion dealing with "Recent Changes in the (Leasing) Industry." Panelists included: Harry Chouinard, vice president of Wheels, Inc.; Chuck Curlett, regional vice president - sales, East for PHH FleetAmericas; and Peter Sollenne, senior vice president of sales and marketing for U.S. Fleet Leasing. Moderating the panel discussion was Mike Flanigan, regional vice president for GE Capital Fleet Services.
In his opening remarks, Flanigan observed that one consequence of the mergers within the vehicle leasing industry will be that lessors will further specialize their services. As for the prospect of future acquisitions, Flanigan said, "In regards to GE, the mergers are pretty much complete in the domestic North American area."
PHH's Curlett pointed out that another significant industry change has occurred in client services. "In the 1990s, service will be even more critical," said Curlett. Among the new client service programs introduced by PHH Fleet America, Curlett cited preventive maintenance, driver records, accident management and subrogation, safety, title and registration, and personal use benefit reporting. According to Currlett, one factor influencing change in client services has been the introduction of new technologies, primarily computers for transmission of vehicle orders and changes, electronic mail, and electronics billing and reporting.
PHH's newest client services program is Fleet Administration Services, which, according to Curlett, was introduced at the request of the lessor's clients. The Fleet Administration Services program "offers a partnership between the lessor and a lessee's fleet manager in administering a fleet by providing direct driver contact with the lessor so clients can devote more time to establishing vehicle policy and truly managing a fleet," said Curlett.
Another recent and innovative service announced by Wheels at the conference is its cellular phone program. Under this program, Wheels will lease or sell cellular phones to its clients for installation in fleet vehicles; Chouinard predicted that cellular phones will be standard equipment in cars by the turn of the century.