There are fleets, and there are executive vehicles, and experienced fleet managers know that managing the two isn’t necessarily the same thing. Sometimes caught between the need to avoid showing favoritism to executives (often to whom they report, either directly or indirectly) and understanding that senior managers’ time is very expensive for the company, finding the proper balance between the two is challenging to say the least.
But to some extent, the logistics of executive vehicles lends itself to solutions, and establishing a regular channel of communication can help avoid the pitfalls of managing executive fleet programs without alienating the executives they serve.
Defining “Executives Vehicles”
Before tackling the challenge, smart fleet managers make certain that true executive vehicles are clearly differentiated from the balance of the fleet. An “executive vehicle” isn’t necessarily simply a vehicle assigned to a company executive. The difference can be illlustrated by examining the vehicle’s purpose.
Utilitarian. Primarily in the case of field executives (sales and service functions), vehicles are provided because the job function or mission requires regular business use, e.g., a director or vice president of sales who travels from branch to branch within a sales region and/or visits with customers with sales personnel. These vehicles are required in the performance of the job, and should not be included in an executive program.
Compensatory. Vehicles provided as a part of an overall compensation package fit the definition of a true executive vehicle. Vehicle usage is mainly for a personal nature; business use is limited.
Addressing The Dilemma
The basic challenge faced by a fleet manager in managing executive vehicles is providing good service without the appearance of “special handling” over and above that provided to the fleet at large.
Unquestionably, fleet managers strive to furnish all company drivers (internal customers) with the highest level of service - prompt response to inquiries, solutions to problems, and vehicles suited to the job at hand. The fact remains, however, that executive positions are higher up in the organization, and a fleet manager’s concern with the authority those positions carry can be understood. Part of the problem, as well as the solution, lies in the proximity of executives.
Most fleet managers work from a corporate headquarters, as do many executives who qualify for a vehicle. Fleet managers thus can be forgiven for feeling obliged, even if not asked directly, to provide personalized attention when executives approach them on fleet matters.
At the same time, that physical proximity offers a solution to the problem. Because executives work in the same office, fleet managers can arrange agreements with local mechanical shops, body repair facilities, and fuel providers that include the requisite direct handling, justifiable vis-a-vis the fleet at large. These shops usually provide pick-up and drop-off service for executive vehicles in need of service or repairs, and sometimes offer loaner cars for use while the vehicle is serviced.
These special arrangements can be reasonably justified. The regular fleet, often comprising geographically dispersed drivers who must be on the road regularly, does not lend itself to such agreements. Drivers on the go need the benefit of a wide menu of locations to obtain fuel, service, and repairs. That service is provided by a typical fleet maintenance or fuel management program. Should an executive question why he or she is getting such attention, while the fleet drivers are not, it is reasonable to demonstrate that such attention is not practical for fleet drivers.
Thus executive fleet drivers can be provided with the kind of special handling and attention they need without feeling that they are taking advantage of their authority or position.
Considering Other Elements
Since executive vehicles are compensatory in nature, there should be no problem in providing higher line vehicles to executives than are offered to fleet drivers. Senior level positions within the fleet are usually considered in a multi-level vehicle selection, where a sales manager or field sales executive is provided a higher line or larger model than their direct-reports.
Dealing with policy and procedure issues is another area in which executive-vehicle management may be a delicate process. A thoroughly conceived fleet policy document often contains penalties for infractions, including personal use guidelines, accidents, and MVR reviews. It goes without saying that should an executive violate policy (excessive moving violations or chargeable accidents, for example), a fleet manager can be put in the difficult position of having to discipline a senior executive. The best way to avoid the possibility of alienation in such cases is to ensure that the policy has been reviewed and approved as high up in the executive “food chain” as possible. A policy memo from the president of the company accompanying notification of penalty to a vice president will short-circuit the potential difficulties.
The Same, But Different
While it may be true that a fleet manager must manage executive vehicles in exactly the same manner as the fleet at large, there will always be sensitive situations, and proper preparation can go a long way to head off potential problems:
Deal Locally. Centrally located executives will understand that a fleet manager can provide local service, and that this often hands-on and “high-touch” service is not “special,” since such service is impractical for the overall fleet. A national maintenance management program is the best and most efficient way to handle the balance of the fleet.
Executive Selection. Because executive vehicles are most often compensatory in nature, providing high line, luxury vehicles is understandable and acceptable policy.
Clear Policy. Make certain that fleet policy is approved at the highest level possible, then apply it to executives in the same manner as done for all drivers.
Are you undercharging for personal use? And how do other companies handle personal-use charges? Automotive Fleet will be tracking the answers to these questions, and more, for fleets to benchmark against in this year's annual personal-use survey.