In such volatile times as these, organising company mobility can quickly turn into an obstacle race.
But how can the level of complexity in the day-to-day business of fleet operators be effectively reduced? We spoke about this with Thomas Rennebaum, who heads up Volkswagen Group Fleet International¹⁾.
Thomas, you have led Volkswagen Group Fleet International since March 2021. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that there were calmer times to take on a job with so much responsibility ...
You wouldn’t be far off there! It all began during what can only be described as exceptional times: the coronavirus pandemic was already at its peak in spring 2021 and this coincided with that fateful accident in the Suez Canal. In the aftermath of such natural disasters, various semiconductor factories around the globe were forced to curtail or even cease their production. Then, when land was eventually in sight, the Ukraine war turned everything on its head again. All of these factors had and are still having a massive effect on supplying the mobility needs of our international fleet customers.
So business as unusual in the best sense. This begs the question as to how you and your team reach out to customers under such difficult conditions ...
One of the main ways we do this at Volkswagen Group Fleet International is by taking the pressure off – in other words ensuring mobility supply. Together with importers and local Volkswagen Financial Services subsidiaries in the different countries, we seek out alternative solutions that allow us to guarantee fleet mobility. Our brand diversity benefits fleet operators in this respect; for instance, if a new vehicle is not available at present in the desired configuration, we make recommendations tailored to the specific customer’s needs. However, we can also ensure their mobility, if necessary, by extending contracts for vehicles that were leased in the Volkswagen Group. A major advantage for our international customers is that they have a Key Account Manager in Group Fleet International who acts as a central contact for them. For our national key accounts, this role is assumed in turn by the key account advisor in the dealerships.
Whether electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, green electricity, consulting, energy management ... we have the necessary expertise in all of these aspects within the Volkswagen Group – and offer it to multinational fleet customers in a straightforward way as Volkswagen Group Fleet International.
Can you explain your role in a little more detail?
Let’s assume a tender notification is issued by an international customer operating a multinational fleet in 10, 50, 100 countries or more. One of the first things we do is check the vehicle availability together with our importers and then coordinate preparation of bids from the respective markets for the entire fleet. Incidentally, we have digitalised the entire tendering process owing to the large number of markets, brands and contacts. This allows us to provide our key accounts with high quality, centralised feedback across all brands and markets within the time limit they have set.
Does this also apply to the leasing contracts?
No, our job at Group Fleet International is simply to provide the car. Our colleagues at Volkswagen Financial Services then conclude the leasing contracts.
Let’s stay with the topic of tenders: Which trends can be identified at present in terms of the procurement strategy of large international fleets?
Requirements still obviously vary greatly from company to company and from country to country. Nonetheless, in general we can see that topics like electrification and reducing carbon emissions are right at the top of the agenda everywhere when it comes to priorities. And even if many countries still have some catching up to do as regards the infrastructure, for example, I am firmly convinced that battery-electric vehicles are also the way forward in terms of fleets.
Not all fleet managers are familiar with the details of the ecosystem surrounding fleet electrification. Who looks after this on your behalf?
We actually offer this service to our European fleet customers as an all-round service together with partners from the Volkswagen Group. We call it Electrification-as-a-Service. The modular 360° e-consulting approach is a one-stop shop for companies, offering them everything they need to electrify their fleets: fleet analysis, vehicle and dashboard selection, tailored financing and leasing offers and, of course, charging infrastructure and load management. The modules can be selected individually or combined as required. On the German market, the advisory role is assumed in turn by Key Account Managers at Volkswagen Leasing GmbH.
Many companies have been looking increasingly of late at the topic of mobility budgets…
That’s right – this is the second major trend we are seeing among fleet customers. In urban centres, in particular, having your own car is nowhere near such a foregone conclusion as it was in former times. More and more employees are working from home, want to use public transport or take advantage of flexible car rental offers. As such, mobility budgets are an ideal means for companies of literally keeping all avenues open for their employees.
What role do you see here for Group Fleet International?
To continue the concept of roles, I would say the director’s chair as it were. We coordinate the resources within the Group and in this way reduce complexity for our fleet customers. In the case of mobility budgets, this includes aspects that you might not initially associate with an automotive company – such as bicycle leasing.
Finally, a question that’s akin to looking into a crystal ball: When will the supply situation start to ease again? What is your outlook on it?
In the case of primary products – especially semiconductors – the situation remains complicated. However, we are anticipating a significant easing from the second half of 2023, which means that we can then devote ourselves fully to working through the backlog.
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¹⁾Volkswagen Group Fleet International is a unit of Volkswagen Financial Services AG and conducts fleet customer business on behalf of Volkswagen AG.
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