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How to build a fleet for your business (And what to look for in the first place)

The question is simple

As simple as “What needs doing?”. The answer, however, takes some time to wrap your head around.

The vehicles you choose are critical to the operations of your business and leave a lasting impression on the road and your customers. But the choice is tough, it’s long-lasting, and frankly – it’s something you’d like to get done and never have to think about again. Read on.  

With a whirlwind of options, finding a decent starting point can be utterly overwhelming and the notion of a perfect fleet can begin to sound quite ridiculous. Where do you even start?  

Right here.    

We’ll be breaking down the essential elements you need to consider when building your fleet. Because there is a perfect fleet, and this is your cheat sheet on what to look for.  

Reliability 

This is your make-or-break. Look for vehicles that can withstand daily use in a variety of demanding road and weather conditions. If you can’t rely on your fleet for timely deliveries and transportation, your business will never be able to deliver to its full potential. But how do you know whether a vehicle is reliable if you haven’t actually owned it?  

Reviews. Now, keep in mind that they’ll likely be written with a bit of bias (unless they’re from a major organisation), but they’ll offer valuable input on how well the vehicles have served other owners and how well they resist general wear and tear. But wear and tear is unavoidable…so how do you deal with it?  

Maintenance and service 

Foresight is your friend. Vehicles with maintenance and service options are your bread-and-butter for preventing breakdowns and extending fleet lifespan. Look for manufacturers that offer comprehensive after-sales support programmes like Volkswagen’s EasyDrive Service and Maintenance Plans. At a bare minimum, you’ll want these:  

  • Repairs    
  • Roadside assistance 
  • Wide network of service centres 
  • Regular maintenance  
  • Genuine spare parts

If you’re looking for absolute protection, VW is the only brand offering coverage as thorough as their 5-year/100 000km Maintenance Plan on their Amarok Double Cabs, and their 5-year/150 000km warranty on all Amarok Single and Double Cabs – always keeping your fleet ready for the road. But aside from VW’s plans, these things don’t often come at a reasonable price. Let’s talk about your bottom line.    

Cost of ownership

White elephants are real, especially when it comes to cars. A vehicle whose maintenance costs exceed its income generation is, to put it lightly, quite useless. Consider the ongoing (and ever-rising) costs of insurance, fuel, repairs, replacement parts, and maintenance. That sounds like a lot, but there is an upside.  

Resale. Don’t forget to look into the resale value of the vehicles. This will greatly impact your overall cost of ownership, but that’s not the only element that ultimately pays for itself. 

Power

Power equals performance. You’ve got to provide your drivers with the tools they need to get their jobs done effectively. Do that, and you’ll make your money back in efficiency. For most businesses, that means:  

  • Plenty of space for stock or staff
  • High payload capacity – 700 kg or more
  • High towing capacities – 2,000 kg or more
  • 4 x 4 features   

You should also consider the personal needs of your drivers, the environments they operate in, and another big one that’ll make you stay ahead of the competition. 

Training courses

If you want to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries as much as possible, you should look directly to the source: your drivers. What can we do to avoid disaster in the first place? 

There are a number of manufacturers who offer commercial vehicle training courses along with their standard service offerings. Volkswagen Driving Academy provides a host of courses such as their Amarok 4×4 course, Night School, hijack prevention, and more. Their courses are tailored to give your driver advanced training on how to avoid and deal with potentially dangerous situations that might lay in their path. And let’s not forget the plethora of alternative ways to train your staff.

A handful of third-party training providers offer specialized commercial vehicle safety courses. The courses are designed to meet industry standards and are even customizable for your business’s unique needs. However, there’s one that no South African business owner can afford to skip out on.

Vehicles in South Africa get broken into or stolen more often than not, so anti-hijacking training is essential, especially if your drivers are travelling through highjack hotspots. But if you appreciate a more hands-off approach to general safety, you’ll also want to look into this next avenue. 

Safety features

This is your top priority. Accidents can break the bank and cost you your reputation. You need vehicles that are equipped with effective safety features to protect your drivers, passengers, and cargo. Look into the vehicles’ safety ratings and whether they have advanced safety features. These are the most common and impactful features you’ll want:  

  • Blind-spot monitoring: Sensors detect obstacles within the blind spot and warn the driver.  
  • Rear-view camera: Provides a clear view of everything behind the vehicle.
  • Forward collision warning: Warns the driver of a possible incoming collision.
  • Adaptive cruise control: Manages the vehicle’s speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front.  
  • Automatic emergency braking: Automatically applies brakes if the vehicle is caught in an impending collision.
  • Anti-lock braking system: Prevents the wheels from locking during sudden stops, which allows drivers to maintain their control over the vehicle.  
  • Electronic stability control: Prevents skidding on slippery surfaces.  

You can’t control what might happen on the road, but you can greatly affect the end result with safe vehicles for your staff. There is, however, one element of your fleet that you do have complete control over, and you should use it to its full potential. Keep reading. 

Customisation

This is where you’ll get some of your highest return on investment. Look for vehicles you can customise to the exact needs of your business. The main points of customisation will be your engine, body, and interior. But do keep one point in mind. 

Not all brands are equal. Brand reputation will be an instrumental part of your decision-making process when building your fleet. So, let’s talk about that for a moment. 

Brand reputation

Reputation makes brands. You want to know that you’re investing in reliable and efficient vehicles that will only improve your productivity and profitability. But there’s more to it.

Choosing a reputable brand can improve overall customer trust and satisfaction. When customers see that your business uses high-quality vehicles, they’re also more likely to recommend you to others. Think about it. 

Say you’ve organised for a small business to deliver stock to your nearby client. You’re using them for the first time, and you’ve only heard of them through word of mouth but decided to trust them anyway. Suddenly, your mental alarm goes off. 

Around the corner, you see a beaten-down, foreign-looking car parking in your driveway, asking to take your precious parcels. Now think of the relief you’d feel when the driver turns out to have parked at the wrong address. In their place, a pristine fleet of vehicles like the Caddy Cargo, bearing shining Volkswagen emblems, pulls in. Feel the difference? 

It’s palpable. You’re more likely to trust a company with a good brand behind it, especially if that brand is known for its efficiency. And on that note, let’s talk about your most important area of efficiency – fuel.   

Fuel efficiency

Fuel costs can add up quickly, and are largely impacted by vehicle weight, driver habits, cargo load, and overall engine efficiency. Choose vehicles that have high EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ratings. The EPA provides fuel economy ratings for most vehicles, which will help you save mountains in the long run.   

Let’s recap.  

Wrapping up

Building a fleet for your business is a complex process that requires careful consideration of the following factors:  

  • Reliability – Will the vehicles continue to work as expected over long periods?
  • Maintenance and service – Does the brand offer good after-sale service?
  • Costs to ownership – Are maintenance costs reasonable?
  • Power – Are the vehicles going to accomplish the tasks you set?
  • Training courses – Do your drivers know how to work efficiently and safely?
  • Safety features – How protected are your drivers, passengers, and cargo?
  • Customization – Can the vehicles be made to suit your specific needs?
  • Brand reputation – Is the brand worth your time and money?
  • Fuel efficiency – Do your vehicles have good EPA ratings?

Each factor plays an important role in the fleet’s overall functioning and will vary depending on your business needs. No matter how you look at it, investing in the right fleet is one of the most important decisions you make to help improve productivity, increase income potential, and build a positive reputation.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is a proud National Partner of the NSBC

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