On the truck side, and doubtless on the fleet car side in future, tyre management has become king in controlling ppk and fixed price tyre contracts. The computerised analysis of data is not an uncommon concept and many firms have been utilising computer data management for their tyre contracts for some time. The weak link in the chain has always been at the data collection end of the chain. Fitters or inspectors checking and recording tyre data with clipboards is a slow process, subject to much error and the vagaries of the weather. Once the data is collected it then needs to be keyed into the database, a laborious and tedious process subject to much potential for error. There are systems available where electronic data gathering is made possible with wireless connections from tyre depth gauges to PDAs thence to the computers back at base. However, there is a reluctance to buy into, or use, electronic data gathering equipment. Conventional tyre depth gauges and pressure gauges are still the tool of choice. This leaves the main element (manpower excluded) in data collection the point at which the data is actually collected. InfoRoute had what it believed to be the answer to tyre management software, but time and time again fleet tyre management people would listen keenly and respond to any presentation with the statement that “it is the data collection that is the weak point.”
InfoRoute realised that the challenge to be faced was not so much one of selling the software but creating and perfecting the data collection link to improve the collection and flow of tyre inspection data. This was the challenge InfoRoute faced. Truck Tyre Manager, a powerful tyre management PC program had already been developed but data input had to be automatic with no delays. The traditional data collection route could give information as much as six working days out of date. What was needed was a simple to use, readily accessed, cheap, weatherproof system.
InfoRoute found the ideal solution was already in use by every tyre fitter in the country: a mobile phone. Everyone already knows how to use a mobile phone, so that immediately removes acceptance, training, support and cost issues. One hand operation lets you check tyres and enter details at the same time. InfoRoute calls the system Inspector Link.
InfoRoute developed special programs to receive and send vehicle and inspection details between Truck Tyre Manager on the PC and the phone. Working closely with tyre fitters and managers InfoRoute designed single key input routines to guide the tyre inspector. First of all a vehicle is selected by entering the start of the registration or fleet number. The wheel configuration displays and the speedometer reading is entered. Then the front off side tyre is highlighted. Select the make, enter the depth and if there are no faults move on to the next tyre. If the tyre has a problem simple menus allow the inspector to pick a fault and select the action needed. At any time the inspection can be reviewed and altered. A “view actions” menu highlights vehicles needing attention. At any point the inspection can be completed and details transmitted back to the office. Vehicles not yet checked remain on the phone to be checked later.
The phone operates off line, so there is no connection charge while you are inspecting vehicles and it does not depend on having a signal. Inspector Link can be used anywhere. Protected by a weather proof case, fastened to the inspector wrist by a cord the unit can’t fall to the ground. So far InfoRoute has not had any equipment failures or breakages. It doesn’t need any special computer equipment to transmit data, it is just like sending a text. In about a minute you can send and receive details of hundreds of vehicles.
In the USA, Bridgestone/Firestone has turned more than 200 of the company’s trailers into mobile billboards, featuring images of tyres and vehicles. One side of the trailer features Bridgestone tyres fitted to an Enzo Ferrari, motorcycle, 18-wheeler and stylised Grand Prix racing car. The other side pictures Firestone agricultural and racing tyres, with pictures of a tractor and an Indy Car. The brand’s heritage is emphasised by a picture of Harvey Firestone.
National Fleet has appointed Martin Towers as Commercial Director for its recently expanded mobile tyre fitting division. He will report directly to National Fleet’s Managing Director, Kevin Parker. Martin Towers is a familiar name to the fleet industry and joins National Fleet with many years of industry experience gained with Kwik-Fit Fleet, Tyreserve and latterly the AA.
Mobile tyre fitting is here to stay and is being offered to fleet customers (and others) as a positive advantage, saving them time and effort. Preventative maintenance, in the form of car park tyre checks at the workplace, is also becoming popular. ATS Euromaster took a long, hard look at its mobile offering and decided that a few changes were necessary.
AA Tyre Fitting general manager David Goodyear says that using a mobile tyre fitting service can save a 500-vehicle strong fleet up to £20,000 a year. Estimates suggest that the average hourly cost of employment to a company for a fleet driver is £28.50 and that the average fleet car has 1.4 tyres replaced every year. On average, a visit to a fast-fit centre to have a tyre change lasts 90 minutes, it is claimed. For a fleet of 500 vehicles, this would cost employers almost £20,000. “Over a large fleet, that wasted time mounts up and the figures that we have compiled show it to be considerable cost. But it’s a cost that can be saved through mobile fitting. Most tyre replacement can be done by mobile fitters while a driver continues to be productive working in their office, or even relaxing at home during the evening,” he added.
Fleet tyre management phoenix, FTM, has claimed domination of the UK fleet tyre management market, with coverage, largely exclusive, of 80 per cent of the fleet market. Some 1641 depots and 400 mobile units give FTM the claim to being the largest network of independent tyre retailers serving this market in the UK. Managing Director, Mike Wise, said at the annual dealer conference, that this had been achieved in the face if doubts and criticism from both the industry and press, and against a range of unprofessional business tactics from competing fleet tyre operators. Sir Tom Farmer, speaking as CEO of the Kwik-Fit Group which owns FTM, complimented the team on their success with a business which he couldn’t have given away 18 months previously.
Kwik-Fit Fleet is to launch its mobile tyre fitting service in Ireland, servicing mainly business car users at their offices or homes. Kwik-Fit currently has 37 service points in Ireland, with plans to expand. When it comes to mobile service units, the group has 538 vehicles operating in Europe.
Pirelli and Benetton have joined together to win control of Telecom Italia and the mobile phone company TIM. Control was secured by a cash payment of 7 billion Euro to Bell for its 23 per cent stake in Olivetti; the company which controls TI. TI’s market capitalisation value is 55 bn Euro.
Vergölst’s truck tyre service had a very successful run in 1999. More than 14,000 trucks and coaches/buses were fixed on motorways and highways by Vergölst’s puncture service in 1998 – equivalent to 38 calls-out per day –, a figure far exceeded in 1999. This Vergölst round-the-clock truck tyre puncture service has been available seven days a week (including holidays) since 1987. So far the breakdown service has operated from the various service centres, but for the last two years or so the company has increasingly used “servicemobiles” which work independently and are responsible only for trucks, thereby providing even faster help in each individual breakdown. The servicemobiles not only help with truck tyre punctures on the road. They service customers’ vehicles wherever they are – tractor units or trailers – either at the customer’s own premises, in a motorway service area, or while loading, unloading or being repaired at a truck workshop. The mobile truck tyre service is continually being enlarged above the current 50 servicemobiles. The target is mobile service coverage at traffic junctions and at centres of commerce. In sea ports such as Bremen/Bremerhaven, Cuxhaven, Hamburg, Kiel, Lübeck-Travemünde, Rostock (being developed) and Sassnitz/Stralsund the mobile port service has been in operation for several years, making the tyres of trailers safe before they start out on their journey along German roads.
Kwik-Fit is to buy Silver Shield Screens Ltd, the automotive glass repair and replacement company. Silver Shield has 57 branches and 225 company-owned and franchised mobile fitting vehicles, providing a 24-hour windscreen repair and replacement service. The purchase price was £6 million, with up to another £2 million, dependent on future events. Silver Shield is number three in its market, with annual sales of more than £20 million.
Former apprentice engineer with Michelin, now multi-millionaire businessman, John Caldwell, has pledged to try to find work within his mobile phone empire for the 950 Michelin workers facing the axe. Caldwell already employs 2,000 people in North Staffordshire and Crewe. He runs some 110 Phones 4U shops throughout the UK and has plans to take on 1,000 more people within the next year. The bulk of the new posts would be in communications positions.
Only a month ago NEUE REIFENZEITUNG reported at length on Mobile Fitting as a sensible and vital service in the truck tyre business. Now Goodyear-Handelssysteme GmbH, a Goodyear marketing subsidiary, plans the introduction of Mobile Fitting (known as Tire Valet in USA) for car tyres. The idea is still at an early stage. Time is money, the marketing people in Cologne believe, and aim to gain new types of customers with the new service. With marketing programmes, whose details are still to be developed, the company wants to appeal to fleet operators as well as small enterprises, self-employed people as well as private users. Run as a comprehensive service, Mobile Fitting will also be suitable to give status to the tyre dealer. Whether Mobile Fitting can be taken as far as the end user’s front door is still uncertain. In our country potentially good ideas have the nasty habit of falling foul of vetoing authorities. Nothing can be done without special permission, to be granted by each local authority individually.