Growing Tomorrow: Lessons from the Coronavirus

By Lukas Neckermann

April 2020

Part Two of a Two Part Series and Playbook
Part 1 of this series outlined immediate actions that can be taken to protect your employees and support your community that will also save lives. Now, we look at potential longer-term lessons from the coronavirus for corporate fleet and mobility managers. Once fleet managers have taken immediate steps to protect employees, and support the community with vehicles, they should gather all information, consider any visible longer-term changes, and leverage the opportunities that arise from the crisis.​

Communicate with Employees

Of course, this is always a good idea – but during (and after) a crisis, this is even more essential, as it presents a learning opportunity for leadership.  Collect your anecdotal and analytical data now to create your playbook.  

  • How did staff get around during self-isolation?  
  • Did they park their vehicles and use a bicycle, or even an e-scooter to maintain physical distancing?  
  • What apps were they using to stay informed – and can these be integrated in company software?  
  • For city-based employees: are they still comfortable with using public transport for commuting or making customer-visits, or should you implement a mobility allowance for ridehailing and carsharing?
  • For essential services employees, were current fleet vehicles fit-for-purpose during the crisis? 
  • Countries around the world have undertaken different mitigation measures during the Coronavirus Crisis; globally operating fleet and mobility managers should reach out to their international teams to exchange best-practices once time permits. 
Gather and Evaluate the Data

In addition to direct feedback from users and colleagues, particular attention should be paid to the telematics data from this quarter’s movements.  Evaluating data has always been our recommendation in order to right size the fleet (and vehicles themselves), but it gains particular importance now.  Every fleet manager should evaluate the data from the crisis with an eye on vehicle movements and destinations, as well as minimum and maximum miles.  If plans for electrification were subject to available charging stations or daily miles driven, can these be sustained even in a crisis?  Chances are, yes, but data from this real-life stress-test can provide key insights.
Consider the Opportunity for Fleet Renewal

Many automotive production plants around the world have been idled in the Coronavirus Crisis, primarily to protect the health and safety of staff, but also due to a decrease in demand.  Most vehicle delivery timelines will be impacted, which may affect your own business continuity and planning, as well as timelines that you may have agreed with upfitters.  
  • Where businesses are impacted substantially and need to reduce fleet sizes in accordance with staff, fleet managers are immediately advised to check contracts for ‘force majeure’ and delay clauses. 
  • If your vehicles are purchased, your industry has regained stability, and your company’s balance sheet can support a fleet renewal program, now may be the time to initiate (or accelerate) it.  
  • Recent years have seen significant progress in terms of the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) available, as well as the efficiency of engines. 
  • Consider retiring or replacing older vehicles with high fuel-burn or low levels of safety equipment.  
  • The economic shock and slowdown mean that OEMs, leasing companies, and dealerships will likely be chasing their tails (and offering substantial discounts) for the next 6 to 12 months to recover sales momentum. 
  • Although gas prices are currently low, the long-term minded fleet manager knows that this won’t last forever; those aiming for more a sustainable fleet may well find particular bargains around electric and hybrid vehicles during this time – a decision now that will pay dividends in saved fuel-costs over the lifetime of the vehicle (especially when fuel costs increase once more).
  • For fleet managers who lease or finance their vehicles, leasing companies should be open to conversation on adding flexibility to existing contracts. 
Consider Fleet Utilization from Sharing

Perhaps you made parts of your fleet available to emergency services, the health-care system or your local municipality during the crisis.  Well done!  In all likelihood, this will have been implemented temporarily – but what if not?  Is it possible, or even sensible, for you to continue making an idle fleet available to nearby businesses, or even to non-employees, outside of business hours?  We know of one fleet manager, based in a city, who makes company vehicles available to (licensed and approved) members the local community via a carsharing system during the weekends.  Users are charged by the hour, which supports lease payments. 

Where sharing fleet vehicles with strangers isn’t in the cards, or company vehicles are required at all hours, perhaps membership in a commercial carsharing scheme can still prove beneficial. Where available, giving staff access to carsharing vehicles provide greater flexibility, at minimal additional cost to the company.
Consider Changed Behavior Patterns

Leading economists have said that a short lockdown and crisis won’t change consumer behavior by much, and the economy will bounce back.  But anything over a few (sensible) months of health lockdown will likely lead to some fundamental changes in the way people behave, and many companies operate.  In particular, consumers are likely to continue using services that they might have discovered during the crisis.

We have particularly seen the critical importance not only of our emergency services, but also of our freight-forwarding and logistics industries. After the crisis, we will likely see considerable spikes in demand for certain items in the short-term, but also a new appreciation for last-mile delivery among both businesses and end-customers.

Food delivery and online shopping will have become commonplace for office-based employees working from home; we know of several companies that have provided daily lunches, delivered to staff who were working from home.  Some food-delivery companies have even expanded their capabilities to include not just medical goods, but also office-supplies and packages. After the crisis, this will open new doors to supply-chain and procurement managers. 
Most companies will have hastily implemented new working-from-home policies.  If maintained, these policies will yield long-term benefits to working parents and persons with disabilities.  Schools and universities – and their students – will have gathered new experiences with online learning, which may well lead to changed campus populations.  

Large cities will almost certainly see a changed demand in public transportation – and therefore congestion.  Emergency services will – hopefully – receive additional funding to build resilience and flexibility for future health crises.  Environmental protection laws may be changed – either accelerated or suspended – to enable an economic recovery.  Some cities all over the world have implemented temporary bicycle lanes during the crisis, which might even be maintained for the long-term.  

Each of these political or social trends will require great flexibility from companies, and their mobility managers.

End Notes

It’s still far too early to evaluate all of the long-term impact of the Coronavirus Crisis, but we can be sure this represents a leadership challenge for everyone involved in transportation and mobility.  As ever, every crisis presents an opportunity; in this case, it should be seized to improve safety, efficiency, sustainability, and mobility.
Read Part One of the Two Part Playbook

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