Insurance experts IAG offer fleet managers an opportunity to try before they buy. Sharon O’Neill, manager of IAG Fleet, explains all.
WORDS SCOTT MURRAY
For the princely sum of just $500, Sharon O’Neill bought her first car. The year was 1979 and her ticket to freedom was a trusty HR Holden station wagon in Grecian White. Some may scoff, but it had Premier options like vinyl seats and was a reliable and smooth (for the time) three-speed column-shift manual. To fuel her freedom, Sharon pumped petrol on weekends. Haven’t times and expectations changed? From humble motoring beginnings, she was recently tasked with the operation of the new IAG Evaluation Drive Day putting new metal to the test.
“I enjoy a challenge that’s both physical and mental, and I’m quite a competitive person,” Sharon said. “So with 59 vehicles spread across six classes supplied by nine manufacturers, I certainly achieved the challenging part.”
The function of the IAG EDD, held in Sydney’s Olympic Park precinct, is to allow fleet buyers back-to-back access to a wide range of vehicles that may be considered for the next fleet procurement cycle in a respective business, especially IAG itself. “It’s designed to review vehicles that our people use to do their jobs,” Sharon said, “ensuring we’re using industry-leading technology and safety features. It’s also a chance for the wider driving community to be part of the evaluation process.” The ability to drive multiple cars at one occasion is not only untimely for most fleet buyers, it’s a logistical impossibility for most people. Not for Sharon.
Drivers, with the option to drive alone or in pairs, or even solely as a passenger, were briefed at the beginning about following normal road conditions before setting off. The test course involved a five-kilometre circuit which took approximately 12 minutes to complete which comparing and analysing vehicle ergonomics and NVH (noise, vibration and handling), plus steering and brake pedal feel in typical driving conditions. Sharon’s course even included different tarmac types to compare vehicle characteristics on hot-mix and course-chip surfaces.
In addition to driving, other details like size, space, storage, fit-and-finish and general controls were also given the once-over, against other vehicles in the same class. “It makes it easier to effectively rank the suitability and preference,” Sharon said. “Most of the ‘test drivers’ drive over 50,000km a year and working with the IAG Research Centre, we were able to leverage knowledge and expertise in car safety from across the business to bring this event to life.”
With nearly 60 vehicles to evaluate in one place at the same time, the 80 participants were busy opening and closing car doors, turning keys, adjusting mirrors and probably the odd unintended use of wipers instead of indicators. “We had a bit of everything, from small, medium and large passenger cars, to medium and large SUVs, and 2WD dual cab utes,” Sharon said.
“Evaluation included a diverse range of safety measures, such as 5-Star ANCAP rating (and the year it was rated); reverse cameras, hands-free Bluetooth and head restraint grading. Overall feedback will now be built into the whole of life cost analysis to make sure the vehicles we are using suit the needs of our people. This initiative has provided our Fleet Management Team with a deeper understanding of driver preference and business suitability for each vehicle class so our business makes informed decisions about the vehicles we use now and in the future.”
So far, feedback is good and Sharon says there’s scope for further expansion with the program. “The positive feedback we have received from the participants shows us that it was a worthwhile exercise. There is definitely the potential for us to look at hosting this event again in the future.”
But there are a few pieces of advice Sharon offers to any fleet manager about to take a walk into the showroom before the next IAG Evaluation Drive Day.
“The first rule of thumb is suitability. There’s no point researching costs until you’re satisfied the all the vehicles on your list are fit for purpose,” she said. “Understand how your company vehicles are being used and establish a whole of life cost analysis following this. Vehicle options can be quite emotive because everyone has a personal opinion of what they feel they need. It’s important to review the whole vehicle offering; however safety and comfort are paramount for employees who spend a lot of time on the road.”
Compared to her first car, Sharon O’Neill sees the enormous benefit in putting people in the driver’s seat when procuring a new fleet vehicle. While there are many dirt-common similarities between even base model small hatches compared to her column-shift HR, they are worlds apart. In today’s fast-paced world of safety, liability and constant communication, it’s never been more important to know you have the right tool for the job.