Buy or lease a light commercial, and it is easy enough to equip it with a telematics system and onboard cameras so you can keep tabs on it and monitor the activities of the driver. Rent a van, even under a long-term deal, and kitting it out with all the paraphernalia you need is likely to become rather more problematic; because in theory you could decide to hand it back to the hire company tomorrow, and walk away.

Improving driving behaviour and optimising fleet utilisation are vitally important considerations however no matter how you acquire your vehicles; something that has been recognised by Europcar. It has decided to bite the bullet and offer its long-term rental vans with a Geotab telematics package and a SureCam dashboard-mounted camera.

The technology delivers vital information to fleet managers through a personalised dashboard which gives them useful insights into driving habits. It can lead to safe behaviour on the highway being rewarded.

The initiative is not the sole reason why What Van? has chosen Europcar as its rental company of the year.

If businesses are going to rent light commercials then they want them available immediately. That is a tall order at present given that hire companies, like other types of business, are typically having to wait many months before the new vehicles they have ordered are actually delivered.

The influence a company like Europcar wields, however, means that it has been able to maintain supplies to customers to help them fill any gaps in their fleet. That includes supplying tippers and dropsides as well as vans fitted with tow-bars and flashing beacons.

“The scale of our business gives us the flexibility to meet customer demand within a remarkably short time,” says a company spokesman.

The need to cut vehicle downtime prompted Europcar to ink a deal with Allstar Business Solutions earlier this year to use its ServicePoint operation to help manage fleet  maintenance and repairs. The time its vans spend in workshops has fallen as a consequence.

In 2021, Europcar opened its twelfth Van Supersite. Located just two miles from Cardiff city centre, like the other Supersites it offers tailored services and access to specialist expertise. Knowledgeable staff are on hand to help businesses identify the right van for every job, says the company.

That van could increasingly be battery-electric. That said, Europcar recognises that many companies are cautious about committing to this route to environmental virtue to the exclusion of all others, given the present shortcomings of UK charging infrastructure. As a consequence Europcar plans to increase the number of environmentally-friendly vehicles on its books every year for the next five years with the aim of ensuring that over 50% of its fleet falls into that category. Those green vans will include hybrid, plug-in hybrid and gas-powered models however as well as those that depend on access to a charging point.

Highly Commended: Northgate

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High-profile light commercial rental group Northgate, wins our Highly Commended award due to the extent to which it has developed support services for its customers. 

Recognising that more and more companies are considering switching to battery-electric vans, it has acquired ChargedEV to support their infrastructure needs. ChargedEV has installed more than 20,000 charging units over the past eight years.

Other Northgate initiatives include the introduction of an accident management solution which handles everything from recovery and repair to replacement vehicles. 

Available too is a fleet management service designed to help users minimise vehicle downtime and cut costs. 

Recognising that not everyone wants or needs a comprehensive management package, Northgate has also come up with a no-frills version. It gives users access to its workshops, and to over 2,000 of its approved suppliers.

Worthy of mention too is the Northgate Safe Driver digital platform. It delivers online courses to fleet drivers and managers with the aim of reducing the risks associated with being out on the highway.