Zenith plugs into electric cars as road trials prove a success

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A LEADING fleet management company from Yorkshire is predicting a bright future for electric vehicles after local trials produced positive results.

Zenith manages 38,000 vehicles on behalf of 90 blue-chip customers across the UK.

Its employees at Calverley, near Leeds, have been trialling two Nissan Leaf models for the last three months.

Every user rated the driving experience as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘extremely satisfactory’, while 75 per cent said they were impressed with reliability.

Tim Buchan, chief executive, told the Yorkshire Post: “The next big area for our sector will be electric vehicles and the part they have to play in motoring in the UK.

“I am absolutely convinced that over the next five years we will see electric vehicles within fleets that use city cars.

“They don’t have the range to be able to travel 200-300 miles down the motorway but they do have the range to be able to operate within city centres.

“The electric car will have a key place in fleets, but I think the technology still needs to develop further. But we are absolutely embracing that.”

Zenith employees have clocked up more than 3,000 miles to date during the ongoing trial. The Nissan Leaf has a range of around 70 miles on a single charge.

“Everybody has had the opportunity to drive a vehicle. We have had a competition to show the vehicle in the most unique and furthest away place.

“We have got it right under the Humber Bridge and that lovely East Yorkshire sunset.”

The company has installed a charging point at its headquarters at Holly Park Mills. Nearly one in five – 17 per cent – said they would “definitely” consider switching one car in their household to an electric vehicle.

“For us, it’s about having the confidence to lead our sector,” said Ian Hughes, commercial director.

“There’s a significant amount of investment that manufacturers are making into this technology and our industry is looking at it slightly apprehensively, unlike ourselves who see they have a place.”

Electric vehicles might suit some customers in certain areas, while traditional diesel or petrol might be appropriate in others, he said.

Mr Hughes added: “There are many of our clients who do maintenance on these great big sites and just want to cruise about in a local environment... electric is absolutely perfect for those sorts of things.”

Zenith will turn over around £280m this year. Customers include Philips, Santander, Asda, Mitie and NATS. The business has added 25 new jobs in the last 12 months, bringing headcount to 210.

Zenith has strengthened its management team with the appointments of Claudia Rose as sales director, who joined from industry leader Lex Autolease last month. Lex, part of Lloyds Banking Group, manages around 300,000 cars. Zenith hired Ms Rose, formerly Lex’s corporate sales director, to drive organic growth and help reach its target of 50,000 vehicles under management by 2015. Mark Connor, operations director, also joined from Lex.

The fleet management sector is split between bank-owned operators like Lex, manufacturers, dealers and independents holding around a quarter each, said Mr Buchan. The sector is going through a period of change and consolidation; RBS announced this year the wind-down of its Lombard Vehicle Management business.

Zenith increased its fleet size by 20 per cent over the last year, while competitors have “stayed static or gone backwards”, said Mr Buchan. He added: “We are continuing to invest heavily to grow the business and remain at the forefront of the sector.”

Zenith has spent £300,000 refurbishing its headquarters in a former textiles mill. Mr Buchan said he wants to create a work environment “more akin to walking into an Apple store than a traditional office” that helps people to flourish in.