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Increasing numbers of fleet van insurance customers are facing up to a new operating reality in which they must travel further afield in order to meet their, servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR) obligations.

This is the picture described by fleet support system software specialist FleetCheck. It says that the challenge is largely attributable to the widespread closure of many franchise operations.

“We’re not picking out any particular manufacturer here because it is affecting a number but this is something that appears to be happening without much discussion about how it will change provision of SMR for fleets,” said FleetCheck’s managing director Peter Golding.

The development is not unexpected. It has long been known that franchises have recently been forced to contend with increased operating costs, smaller margins and reduced business, partly caused by many fleets ‘going electric’.

Unfortunately, this has all come at a cost to fleet van insurance customers. “The further away the franchise repair centre is, it is likely that it will take longer for servicing or repair to happen,” said Golding.

Independent SMR providers could benefit

However, the shifting sands have proved positive for one group: independent garages. According to industry insiders, independents have quickly stepped into the breach by providing the kinds of specialised services previously offered only by franchises. In the past, this might have proved a problem, but according to Golding having a service history through an independent service provider rather than the franchise is much less of an issue now than it once was.

With the market for electric commercial vehicles currently booming, and many manufacturers having either very small networks or no franchise dealers at all, it remains to be seen whether independent partners will continue to prosper or whether mainstream franchises will adapt and again move into the market, potentially dominating supply chains and ultimately raising prices for the customer.

One thing is certain though, geographical availability of SMR provision is likely to remain important to fleet managers and independent van owners alike: if franchise dealerships continue to nationalise their dealerships and consequently their repair centres, the options for van owners are likely to become narrower and more costly in the long-run.