26 Aug 21

"Eastern Europe is determined to close the gap in fleet electrification"

For fleet managers, Eastern Europe appears a more challenging market. According to Žarko Barlović, Corporate Fleet and Technical Means Manager of Atlantic Grupa, the obstacles they face are not much different from Western Europe, but the main challenge is electrification. We asked Mr Barlović about the post-pandemic picture of the region and what he is planning to increase EV adoption in his fleet.

Can you describe the role and structure of your fleet at Atlantic Grupa?

"I’m performing all duties related to technical safety, procurement, and the commercial function of the fleet. Currently, I’m responsible for more than 1,300 vehicles and over 350 forklift trucks. In my previous company as a fleet manager, I was responsible for 3,400 vehicles."

"We are operating in 8 countries and more than 40 markets worldwide and continuously growing our fleet. Currently, half of the vehicles in our fleet are personal cars, 3% of them are trucks and the rest are LCVs."

"In terms of fleet size, Croatia and Serbia represent the biggest markets with 37% and 36% of our fleet respectively. Our main partner as a manufacturer is Renault-Dacia, representing 85% of our fleet, winning our tender as the most favourable bidder, and one with many service points in the region which is an important factor for Atlantic Grupa as a regional company. In every market, we prefer to work with ALD Automotive as a lease provider. In countries where they are not present, like North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we move forward with local providers."

What are the main challenges you faced during the pandemic?

"These days my challenges are the same as for most other fleet managers in the rest of Europe. The main challenge appears to be vehicle availability. Due to the pandemic, manufacturers have issues delivering cars. We have strong ties with our partners so we can maintain our needs despite some delays. Most of the employees are still working at home therefore vehicles are mostly in the car parks, which also causes car usage and optimisation challenges."

"I don't think that our region is much different from any other as we face many similar challenges. There are several global lease providers in the market and the local legislation in our region is similar to other regions."

How would you describe the regional differences in terms of EVs and mobility?

"The lack of charging infrastructure and local legislation is limiting the usage of EVs on a larger scale. We are going forward but we are still behind the Western European markets."

"The line of cars is accepted as a status symbol in the region. I believe our mentality and approach to mobility has to change. We have to be faster in adapting to new concepts. On the other hand, I think we are moving forward in each market of the region. Local energy companies are installing new charging stations in Croatia almost every day. The number of carsharing companies is increasing, particularly in Croatia and Slovenia. There are several Western European companies in our region active in the EV and hybrid car industry."

"Recently I read a great line: Mobility is critical for our long term well-being. I fully agree because mobility is not only about e-cars, there's much more to it. Carsharing, public transport, bikesharing and even walking are growing mobility concepts. The current progress is maybe not as fast as it should be but I think we are moving towards our mobility goals as a region."

What are your ambitions in electrification as a fleet manager?

"We are currently not using e-cars in our fleet. Testing among e-cars and hybrid cars started a few years ago and we used to have one model for trials. We are also analysing driver behaviour and car telematics."

"If we talk about the market generally, lots of people live in cities and currently, many of the employees are working from home. There’s not enough access to charging points and charging overnight is not available. As Atlantic Grupa, we are preparing a what-to-do list to choose the best EV model to integrate into our car policy. More importantly, analysing our needs will help us do our mobility scan, to see where we are, what we can/should do and how we can reach our goals. In a region where cars are still perceived as status symbols, we are exploring new solutions, and preparing small steps to cross from fleet management to mobility management."

What projects are you working on to increase efficiency?

"We have set goals for preserving the environment and creating a better society, one of which is to reduce CO2 emissions in our operations. Our fleet consists of vehicles not older than 4 years and we are replacing diesel with petrol as well as organising eco-driving courses. We apply a corporate level guide of vehicle usage, and a common car policy for all markets. Under our job classifications we divide cars into two groups – benefit and tool, with several categories in each group. We update our car policy depending on business developments, such as entering a new market."

"As our distribution is growing in each market, we are confident that we will be successful in our EV plans. In two to three years I believe the number of e-cars in our fleet will grow. Also, cities are going to new levels of mobility, like forming LEZs and only EVs will be used in deliveries in the coming years. For this reason, if nothing else, any fleet will have to adopt e-cars."

What advice would you give to future fleet managers in Eastern Europe?

"The tip I can give is a known one: Think globally, act locally. There are peculiarities in each market, you can't optimise the fleet as you do anywhere. You have to be really present and know the market. People in our region still foremost appreciate the human touch. Due to the pandemic, most employees are working from home, but we manage to complete our tasks and remain successful in our operations, the pandemic didn't push us back. If you’re always present and available out there, in the field, it is much easier to overcome challenges."

What are the expectations of EV evolution in the coming years in Eastern Europe?

"It is hard to predict the changes due to volatile factors including prices, local legislations and new mobility trends. For instance, the insurance fee for EVs in our region is almost two times that of traditional commercial cars."

"EV models available in the region are increasing every year. Just last year there were not enough models, but now there are 20-30 of them. So in 6 months, things won't be the same as today. We will test new models, decide which ones to integrate and adapt to legislation and new mobility trends. We want and must have a certain percentage of e-cars in our fleet in the future."

Photo: Žarko Barlović, Corporate Fleet and Technical Means Manager of Atlantic Grupa

Author: Müfit Yılmaz Gökmen