London Hire builds its business sustainably for the future

London Hire Managing Director Nigel Farr and Sales and Operations Director Peter Moxom

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, London Hire and its minibus supply business has continued to diversify while also supporting customers through a challenging period. Answering questions around the move towards zero-emission is part of that. But the supplier has also developed its existing offering and support package, efforts that have led to multiple new business wins in the contract hire, flexible hire and spot hire sectors.

Simple figures show the London Hire trajectory. Since Nigel Farr (pictured, left) became Managing Director in 2015, turnover has grown from £8m to an expected £25m in 2021/22. Over 1,000 accessible minibuses are operated either directly by customers or by London Hire on their behalf. Employees number 600, while the business is an approved repairer for all members of its vehicle supply chain.

Customer support is anchored on a growing estate of buildings, both at the Erith head office and elsewhere, and an expanded cohort of nine well-trained mobile technicians. London Hire’s hub in Milton Keynes has relocated, while in Hertfordshire, the purchase of an established accessible minibus operator has both brought new business and provided a platform to support other clients.

At Erith, work is underway to bring a body shop onto the site, while a tachograph centre is to be established along with testing capability for vehicles in classes 4, 5 and 7. For those that require body attention, London Hire is looking to establish a service that offers collection and repair and replacement with an identically configured vehicle in the meantime.

Experience in the field is key for London Hire plans

Peter Moxom (pictured, right) – recently promoted to Operations and Sales Director and with around 30 years of service – observes that the twin position of both supplying vehicles and, in some cases, operating them gives London Hire a unique insight into conditions ‘on the ground’. It is using that to leverage its core proposition while also looking at new areas that may deliver further growth.

London Hire development work at Erith premises
Major work is ongoing at London Hire’s Erith headquarters to expand service and support facilities for vehicles placed with customers

Exploring sectors in which London Hire is not yet active is key to the latter, says Nigel.

He and Peter believe that there is scope for organic growth among local authority (LA) customers, but the business’s existing market penetration with LAs means that “a slightly different game” will be necessary if previous years’ rates of progress are to be maintained.

In the passenger sector, that has left London Hire looking at two areas. One is full-sized coaches, the other community transport. In the former case, it is talking to a coach operator about bringing it onboard, but Peter says that if diversification into that sector goes ahead, London Hire will also aim to supply coaches to other businesses on long-term contracts.

Any expansion into coaches “would not be a vanity project,” adds Nigel. “It would be about making a sustainable, strategic addition. But it would be foolish of us to get into a market where we don’t have the skills to deliver. We recognise that coaches are a different ballgame to minibuses, which is why we are looking at partnering with a coach operator.”

Business diversification has already begun

Although London Hire recognises that diversification into new areas is important, its core minibus activity is also seeing much development. Agility to identify and act upon opportunities was shown during the COVID-19 vaccination programme rollout.

Led by Area Sales Manager John Shier, London Hire quickly converted a coachbuilt Treka Mobility+ accessible minibus into a mobile vaccination unit for an LA. With little demand in the supply chain, the required equipment was sourced rapidly. Once the first had been commissioned, other enquiries soon followed.

“It was truly ‘outside the box’, but John moved quickly having already organised the conversion of some other minibuses to patient transport vehicles,” says Peter. “Our specification for the Mobility+ suits a vaccination application and we can also decommission those vehicles rapidly. We still receive enquiries as LAs look to the flu season, and we are speaking to education authorities about providing vehicles that can deliver COVID-19 vaccination programmes into schools.”

Shift towards zero-emission is key for London Hire

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty for accessible minibuses concerns the move to zero-emission. London Hire entered that sphere early when it debuted a battery-electric LDV EV80-based model three years ago in partnership with GM Coachwork. That product remains part of the line-up and offers a claimed range of 120 miles.

Mellor Orion E battery electric placed by London Hire
London Hire will shortly place its first battery-electric Mellor Orion E; it has long supplied the LDV EV80 and is interested in more ZE models

While the EV80 was used for London Hire’s first zero-emission minibuses, Peter says that the base vehicle “is not important.”

It has developed an ultra-light interior package that can easily be translated to other OEMs’ zero-emission platforms. Fiat, Ford and Renault are among those, and he notes that the battery-electric Transit’s price is particularly attractive.

“The priority with zero-emission minibuses is lightweight products from suppliers,” Peter continues. The ‘pack’ also includes a lift from PLS that can regenerate energy as it lowers, maximising vehicle range.

Innovative contract propositions to assist with the ZE shift

What is clear is that SEN minibus work is well suited to battery-electric. Mileages are generally low, and recharging may be necessary only every two or three days. There is also an opportunity to examine using other organisations’ charging infrastructure, such as that in bus depots.

But London Hire is equally mindful of LAs’ financial pressures. It has invested in systems to deliver more while retaining competitive pricing. To help LAs start to move towards zero-emission, work is underway to develop contracts that will during their lives gradually transition the vehicles provided away from diesel. That would allow the customer to ‘future proof’ against later requirements.

“We are looking at more EVs,” says Nigel. The business will shortly place its first Mellor Orion E and it is interested in zero-emission low-floor models based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. That work is all part of a juggling of many plates as London Hire bids to cement its position by supporting its customers.