AGCO: Balancing regional and national differences
Ralf Wessel is in a relatively unique position. Having started his career in his native Germany, he then moved over to the United States to take on the global fleet of agricultural company AGCO. This puts him in a position to comment not just on how European countries differ among themselves, but how they differ from other regions too – especially the United States.
The AGCO fleet is not especially large in global terms, but it covers vast areas of the world. The company has vehicle fleets in North and South America and in Europe, but also in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, China…
“We work through a global leasing provider, although when you are in as many countries as we are, global is never totally global”, says Ralf Wessel. “There are restrictions in some countries, China in particular. So in some countries you have to be somewhat creative to find the right solutions. Our leasing company has direct contact with drivers in most countries in Europe, and elsewhere too where it is appropriate. They handle re-ordering, supply, any technical issues”.
Do you have local or regional fleet managers reporting to you?
Ralf Wessel: “Yes, there are a total of five of them. There is someone in Europe, in South America, in China in Australia and someone in South Africa. They all report to me on fleet-related issues.”
Europe is notorious for its variety of markets and for its different national preferences. Being based in the US, how do you see these differences?
Ralf Wessel: “There is a difference in the way we operate in Europe compared to, for example, North America. The cars are pre-configured to certain standards in every country, particularly where safety equipment is concerned. But in Europe, drivers are allowed to add personal options to the car, at their own cost. They may want leather seats for example, rather than the fabric seats which come with the model involved. The value of the options they can put in the cars is limited to 20% of the value of the car. We do not allow options to be added in North America”.
Do you find a lot of differences in Europe from one country to another?
Ralf Wessel: “I think the biggest differences in European countries surround the expectations of the driver and the status that a vehicle brings. In the largest European market, Germany, the car really is seen as a status symbol. Drivers want the biggest, the best, the meanest vehicle they can get, whereas this is not such a big deal in other European countries. And the drivers in Germany are willing to pay the extra money from their own pay-checks in order to project this type of impression to others.”
How do you deal with the question of national local brands in European countries?
Ralf Wessel: “We look at the vehicle configuration, and when we consider the benefit cars, we always allow a regional manufacturer to be included in the offering. For example, although our main brand in Europe is German, we allow a French manufacturer to be included in the list in France. But we only allow one local manufacturer per country, the drivers cannot choose from a range of different local brands.”
The ‘green’ issue is very important in Europe, but generally considered to be less so in other markets, including North America. How do Ralf Wessel and AGCO approach this subject? The answer is that in Europe the fleet is entirely diesel, with relatively small engines. In North America the demand for high powered smaller gasoline engines has increased –AGCO is therefore utilizing Ecoboost technology in many of its existing vehicles choices. Recent news also raised the question if some of the diesel vehicles are really as clean as they claim to be. There is also the fact whereas diesel fuel in Europe is often similar in price – and in some countries substantially cheaper – than gasoline. In North America it is even more expensive than gasoline and has been for a long time. These facts combined - makes going green on a Global basis with diesel a difficult task. But what Ralf Wessel is doing in North America is to move towards some of the smaller sized, modern and efficient petrol engines. There is a current review to see how CO2 emissions limits could work within the fleet.
Staying with the green and safety issue, do you organise driver training?
Ralf Wessel: “Yes, we do. In Europe there is the insurance question and corporate social responsibility, but in North America the regulations in this domain mean that driver training is an absolute ‘must’. So we organize training ourselves for all of our North American drivers, including DoT compliance for those concerned. In As part of AGCO’s ongoing safety initiative - every North American driver’s driving record will be checked on an annual basis. Current restriction and European privacy laws make these checks in Europe impossible.
In an effort to combine the need for ongoing training and in consideration of the uniqueness of each country - AGCO is working on global driver training modules which will be launched through its own university.”
The AGCO Fleet Identity Card
- Sector of activities : Agricultural equipment
- Headquarters: Duluth, Georgia, USA
- Fleet manager: Ralf Wessel
- Job title: Manager Global Security, Global Fleet and Corporate Facilities
- Number of vehicles: 2,200