If you live in the UK, the likelihood is you’ve seen RED Driving School cars on the roads. Operating out of its Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees Headquarters, the school has a whopping 1,500 driving instructors operating across England, Scotland, and Wales, making it one of the country’s biggest driving schools.
The fleet, which consists of Renault Clios and Vauxhall Corsas, is managed by Paul Wilson, who fittingly was a fully qualified RED driving instructor for three years before turning his hand to the management of a driving school car fleet in January of this year.
At the start of his appointment as fleet operations manager in January of this year, Wilson wondered if he could juggle fleet management and driver instruction, but his role at RED suddenly became very busy as the company was in the midst of dramatic growth.
RED also appointed a new CEO, Sebastian Goldin, earlier this year who was tasked with growing the company’s business and fleet operations, building on its consumer market success, and recruiting and training new instructors to meet the future demand.
“Due to many factors, including Covid-19 and our commitment to growing the fleet, our driving school is enjoying an extraordinary demand for driving lessons,” Wilson explains.
In addition to the fleet of 1,000 cars sourced by RED and managed by Wilson, there are another 500 cars on a ‘brand franchise package’. Wilson explains: “As part of this package our instructors source their own car and organise their own insurance and maintenance while we look after the back office functions, provide the brand support, and find them students to teach.”
The driving school has found that since Covid-19, it has seen its busiest time ever. There was a long period where test centres went into a total lockdown and there was a build-up of 17 year olds as well as other ages all waiting to learn to drive or take their driving test. This built up over a period of two years. Now, we’re facing a huge backlog of people to catch up with, so it’s never been so busy,” explains Wilson.
On top of that are the growing number of people interested in becoming driving instructors. “We’ve been totally inundated on this side too and with more staff and franchisees comes more cars to manage,” he says. “More and more people are seeing instructing as a viable career as they can effectively work their own hours and earn a decent living. It’s effectively an office on wheels for our instructors and I can tell you firsthand that it’s a very rewarding career too. Seeing the smiles on peoples faces when they pass their test is very satisfying,” says Wilson.
But getting enough cars onto the fleet to handle this growth is all well and good if there are cars available. “Due to factors such as the Russia Ukraine war and the global semiconductor shortage, car production has slowed right down, just as we were about to bounce back,” Wilson explains.
For a fleet with cars on the road for most of the day, the mileage soon racks up. “We tend to take out two year or 50,000 mile leases on our cars before we start defleeting but this year has been especially tough and we’ve had a few cars go past this time frame and mileage,” says Wilson. He continues, “We’re slowly but surely getting back to normal and cars are beginning to become available thanks to the efforts of our partners at Vauxhall who have done a fantastic job of finding and supplying vehicles for us from such limited supplies”.
Of the 1,000 plus Clios and Corsas, most are petrol and manual, but some are diesel and automatic, but this is soon to change dramatically for RED. The fleet recently announced its ambitious plans to not only move to an all-electric future, but to take steps to reduce its carbon emissions as it moves towards that goal.
Wilson explains, “Our fleet has reached a record size based on sound business growth. We’re the largest driving training company for a good reason – we have a reputation built on professionalism and commitment to customer care. Now that our fleet has reached this point and is likely to continue to grow, we are looking to have conversations with suppliers in the EV space about making RED greener.”
The move is not just about offering its franchisee driving instructors an electric car; RED wants to set out a greener future by investigating all aspects of zero-emission driving, including home, kerbside and ‘on-the-go’ charging, as well as introducing green energy tariffs for instructors.
Because of the size of the fleet, and the way these cars are run, electrifying the fleet over the next few years is a hugely ambitious and complex undertaking, explains Wilson. “The needs of our instructors mean they usually require a small family car, and as most of our franchisees operate in metropolitan areas they require cars with a workable range in excess of 150 urban miles between charges. This means finding the right car that can provide the combination of range and cost in the next few years will be crucial, and so we are keen to discuss these requirements with manufacturers.”
Of course, teaching and learning in an EV will bring new challenges. “Our instructors will still be teaching the rules of the road despite the fact that there’s a pedal missing down there, but we need to take into account that EVs are automatic and have instant torque, so they’re always a little more nippy. I believe controlling speed is something instructors and drivers will take some getting used to,” he says.
“An electric RED learner car will be the gateway to zero emission driving for thousands of new motorists. It’s a great opportunity to showcase exciting new electric cars on one of the most high-profile fleets in the UK,” says Wilson.
A couple of RED instructors have already begun trialling EVs and have started teaching people how to drive them. “We’re constantly collecting feedback from these instructors to learn and eventually grow our fleet in a way that is safe and considered,” says Wilson. “When it comes to EVs, we believe every driver should be given the relevant training on how to use the vehicle before they take to the road.”
Speaking of safety, which is always a major consideration when it comes to running a fleet, RED has to ensure the safety of not only its fleet drivers but also the learner drivers they are teaching. Learner drivers follow a carefully designed programme, which is intended to not just help them pass the UK driving test, but also become safe drivers for life. “It is estimated that well in excess of 80,000 people learn with RED every year,” says Wilson.
As well as RED Driving School, RED Driver Training includes the RED Driver Risk Management business which operates from its Donington Park Training Centre. It is in this location where RED carries out the training of corporate fleets. “RED has ambitious plans to continue its expansion in the driver training sector, and our courses cover a wide range of topics, from defensive driving to proper vehicle maintenance as well as license checking and acquisition,” says Wilson.
While he believes accidents are always going to happen, Wilson tells us there are always ways to reduce them. “We’re constantly working to try to reduce accidents by introducing new cars which offer the latest safety technologies. We also provide safety assessments and advanced driving training to businesses across the UK, supporting them with online training and enabling employers to ensure that not only are their drivers safe but also that the company is complying with UK Health and Safety law,” Wilson says.
RED has partnered with The PAsCAL Project, an international project aimed to map public acceptance of higher levels of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV), pointing out any critical issues and investigating new drivers’ needs related to new modes and mobility services.
Teaching people to drive is a business that is only going to grow as cars become more autonomous and electrified, believes Wilson. “Our business is growing so fast and we’re trying to keep up with demand for people who want to get out on the road. I think after Covid-19, many people missed their freedom and that’s something a car definitely offers, whether driving for pleasure or for business,” concludes Wilson.
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Fleet Profile: RED Driving School – BusinessCar