Being the biggest operator in a major city brings with it a level of responsibility. For many visitors, the first local person they meet will be one of your drivers. And when your city is one of those singled out by the Government to clean up pollution, some of that responsibility naturally falls on local taxi firms.
DG Cars has recently found itself in such a position. With close to 1,000 cars on strength, it’s not just Nottingham’s leading private hire operator – it’s also one of the biggest fleets in the UK. And with Nottingham getting the “clean air” treatment, DG Cars is taking its role as an environmental champion seriously.
At its head office, just outside the city centre, DG Cars has already installed an EV charge point to service its small, but soon to expand, fleet of electric Nissan Leafs. Indeed, DG was one of the first UK operators to try the Leaf, having acquired six early examples in 2014. Last year it added six more as part of further “greening” of a fleet that also includes more than 250 Toyota hybrids.
And that charge point is going to be expanded from just one rapid charger to a bank of six. And these will not just be for DG’s drivers to use – they will also be available to any electric car owner following a ground-breaking partnership with the local city council.
This kind of leadership meant DG Cars landed the Silver award in the Environmental category in the 2018 Professional Driver QSi Awards. “Nottingham had bad air quality,” says DG Cars sales director Dominic Moyes. “The local council is doing a lot with electric buses – there’s an electric highway outside our office exclusively for low-emissions vehicles. It’s best to work together with them.”
In fact Nottingham’s policies have been so progressive that it’s not introducing a pay-to-enter Clean Air Zone like other cities such as Leeds.
“It has the biggest electric public transport fleet in the country. And it’s nice to be able to talk to them.”
Dominic has been attending council meetings about electric vehicles for five years – and he admits he’s become “a bit of a convert – I’ve been driving electric for five years now”.
“We bought the six cars – but there was nowhere to charge them. We wanted to expand quickly, but there were just two rapid chargers in the city. Nottingham had the money, but they couldn’t find the land to locate them. So this is when I approached our board to set up a charging hub here at our office.”
The deal is sensible – DG provides the site, and the council pays to install the chargers, in return for DG making them accessible to all EV users. “Now we’re looking to expand the electric fleet – looking at cars such as the Kia e-Niro, that has the range we need,” Dominic says. “That’s a game- changer for us.”
With the combination of price and range now becoming acceptable – a Nissan Leaf costs around £27,000 – DG is likely to grow its EV fleet in the next couple of years.
The Jaguar I-Pace is also on the radar for DG’s separate chauffeuring division, says director Omair Javaid, a member of the family that has owned DG Cars since 2001, and has driven the significant growth at the business. “We have a fleet of E-Classes and S-Classes, and we’re looking at Tesla and Jaguar I-Pace,” Omair says.
The company started in 1970, when Omair’s father Amjid Javaid bought the business from previous owner Eric Atkinson. In 2009 the main core of the business moved to new premises in Colwick where a purpose designed call centre accommodating over 100 full and part-time staff was opened. The previous office in Sherwood remained open, as did the Nottingham City Centre base, formerly the offices of a local rival, Fon a Car, which DG Cars purchased in 2008.
Since then the business has expanded quickly, both organically and through acquisition. “We’re touching 1,000 cars now,” says Omair. “We recently bought Western Cars in Derby, which added 170 vehicles, and we bought Z Cars in Newark, which started with five cars but has now grown to 30.”
The companies have retained their local names, but are run through the DG Cars systems. Might that change in future? “You never know what might happen,” says Omair. “We might rebrand them all under the same brand.”
These are changing times, he says. “The industry has completely tipped upside down in the past five years. Our competition now is not what it was. It’s now big, multinational companies like Uber and Ola. But only time will tell how sustainable their business models are. There’s only so much money you can give away as free rides.”
The new rivals have actually spurred on DG Cars’ ambitions, Omair believes. “Maybe before Uber stared, there wasn’t much incentive to grow nationally, but it’s made us push into Newark and Derby.”
DG Cars was an early adopter of app technology – indeed, even before Uber arrived, it had an iPhone app that took bookings directly into its dispatch system, which was Auriga at the time. And DG is still at the cutting edge. Now Autocab provides its technology, and DG was one of the first operators to link into Autocab’s iGo network, which links any operator on the same platform.
DG also works with CMAC, and Omair says this is working well, as the prices are reasonable, and the drivers can make money from jobs sourced this way.
Uber has also made DG look at streamlining its systems – such as driver recruitment, driver payments and marketing. “Our staffing costs have gone up as we have brought in specialists to run areas such as digital marketing and training.
Indeed, part of the main office is currently being converted into new training facilities for drivers and back-room staff.
Beating Uber at its own game is another important initiative. “What Uber does is very transactional – it doesn’t build a rapport with its customers,” says Omair. “So we changed the way we handled calls. Instead of 30 seconds, we spend up to 90 seconds on the phone to understand the customer needs and asking if they need any special assistance.”
Omair compares the arrival of Uber to the effect of Amazon on the High Street. And indeed, Amazon itself presents an opportunity for DG, where drivers can deliver parcels in off-peak times. “The secret is integrated software. Amazon doesn’t want to send emails,” says Omair. “We’re looking at it, especially with Amazon building a new depot at East Midlands Airport. We do a lot with DPD
in seven cities, and we send cars to pick up 50-60 parcels for local deliveries.”
The majority of DG drivers are owner-drivers, though the company does own around 150 cars – including the electric vehicles and some of the executive fleet. DG was also a big fan of the recently withdrawn Skoda Rapid, which offered a great combination of low purchase price and low emissions.
The focus remains on local initiatives – over Christmas, DG ran an anti drink-driving campaign in association with the local Navigation Brewery. Signs reading ‘Yule Drink, We’ll Drive’ along with the DG Cars contact details, were put up in all pubs selling Navigation beers. And DG last year set up a special service for local students called Unicab, offering fixed-price fares and a loyalty card.
In Nottingham, DG has around 750 cars on strength, with more available at peak times such as Christmas, where the fleet swells to 820. “We’ve taken on about 60 drivers in the past few weeks – we must be doing something good!” says Omair.