In the UK, the Royal Automobile Club. These days it is predominately known as a vehicle breakdown organisation, second most used in the country after the AA. However the RAC is a lot more than just this.

The Royal Automobile Club was founded in 1889, just three years after the invention of the internal combustion engine, as an organisation to promote and encourage the use of automobiles, as well as a campaigning organisation committed to the abolition of the Red Flag Law, which decreed that no motor vehicle was allowed on the public highway unless it was following a man walking carrying a red flag.

The Red Flag Law was abolished in the early years of the 20th Century but the RAC lived on. A gentleman's club, the RAC Club was established in the prestigious St. James's area of London, with membership confined to those few members of society wealthy and brave enough to own a motor vehicle.

As car ownership became more popular and affordable in the decades following the end of World War II, more and more people requested membership of the RAC. Seeing the growth of the Automobile Association (AA). the RAC decided they too would become an organisation dedicated to recovering broken-down vehicles.

As well as this, their core business, the RAC are also the governing body for motor sport in the UK, and therefore are affiliated to the FIA. Today the RAC remains one of the world's leading motor organisations, still providing breakdown recovery service, but also advising world governments at the highest level on issues crucial to motorists.

Mention the RAC and nigh-on 100% of people in the UK will know which company you mean. Famous for its roadside assistantance and employing some 12,500 people in the UK, at some 200 locations, the brand is consistantly growing and there is much more to the company than meets the eye.

History

Founded in 1897, the beginnings of RAC Plc were formed by Frederick Richard Simms and Charles Harrington Moore. They took the constitution of the Automobile Club de France (ACF) and used it to create the basis for the Automobile Club of Great Britain and (later) Ireland (ACGBI). The society was formally inaugurated on 8th December, 1897 at the headquarters at 4, Whitehall Court, London, where they remained until 1902.

Not wanting to be outdone, the RAC have strived to be at the forefront of motoring. Uniformed patrols were introduced in 1901 and The Automobile Club recieved royal approval in 1907 from Edward VII and was henceforth known as the Royal Automobile Club. In the same year, the premises of the club moved from 119, Piccadilly in London to the old War Office in Pall Mall, where the club remains to this day (the building work, completed in 1911, cost £250,000).

With the organisation of the 1000 Miles Trial, in April 1900, by Claude Johnson and the Tourist Trophy (TT) race - first run in 1905 - the Club showed Britian just what these "horseless carriages" were all about. The Club became the governing body for motor sport in Britain.

The Club campaigned long and hard for the 1903 Motor Act, which increased speed limits and removed other restrictions. In 1905, the RAC introduced driving certificates and kept the responsibility for them for thirty years, until the goverment took over in the mid-1930s. An Associate Member section was established for those less well off, so that they could take advantage of the breakdown recovery and rescue that the Club had to offer. This sowed the seeds for the RAC that most people know today. In 1912, the now familiar, emergancy telephone boxes were introduced on the busiest routes.

In 1926, The RAC organised the first British Grand Prix at Brooklands, and four years later, the first Commemoration Run to Brighton to celebrate the repeal of the Red Flag legislation took place.

The business grew through the 20th century as the popularity of automobiles grew and in the years following World War II, the RAC competed heavily with the Automobile Association (the AA) for their share of the vehicle breakdown recovery market. The two companies have remained fiercely competetive; between them, they hold the large majority of the market in the UK. The two companies themselves, are about equally placed for membership.

The last chapter comes in the late 1990s, when the RAC bought the British School of Motoring (BSM) - the largest provider of driving training in the UK - in 1998. In 1999, Lex Service Plc bought RAC Motoring Services from the Royal Automobile Club and ties between the business and the gentleman's club were severed. Lex Service Plc took advantage of the prestigious and high profile brand of the RAC and renamed itself RAC Plc in September 2002. At the same time, the company began an extensive overhaul of the business, expanding underdeveloped areas and cutting back on unnecessary business.

Lex Services was founded in 1928. It began life as a garage business and over the next two decades, was expanded across several sites. Eventually, in the 1950s, the company began to sell cars in addition to the garaging services (and, perhaps most importantly, import Volvos). In 1959, Lexs' contract hire businesses started, with the purchase of the company British and Colonial Motors, the UK importer for Chevrolet and Pontiac. Within this company was a small side business called Vehicle Contracts which had innovated a new method to purchase cars, contract hire. During the 1960s and 1970s, Lex Services bought several contract hire companies which went on to become Lex Vehicle Leasing, Lex Transfleet and Lex Harvey.

Lex did attempt an expansion into hospitality and electronics in the 1980s but later sold these businesses to concentrate on the motoring services area. Multipart (parts procurement, storage and supply) was added to Lex's portfolio in the 1990s, the same decade in which the franchise with Volvo ended and another began with Hyundai to import cars and Isuzu trucks.

In 2000, Lex sold off its motor retailing business, taking itself off the high street. The following year, the company acquired Auto Windscreens, in order to further develop the company's comprehensive range of individual motoring solutions.

Today some 20,000 businesses across the UK, including two thirds of the FT-SE 100 companies, use Lex to provide them with motoring and vehicle services and Lex Vehicle Leasing leases over 90,000 vehicles.

As a company, RAC Plc also holds several lucrative contracts to support various businesses and organisations, worldwide, including Norwich Union, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Goodrich, Siemens and Marconi. One of the biggest, worth £1 billion, is to support the vehicle fleet and logistic requirements for the Ministry of Defence. This includes over 6,000 military drivers being trained annually by BSM and RAC Software Solutions working with Project DARTS (Defence Automated Road Transport System).

In 2005, Norwich Union made a bid to takeover the company for a total of £1.25 billion. The current plans are to keep the RAC brand and to employ the company to help Norwich Union create a cradle to grave motoring company, providing everything from driving lessons, loans for cars and insurance for every eventuality through to legal assistance for drivers, breakdown cover and windscreen replacement. Around 1,500 jobs will be lost in the acquisition and those roles which are not absorbed by Norwich Union's existing offices will be off shored. At the time of updating this node, the aquisition was not complete but the board of directors had recommended to the shareholders that they accept Norwich Union's offer.

Products

Alongside the very familiar breakdown recovery and onward travel services, RAC plc provides a variety of other services, broken down into various businesses.

  • RAC Roadside Services
      Breakdown rescue and onward travel support for motorists.

  • RAC Autowindscreens
      Automotive glass replacement and manufacturing
  • RAC Legal services
      Legal advice and legal expense insurance to protect drivers in the event of an accident
  • RAC Financial services
  • BSM
      The UK's leading driver training service
  • RAC Business Solutions
      Breakdown rescue for businesses
      Customer management solutions for motor manufacturers
      The UK's leading accident management operation
      Claims management services to insurers
      Vehicle inspections for RAC for peace of mind
      Driving training (delivered by BSM)
      RAC operations in Europe
  • Lex Vehicle Leasing
      The UK's leading provider of company cars and vans
  • Manufacturer Support Services
      Lex Auto Logistics - inventory management
      Hyundai Car importership
      Lex Transfleet - commercial vehicle contract hure, rental & fleet management
      Lex Defence - a broad range of services to the MOD
      Lex Commercials - truck & van dealerships
      RAC Software Solutions - fleet & assest software
  • The RAC Foundation, road safety and working with charities

    The RAC Foundation is an independent body, established in 1999 to carry out research into motoring issues and to take on the role of protecting the interests of the motorist. The Foundation carries out regular opinion surveys of RAC Members and has, in the course of its campaigning work, taken up many of the issues which they have raised.

    RAC Plc's years of experience in transport-related issues has enabled them to develop innovative programs to raise awareness of road safety. Through their award-winning "Grass Routes" resource packs, schools, teachers and the company work in patnership to help children develop road safety skills and to travel safely to and from school. The programme also investigates alternative methods of transport to the car to help reduce congestion problems associated with the school run.

    The company's Drive Alive Road Safety Road Show tours the UK to help educate drivers and their families about road safety issues affecting all road users. With its mix of quizzes, competitions and information, the RAC Drive Alive Road Show is an invaluable tool in assisting road safety officers and safety organisations to raise awareness of this important matter directly with motorists.

    RAC Plc also work closely with charities generally related to their business activities, such as BEN (Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund) and Motability. They also run a matched funding scheme in support of causes with which employees are involved.

    Five Core Values

    RAC Plc have identified five core values which drive the style of their business. The company is striving to included these values in everything they do. They are :-

    • We are pioneering - we find new and better ways of doing things
    • We have pace and ambition - we are passionate about what we do and act promptly to achieve our goals
    • We have integrity - we are genuine and honest
    • We are hungry to learn - we have the opportunity and the desire to develop and to become the best we can be
    • Together we make a difference - we are proud to support each other and everyone's contribution counts.

    All staff from patrolmen to the managing directors are encouraged to live these values in their working lives and the company is consistantly striving to improve not only its customer service but also its relationship with its staff.

    From breakdown recovery to roadsigns and accident management to travel assistance, the RAC has serviced the British motoring public for well over 100 years. Currently standing at 6 million members, it certainly has come a long way from the gentleman's club which campaigned to end the Red Flag legislation and the company is looking forwards to the next 100 years.

    Sources:
    http://www.rac.co.uk
    http://www.racplc.co.uk
    http://www.lex.co.uk
    http://www.lvl.co.uk
    http://www.royalautomobileclub.co.uk

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