Some 752,000 cars and vans were registered in France last year destined for fleets (private companies, public sector, leasing companies and car hire firms), representing a 9.1% increase on the previous year and accounting for 29.8% of the total new car market.
And all the indicators are positive, which is whetting the appetite of foreign manufacturers and independent multi-marque leasing companies to expand into this 'new' market. 'New' because of the long term domination of French manufacturers in their domestic market (they still account for 70% of the fleet market).
In this quasi-monopolistic situation, French manufacturers have pursued policies based on sales rather than the service delivered to the customer. But with the opening of the European market and the creation of huge manufacturing and financial groups, French car firms have encountered the full force of competition dedicated to customer service.
The French market remains a conquest market and is undergoing strong downward pressure on prices, but the concept of service quality is becoming fundamental. Little by little customer demands are growing up.
At the same time, product and service offerings are becoming more mature. The great consolidations both in the automotive world (GM/Fiat, Ford/Volvo/Jaguar, DaimlerChrysler, Renault/Nissan, Volkswagen Group) and in the financial sector which owns the largest multi-marque leasing firms (BNP-Paribas), have had a beneficial effect on the qualitative development of the market: rationalised and wider product offerings, lower costs, and improved means of distribution.
Indeed, one of the criteria for measuring the maturity of a market is the part played in it by the leasing (rather than short term hire) sector - proof that businesses have analysed their fleet problems and decided to outsource them in order to concentrate on their core business.
Leasing was virtually non-existent in France 20 years ago. Today, more than four out of every 10 new vehicles are leased. By the end of 1999 the French leasing and fleet management parc stood at 930,000 vehicles, 13.4% up on 1998.
Better still, the fleets of the huge public or quasi-public sector organisations (France Telecom, La Poste) are moving over to fleet management. France is no longer what it was.