In keeping with years of significant change, 2002 has continued the relentless pace, with the FN50 table of the country's largest 50 contract hire firms bearing witness to the extent of the transformation.
To look at the basic figures, it would seem leasing companies have enjoyed a relatively pedestrian year. The total fleet size of FN50 companies is up just 3.2%, to 1,336,094 vehicles, compared to 1,294,643 last year.
This is slightly ahead of the 2.9% growth registered in 2001, but still represents a small overall change, considering the UK fleet market is heading towards a record year of sales.
However, even this modest growth has been enough to take the combined fleet of FN50 companies to an all-time record. In 1994, when the league table was first published, the combined fleet size of the top 40 contract hire companies was 718,084 vehicles.
In 1995 this grew to 763,838 vehicles and it jumped again to 841,490 in 1996. In the last year of a 40-strong league table – 1997 – the combined fleet size had grown to 958,266.
When the list was expanded to cover 50 companies in 1998, the list registered 1 million vehicles for the first time, with the total reaching 1,127,189 vehicles.
It dipped in 1999 to 1,125,533, but the new millennium saw the steady march upwards in fleet size reaching 1,256,490, before last year's league table figure of 1,294,643 with this year's list breaking the 1.3 million barrier.
This coincides with independent market research which indicates that fleet decision-makers now use contract hire to fund their vehicles more frequently than any other form of fleet finance.
Indeed, many of the benefits of contract hire become even more powerful in today's economic uncertainty, particularly the ability for businesses to fund vehicles for a known, fixed monthly cost, and without residual value risk.
Many outright purchase fleets, as well as companies in the FN50, have recorded losses running into millions of pounds in the past few years because they were caught out by an unexpectedly severe fall in residual values, a fall from which leasing customers were sheltered.
2002 sees new industry benchmarks set
THE FN50 2002 sets new benchmarks at both ends of the scale for inclusion in Fleet News' list of the top 50 contract hire companies in the country.
Previously, only one company, LeasePlan, had breached the 100,000 vehicle fleet size threshold, but this year three businesses are operating fleets in excess of 100,000 cars.
First position is occupied by Lloyds TSB autolease, which has rocketed from last year's third place, with 86,433 vehicles to a commanding first, with 137,000.
This dramatic increase followed the purchase of First National Vehicle Holdings in April in the largest fleet deal of the year, worth more than £400 million, which added about 73,000 vehicles to the Lloyds fleet, including funded vehicles.
LeasePlan now lies in second place, with a fleet of 124,778 vehicles, while the third member of the exclusive 100,000-plus fleet size club is Interleasing, with a registered fleet of 103,000 vehicles. Its increase in size from 81,000 vehicles came through absorbing the fleets of sister companies, Saab Contract Hire and Vauxhall MasterHire.
At the other end of the scale, records are also being broken, with the 2002 FN50 welcoming the smallest fleet registered since the table was first produced in 1994.
There are two companies running identical sized residual risk fleets of 2,000 vehicles – Sanderson Albany Lease and Newtown Vehicle Rentals – who were introduced along with three other new entries because of a series of mergers and acquisitions since the 2001 table was compiled.
Other major changes include the vehicle management division of Lombard purchasing the vehicle fleet of The Leasing Group in a multi-million pound deal that took Lombard from its 2001 fleet size of 71,000 vehicles to more than 90,000 vehicles, and raising it from eighth place to fourth this year.
Other notable changes include HSBC Vehicle Finance, which continues its steady progress in the charts, with a rise from seventh place to sixth as its fleet size has grown from 73,000 vehicles to 78,000.
Bank of Scotland Vehicle Management has also enjoyed a bumper year, with its fleet increasing from 55,381 to 67,011, taking it from ninth to eighth position.
Consolidation ahead of it has seen GE Capital Fleet Services move from tenth place to ninth place in the FN50 table despite its fleet size remaining steady at the 50,000 vehicle mark, according to an editor's estimate. Lower down the top 50 list, Fleetlease (19) has also enjoyed significant growth in the past year, along with Toomey Hire and Leasing, leaping from 32 to 22, partly thanks to an acquisition which almost doubled its fleet size from 8,405 to 15,834 vehicles.
Other fast growers include Sovereign Fleet Services, up from 34 to 32 this year, while BMW Financial Services has moved from 43 to 36 and employee car ownership scheme provider Provecta Car Plan has taken 39th place, moving up from 48th.
However, there have also been firms moving the other way and recording declines in their fleet sizes. Sanderson Albany Lease, for example, drops from 36th to 50th, while Carillion Fleet Management no longer qualifies within the top 50, despite 40th place last year. Other companies seeing a reduction in their fleet size in this year's table include Lex Vehicle Leasing, down from 92,577 to 90,231, a slight fall that nonetheless sees it drop from second to fifth place because of activity by immediate rivals, and Peugeot Contract Hire, down from 49,500 to 37,300, dropping it from 11 to 12.
Hertz Lease has fallen back slightly to 24,000 vehicles, putting it joint 15th with Appleyard Vehicle Contracts, while VWFS/Europcar Fleet Services, Renault Financial Services, Powermarque and CitiCapital Fleet have all seen their fleets contract.
Overall this year's FN50 league table reveals 33 firms climbing the charts, 10 companies falling down the charts, just two firms staying the same and five new entries.
The FN50 countdown