Fleet News

Pace of change unstoppable as banks exit leasing sector

The pace of change in the leasing sector is unstoppable. There's the ongoing market battle between alliance partners, corporately-owned networks, banks and car manufacturers.

There's the expectation generated by the imminent decision on Europe's block exemption laws - laws that allow car manufacturers to control their sales networks, often to the leasing sector's detriment.

And there's the rush to consolidate, as fleets bid to join the leasing superleague of 100,000-plus vehicles.

Recent acquisitions and mergers have affected major alliances, with many losing important members through the continued consolidation of the market.

Companies such as LeasePlan increased their market share considerably through the completion of acquisitions such as Dial, enabling them to move up the ladder and cement their position among the superleague of European leasing players.

These mergers and acquisitions have allowed companies such as Arval and PHH, not only to move up the competitive ladder, but also to gain expertise in sectors which were previously not their speciality.

Amid this rush, however, the once bank-monopolised leasing market is changing.

Barclays Bank was one of the first to get out of the market when it sold Dial. Deutsche Bank also finalised its exit of the European operational leasing market by selling the Interleasing consortium to Societe Generale.

And now it seems ABN AMRO will sell LeasePlan, Europe's largest (and among the most successful) leasing groups.

All these recent developments suggest the start of a new trend within the competitive landscape of leasing, with several banks reassessing their role as players in the fleet market.

Those bank-backed leasing companies that remain need to continue expanding their European operations, capitalising on their strong financial backing and internal expertise, acquiring specialist companies in order to gain expertise in the newer and more sophisticated service sectors.

The undeniable truth is that leasing remains a high-risk sector - despite the potential for large profits when times are good.

In a world where a single terrorist attack can send the world economy into a state of shock, that risk is just too great for some institutions.

But for others, the expansion instinct is as vital as ever. The established majors like GE Capital, Arval/PHH and LeasePlan may still be the largest operators in the US and Europe - but one of their main advantages over the manufacturer-owned leasing companies is being challenged: that of multi-brand capability.

Manufacturer captives are making their influence felt across Europe - no longer as single-marque organisations set up to handle the overspill from production plants, but as multi-brand units providing a full service to end customers.

As GMAC boss Len Clayton will tell you, this multi-marque capability is driving the future of manufacturer leasing.

But - as Datamonitor notes - manufacturer captives need to focus on implementing expansion strategies in the less developed European markets where new business is more abundant and bank-backed companies are less established.

These markets will see manufacturer financing operations gaining a greater share of the market and a quicker return on investment.

Indeed, many manufacturers are beginning to improve their market share through acquisitions and organic growth, particularly within the more undeveloped markets.

'The one aspect to change within the competitive landscape across most European markets will be the increasing penetration of manufacturer captives and manufacturer-backed companies,' says Datamonitor.

'As the more successful European manufacturers implement aggressive expansion strategies, their 'product power' will allow them to penetrate the company car market at a faster rate compared to the less established competitors.'

  • Datamonitor plc is a premium business information company specialising in fleet industry analysis. It can be contacted at Charles House, 108–110 Finchley Road, London NW3 5JJ, UK. Tel +44 20 7675 7000, fax +44 20 7675 7500, email: eurinfo@datamonitor.com. (October 2001)
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