Fleet News

Ride and Drive: Racy venue for Fleet News Drive

OULTON Park racetrack was the setting for the second of our test driving events, which gave fleet decision-makers the opportunity to get behind the wheel of many different models.

Fleet News quizzed fleet decision makers on their views of Fleet News Drive.

  • GARETH Roberts is practice manager at Welsh-based veterinary practice Milfeddyfa'r Nant Cyf which operates a fleet of nine vehicles. He said: 'We tend to buy nearly new cars from auctions so I'm here today to see what is coming on to the marketplace. We take a shortlist of cars we want to buy to the auction and I'm basically looking for ideas to add to that shortlist.'

  • ROBIN Hudson is taxation manager for Shropshire-based Muller Dairies, which operates a 120-strong car fleet based on a 'tax-efficient process' of providing loans to employees to buy their own company cars. The car choices for employees are Volvo, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Hudson said: 'Most of our fleet is used by sales people and as well as attending this event to see what new cars are about, I'm looking for my own company vehicle. I've driven the Volvo V70 and gone off-road in a Land Rover.'

  • BRISTOL-based Margaret Harvey is part of the National Blood Service vehicle working group and is responsible for more than 40 vehicles in the West Country. She said: 'I'm here with a team of people to look at the type of vehicles we could use for 'blue-light' services, such as rushing blood somewhere. Safety, reliability, costs, efficiency and image are our main criteria when choosing vehicles I was particularly impressed with Volvo. The team will get together shortly and hopefully make a decision based on what we have seen at this event.'

  • JULIAN Bird is group finance director for Leicester-based SPS Technologies, which runs a 40-strong multi-marque, user-chooser fleet. The self-confessed 'petrol-head' not only visited Oulton Park 'for an enjoyable day out' but also to glean information about the type of new cars available. 'Our drivers know I like cars,' he said, 'so they often ask me for my opinion on a particular model. This event is great for me to see what is about and form an opinion after driving certain vehicles.' It's unlikely, however, that SPS's fleet drivers will persuade Bird to add his favourite car at Fleet News Drive - the Honda NSX - to the company's choice list.

  • NEWSPAPER distribution company Chester Wholesale News was represented at Fleet News Drive by director Colin Griffiths. The company operates 20 cars and about 40 vans. Griffiths said: 'It's very important to know about the type of new cars available and that's basically why I'm here. So far, I've driven a new Range Rover and MG ZT, which I was very impressed with. Our company uses a range of different cars and the fleet is user-chooser so if a driver asks me about new fleet models hopefully I can tell them what is on offer.'

  • ACCOUNTANT David Darke works for insurance broker Griffiths and Armour. He said: 'Our fleet consists of 70 cars with some outright purchased and others on contract hire. It is operated on a user-chooser basis and is multi-marque. I'm here today to assess new vehicles and give them a try. It'll be ideal for making recommendations to drivers when I'm back in the office.'

  • NICOLA Garnett is fleet manager at Banbury-based cleaning products and solutions specialist Karcher UK. It operates a 120-strong multi-marque fleet which is outright purchased. Garnett recently signed a deal with Citroen, which means that within three years the vast majority of the company's fleet will comprise of C5s. She said: 'Our vehicles are job-need and the total fleet is diesel. It's a brilliant event.'

  • BOB Holmes is logistics manager for Merseyside-based Ashworth Hospital, which provides care and treatment for 'mentally disordered people'. The hospital has a fleet of about 24 vehicles. Holmes said: 'We need to know what is available so we have an informed opinion should our new bosses ask for one. We've collected loads of pamphlets and booklets about the vehicles on show here and we aim to have driven a few.'

  • CITROEN was so pleased with the response to its C3 at the first Fleet News Drive event held at Brands Hatch that it brought along two different models to Oulton Park.

    Drivers to the second event in Cheshire were given the opportunity to try the C3 1.6 and also the 1.4 HDi. It proved timely for Citroen as the car officially went on sale during the second day of the Oulton Park event.

    Fleet marketing manager Robert Handyside said: 'We've been very pleased with both events and our cars have been booked out solidly. The C3 has been really popular and some have said how easy to drive and practical it is. The Xsara VTS was another popular model with drivers. Overall it's been a good event for Citroen - it's great for getting out and meeting people - and the right people too.'

  • FIAT used both Fleet News Drive events to invite visitors to try variants of its new Stilo.

    'It offers a brilliant 'bums on seats' situation,' said fleet marketing manager Tony Dittli. 'And once people drive the car they really like it.'

    The 2.4 Abarth was a popular choice with visitors, but the JTD also spent much of its time on the move.

    'The response to the JTD was extremely encouraging,' Dittli added. 'Someone even commented to our staff that the Stilo was the star of the show. It was important for us to have this new model at both events in a number of variants.'

    Visitors also had the chance to try out the Stilo's 'infomatic and telematic' Connect system.

  • HONDA national corporate sales manager Steve Morris is confident the manufacturer will sign a new fleet deal as a result of attending the Fleet News Drive events.

    'I'm absolutely certain of that,' Morris said, 'in fact, conversations are now ongoing - we'll keep you posted!'

    Morris said the events proved a useful exercise not only to catch up with current Honda fleet customers but also to make new contacts.

    'We are pleased with the calibre of people who came to see and test our models. Obviously our sporty models proved popular, and that is where our strength lies. The track cars have been booked out solidly.'

    The Oulton Park event also gave fleets the first chance to see the new Civic diesel in the flesh. Morris said the vehicle 'designed with the corporate market in mind' was well received.

    'The Civic diesel was our main message at Oulton Park,' he said. Honda aims to sell 1,800 of the new diesel model to fleets this year. The sales target for next year has not yet been finalised.

    Other vehicles offered by Honda included several Civic Type Rs, an S2000 roadster, an Accord Type R, new CR-Vs, the new Jazz and a new NSX Coupe.

  • SUBARU allowed fleet decision-makers to get behind the wheel of its 260bhp Impreza WRX STi at Fleet News Drive at Oulton Park, convinced of its merits as a user-chooser prospect despite potentially high company car tax bills.

    The queues on the stand to test drive the car showed the aspirational appeal of the four-wheel drive rally-inspired sports saloon, whose fleet proposition is backed up by a three-year manufacturer warranty and residual values comfortably exceeding 40% after three years/60,000 miles.

    Despite falling into the top 35% benefit-in-kind tax band under the new emissions-based company car tax system, plenty of company car drivers are prepared to sacrifice their wallets for the car with the performance and image they really want, according to Harvey France, Subaru national fleet sales manager.

    He said: 'About 45% of our registrations go into businesses and fleets and some of those are made up of our high-performance products.

    'Most of these drivers would normally cover fewer than 2,500 business miles a year, so for them they would not be paying more BIK tax under the new rules.'

  • MANY visitors made a bee-line for Volvo's D5 diesel-powered S60 and V70 models at Fleet News Drive, with the refined, low-emission engine winning a growing reputation.

    Volvo events manager Jo Watson said fleet decision-makers had travelled long distances to drive at Oulton Park, and the majority had a clear idea of the cars they wanted to assess.

    'Most people have got a particular model in mind to drive, and the new diesel in the V70 and S60 has generated most interest, although executives responsible for smaller fleets have been interested in the bi-fuel cars because they can save a lot of money on their fuel costs,' she said.

  • IT might be one of the most luxurious cars available on UK roads, but that didn't stop fleet executives at Oulton Park from getting the new Range Rover muddy. The ultimate 4x4 for the boardroom director mud-plugged with aplomb through a challenging off-road course as visitors got a taste of the rough stuff from the cosseting comfort of one of the ultimate driving seats.

  • BRAND-building was the name of the game for Hyundai at Fleet News Drive, with the high performance new Coupe in constant demand for test drives. The manufacturer brought a fleet of six 2.7-litre versions of its new Coupe and the cars barely spent an instant at standstill.

    The business audience at the event was the perfect target market for Hyundai, which has bold plans to increase its sales to a corporate client base as the brand seeks to boost its total annual UK sales from last year's 30,000 units.

    'To grow over the next three to four years to the size this brand deserves, we should have 25% of our sales going into non-retail channels,' said Dennis Bennett, Hyundai business development director.

    He pointed to the creation of a significant demonstrator fleet (of 50 cars) for business customers as evidence that Hyundai is serious about the sector.

    'The exciting thing is that we are at ground zero, 90% of our sales are retail, and our dealings with the business community has been reactive,' said Bennett.

    He is specific about identifying business, rather than fleet opportunities for Hyundai, with daily rental accounting for only a smidgen over 2,000 vehicles this year.

    Significantly, Bennett is the director responsible for Hyundai's Approved Used Programme, and will ensure all the rental cars are supplied on buy-back arrangements, and are well specified to provide attractive nearly new stock for the brand's dealers.

    Moreover, Hyundai has selected smaller rental companies, such as Thrifty and Arriva, as partners because their customers are more likely to be local corporate renters rather than the major multi-national companies' in-bound client base.

    This local corporate market is central to Hyundai's business sales ambitions, and Bennett insists the company can feature strongly on company car choice lists through specification engineering rather than major discounts on already competitive prices. The Elantra 2.0 GSi, for example, is a class larger, more powerful and better specified car than the Ford Focus 1.6, but Hyundai would try to manoeuvre the car into the same choice band.

    'The choice list driver aspires to this level of performance and specification as a package,' said Bennett.

  • PART of the skill of fleet decision-making is selecting the most appropriate vehicle for business requirements, a philosophy MG Rover took to heart at Fleet News Drive.

    The manufacturer's sporty MG range was available for on-track testing, while the Rover 75s and a 45 completed lap after lap of the road route.

    'Our MGs lend themselves to the track,' said national fleet sales manager Paul Hunt.

    'And the response to road drives for the Rover models has also been very good. We've had some senior decision-makers behind the wheel of our cars, which is great.' The manufacturer also used a Rover 75 to demonstrate its Monogram programme, which allows customers to tailor cars to their own specifications, and create niches within the range.

    Hunt said: 'It's a good programme for fleets, particularly for senior management looking for an individual car. It's totally bespoke, so they can choose exactly what they want.'

  • WAYNE Roberts, national fleet sales manager for Mazda, said Fleet News Drive gave the manufacturer the ideal opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the company car market.

    'It's very important for us to be out there and talking to fleets,' said Roberts, 'and Fleet News Drive has allowed us to do just that.

    'We have a new impetus and focus and we are back in fleet seriously. We have a raft of new models to show and we are very excited about the forthcoming launch of the Mazda6 - that's going to be a great fleet car. We are all very excited about its launch.' Mazda used Fleet News Drive to offer visitors the chance to drive 323, Premacy, MX-5, Demio and Tribute.

  • THE challenging and rewarding track at Oulton Park in Cheshire, with its changing cambers, sharp corners and steep inclines, made it the ideal venue to put the new Jaguar X-type and S-type models through their paces.

    Fleet decision-makers were keen to assess the new X-type 2.0-litre both for their choice lists and their own company cars, with the entry-level Jaguar now available below the all-important £20,000 on-the-road price threshold.

    While the pro-drivers working for Jaguar were discreet and diplomatic in their descriptions of the race track driving abilities of visitors, the professionals were unanimous in their agreement that visitors had been 'wowed' by the X-type's driving characteristics.

    Likewise, the new S-type 2.5-litre impressed visitors with its big car luxury and small car driving sharpness.

    Peter Roper-Hall, Jaguar manager, corporate business development, said: 'The reaction from visitors to the cars has been amazing, and with the new X and S-type they also see Jaguar as far more accessible than it used to be and much more appropriate to add to their fleets.'

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