Fleet News

Road test: Convoy puts a foot in both fleet camps

Imagine you are the fleet manager of a medium- sized engineering firm which has an open user-chooser policy for its company car drivers – anything goes within certain price parameters.

Your finance director, a perk driver who covers few business miles, drops by one day and casually mentions that his car is due for replacement soon and that his thoughts are turning towards camper vans.

'Would you mind looking into it for me?' he asks, as you visibly blanche at the thought.

Your first thought is to tell him not to be so stupid and to choose a Mercedes-Benz E-class like the other directors. However, as he is your boss, that may not be a wise career move and you resign yourself to the task, wondering just where to start.

It may sound a little far-fetched but as more households have two company cars and employees demand more and more from their vehicles – and lifestyles become more active and diverse – it is the sort of problem that fleet managers are going to come across more and more. And the task of checking the situation out is not that onerous if you parcel it up into headings and sort each out individually.

For example:

  • How much benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax will the driver pay?
  • What will be the wholelife costs of the vehicle in terms of front-end price, servicing, maintenance and repairs and residual value at selling time?
  • Do you really want your bosses representing the firm by turning up to business meetings in a vehicle which could have come straight from the nearest caravan site?

    Taking BIK tax, we discover our first big surprise. Consulting Fleet News 'agony uncle' Stewart Whyte, he opined that although camper vans are converted commercial vehicles, they are taxed as cars for BIK purposes as they have windows in the side.

    This means that instead of being taxed on a flat charge of £500, the driver will pay a percentage of the van's list price. BIK taxation is now based on a sliding scale depending on the vehicle's CO2 emissions.

    Trouble is, commercial vehicle CO2 emissions are not listed, so the driver of a camper van will have to liaise with his or her local tax office to try and come up with an agreed figure.

    Assuming your finance director is a 40% taxpayer and ends up being charged the maximum 35%, which is possible, he or she will pay £313 per month for the privilege of driving the vehicle on test here, the £26,848 (inc VAT) LDV Convoy LWB Sahara with a Devon conversion. Service and maintenance costs are surprisingly economical for such a large vehicle.

    Fleet News' sister title Fleet Van puts the 2.5-litre diesel version at 16.63 pence per mile over three years/90,000 miles. These vehicles are unlikely to cover such distances over their fleet lives, so expect even lower figures.

    But it is in the residual value arena where camper vans come into their own. People just can't get enough of them secondhand and the sum is definitely more than the total of the parts involved.

    With the average Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra likely to retain just 30% of its original value over three-years/ 60,000-miles, the LDV Sahara manages 55%, according to the experts at CAP. Suddenly, camper vans start to look rather attractive, don't they?

    On the image front, it is very much down to how open-minded your bosses are. The LDV Sahara Convoy may be basically a 30-year-old design but in metallic silver paintwork, it still manages to look stunning.

    In my eyes, an executive turning up to a meeting in this vehicle would be viewed as something of an individual who had a mind of his or her own and who was a bit of a cool customer. Others may disagree. Certainly during my test week there was no shortage of colleagues, neighbours and friends who wanted to have a nose around. On a scale of one to 10, I'd put this vehicle's 'wow' factor at around eight.

    Once inside, the Sahara is carpeted and curtained and with four individual seats like huge armchairs up front, you could conceivably hold a business meeting aboard. Your PA could even provide coffee and bacon sandwiches from the gas stove at the back!

    Items such as fridge, toilet, shower and wash basin can be added from a menu of options but all models contain a double bed, so your driver could save the cost of a hotel if he or she had to be away from home overnight on business.

    On the road, the LDV is beginning to show its age. Its diesel powerplant starts up with a roar loud enough to wake the dead and handling lags behind the best-in-class Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

    But the Convoy is by no means a poor performer. The mighty engine noise somehow seems to give the vehicle a solid, heavyweight feel which some vans lack and as most campers are never driven at more than 60mph, cornering is not exactly that important anyway.

    Verdict

    After weighing up the pros and cons – and having sampled the delights of a camper van for a week – I'm convinced that such vehicles make a fleet case for themselves. They are cost-effective to run and don't let themselves down in the company car park. What more can you ask of a fleet vehicle?

    Fact file

    Model: LDV Sahara Convoy Devon conversion
    Engine: 2.5-litre diesel
    Power (bhp/rpm): 100/4,000
    Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 166/2,100
    Price (inc-VAT): £26,848
    Height: 2.65 metres
    Wheelbase: 3.20 metres
    Gross vehicle weight: 3.5 tonnes

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