TENS of thousands of small companies will go out of business if the Government allows widespread use of road charging schemes, a leading industry expert has warned.
Professor Garel Rhys, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School, fears the extra costs involved in everyday business will be too much for many companies with low profit margins to spare.
Speaking at the National Association of Police Fleet Managers' conference, entitled 'Police Transport Supporting the Future', he said: 'Road charging prices some people off the road – it rations road space. About 15% of people disappear off the roads but it also means about 10% of small businesses will go bust.'
His comments came during a round-up of the key issues that would face the fleet industry over the next decade, covering key areas such as technology, fuel use and vehicle supply. He claimed that growing use of technology to manage traffic flow could benefit the fleet industry.
Examining the future of technology in fleet operations, he added: 'Navigation systems will also play a bigger part for the future of fleets, cutting costs and reducing journey times. Telematics in the form of cars which drive you into town will be common place in 20 years time.'
While technology can reduce wasted fuel, fleets considering alternative fuels as a further step towards protecting the environment face a confusing picture, he said. While many fleets are considering liquefied petroleum gas as a clean alternative, Rhys questioned whether any fuel could beat petrol and diesel for efficiency and availability.
He said: 'Alternative fuels have been introduced based on the need to protect the environment. But there is a worry we may change too many times because of the cost involved. Also, one litre of petrol or diesel is so efficient in terms of energy produced that there is no way of replicating it. The Government seems to be walking back from LPG and maybe it is time to look at deciding on other alternatives, such as hydrogen fuels for example.'
In terms of vehicle supply, fleets can expect an influx of new international manufacturers from countries including India and China competing for corporate business, he said.
Rhys added: 'Following the demise of the dotcom companies, the automotive sector has re-established itself as the largest sector in the world. In the next 20 years there will be more vehicles made than in the previous 110 years, so the motor industry will be huge. We will see more manufacturers in the future from places such as China and India.'
Switch to silver aids residual values
A GROWING number of police fleets are shunning the traditional white vehicle in favour of coloured models, in a bid to increase residuals.
Several forces started introducing silver cars about three years ago. Hampshire, Kent and Cambridgeshire Constabularies are all beginning to favour coloured vehicles. The Metropolitan Police runs a fleet of silver BMWs.
Speaking at the National Association of Police Fleet Managers' conference, Paul Kourellias, managing director at West Oxfordshire Motor Auction, said: 'Police forces are under pressure from the Home Office to become more efficient and coloured cars offer better residual values.'
West Oxfordshire Motor Auction has twice monthly sales of police vehicles including cars, vans, motorcycles and accident damaged cars, and last month achieved more than CAP clean price for an ex-police Volvo. The 2001 V70 2.4 in silver fetched £10,870, against CAP clean of £9,725.
Kourellias said: 'There has been an increase in coloured police vehicles over the past few years. Police fleet managers are very proactive in terms of maximising residual figures – they are working with the public purse so they have to be.'
Recent research from Renault and the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) has also shown that van drivers are shunning white models instead of opting for silver. Figures from Renault have indicated a 150% increase in alternative coloured vans to fleets over the past five years, compared with 300% for retail buyers (Fleet NewsNet August 28).
Mark Lovett, brand manager at Renault vans, said: 'The fact that silver is the second most popular colour for a Renault van after white is a signifier of where customer demand is going. Each of our vans is designed around the operator who spends the majority of their week behind the wheel.
'They want a comfortable place to work while their company wants its vehicle to project a sterling image for the business.'
999 fleets urged to toe the line over health and safety
THE health and safety message is spreading across the emergency services and police fleets are being urged to follow the same health and safety guidelines as company car fleets.
With impending legislation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Government drawing closer, David Faithful, a partner at solicitors Amery Parkes, said it is vital fleets are aware of proposed HSE guidance on safety and moves towards a corporate killing law.
Faithful outlined how police fleets could be charged under new corporate killing legislation.
Speaking at the National Association of Police Fleet Managers' conference, he said: 'The Court of Appeal now lists aggravating factors as a cause of accidents. These include fatigue, fleet managers cutting corners, mobile phone use and driving while taking prescription drugs. You can not compromise health and safety.'
Maintenance differences between police fleets and standard company car fleets also provide a greater responsibility for the police fleet manager.
Faithful added: 'The majority of police fleet vehicles are maintained in-house. This puts more of an onus on the fleet, as there are more requirements to monitor the process and make an appropriate log.'
Peugeot pitches in for more police business
PEUGEOT had its range of adapted vehicles on display including its new 807 MPV, which had been specially prepared for police use.
Also on display were a 307 estate which has been designed to carry two police dogs and fitted with a special semi-acoustic bulkhead to block out any noise from the animals while driving, and improve driving conditions for the officers. The manufacturer also had on show an Expert van, which was capable of carrying two prisoners.
Jon Morton, fleet sales manager at Peugeot Specialist Vehicle Operations, said: 'Our vehicles are designed to meet the diverse requirements of the police authorities and their strict safety standards.'
Tranman offers internet service
RAC Software Solutions exhibited its latest web portal, the Tranman Series 7, which enables police fleets to view live fleet data via the internet.
The system enables fleets to access analysis of fleet administration, workshop productivity, vehicle availability, manufacturer performance, cost comparisons, wholelife costs and fuel economy. Data can also be accessed through WAP-enabled mobile phones and hand-held computers, which enable fleets to access information while on the move. The software provides a comprehensive fleet management tool with additional modules available including, accidents, hire, workshop management, maintenance scheduling, stores, fuel, contract control, vehicle procurement and tyre management.
Tayside Police recently introduced the Tranman Series 7 in a bid to reduce costs across its 250-strong fleet of cars, vans and small commercial vehicles. David McColl, vehicle administration manager at the unit, said: 'I was impressed with the in-built reporting facilities available with the software.'
Showtime for new adapted Lexus RX300
LEXUS showcased its adapted RX300 sports utility vehicle (SUV) at the show. Liveried in chequered police colours and equipped with sirens and lights, the RX300 is set to be tested by UK police forces.
The civilian version of the RX300 four-wheel drive has been on sale since May, providing 201bhp from a 3.0-litre engine, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control as standard.
Following completion of the official police testing requirements, the RX300 could be part of UK police fleets by early next year.
Andy Simpson, national corporate and re-marketing manager at Lexus GB, said: 'The UK's police forces can provide a hugely testing and very public arena for the RX300 to demonstrate its qualities.
'Reliability is one of the foundation stones of Lexus's success as a brand and it becomes a vital issue when cars are being run right around the clock, as is the case with many police patrol cars. The RX300 offers ride, handling and performance characteristics together with driver comfort and built-in versatility that meet more of the special demands made by the police.'