Fleet News

Face to face: Provecta Car Plan

EIGHT years ago when Provecta Car Plan was launched from a small office in London, it had a workforce of one and no customer base.

Today, the company, which specialises in helping fleets move away from the traditional company car to employee-owned cars (ECO schemes), manages 6,000 units and employs almost 50 people at its base in Reading, Berkshire.

Founder Nick Sutton, the company's managing director, explained: 'At the time of launch we didn't want to take on the leasing industry's established players – it was a mature market. My background is financial – I was managing director for a company that specialised in foreign exchange debt – and I spotted a niche opportunity. I had no industry experience which was probably a bonus.'

Sutton was joined in the venture by Nick Pattas, now operations director, and the pair set about growing the business and the product from their small room in the top floor of offices in London.

Pattas would later create the software system that Provecta and its customers now use to calculate allowances and, ultimately, source vehicles.

Other key members of the team include Nick Phillips, previously head of corporate sales for Honda, who joined the company about 18 months ago as sales director, and industry figure David Voss, former founder and managing director of Velo, who is its chairman.

The company describes its product as a 'cost-effective and tax-efficient alternative to company cars'. It estimates that a £1,000 per car per year saving is easily achievable. Because drivers effectively own the cars, they no longer have to pay company car tax, while the company also enjoys significant savings.

Implementing an ECO scheme within a fleet can take months, but that's time well spent, according to Voss.

He said: 'Communication is the key to ensuring the implementation of ECO is a success within a company and most customers agree with us on that. It's very important to educate senior management and critical to educate drivers. They initially want to know what the catch is with such a scheme, is there a financial risk and are there any health and safety issues. We spend a lot of time with management and drivers through seminars and also on a one-to-one basis.'

Common misconceptions still exist for cash-for-car schemes, although Phillips believes those days are coming to an end.

He said: 'Change is something the human being doesn't like. Communication is vital. It's about making it simple for the people who run it and for the drivers. There is a view in certain areas of the market that this type of scheme is complex.'

He said there were two main reasons why potential customers approached Provecta. 'The first reason is to save money. The way the cars are funded and the fact the drivers own the cars is tax-efficient. Normally the financial director will call us and say 'I'd like to save some money – I believe ECO is the answer'. As important are the improved benefits that the product offers the drivers. It means more choice and flexibility.

'The two go hand-in-hand – savings have to be there as do improved benefits. Quite often though we get a human resources director contacting us because they've heard that ECO is good for drivers and wants it explained.'

He said it was impossible to highlight a typical Provecta client but if a company adopted the scheme it had to be a blanket policy for all drivers and not just for a select few, although this was where the flexible aspect of the product could come into force.

He said: 'Fleets are fleets, whatever their size or circumstances. Our product is designed to suit each individual customer's needs. If it's a fleet with 100 Ford Mondeo-sized cars then we'll ensure the product is suited to them.

'Normally, if a company wants to go ECO then it goes 100% ECO. However, there are a small number that also want to contract hire cars, such as pool cars, so we have a complementary service for that. Administratively it makes it easier if the fleet operates just one scheme with us.'

A trend among drivers who join an ECO scheme is to dip their hands into their own pockets to trade up their cars or enjoy the financial benefit of trading down.Voss said: 'If a company has a three-badge deal and stays with those manufacturers under an ECO scheme, most drivers will either upgrade or downgrade their car. We find that 60% of drivers will trade up using their own money and 25% will downgrade. The balance will choose the same grade car.

'Some clients will cap the trade-up, as not all want sales staff going from a Ford Mondeo to a Mercedes-Benz E-class.'

Drivers' behaviour behind the wheel is noticeably different when they technically own the car than it is if they drive a traditional company car, Provecta executives note.

Voss said: 'Drivers in these schemes tend to look after their cars better and their mileage patterns change dramatically. They will be careful where they park it and how they drive it. We call these soft savings. Hard savings are to do with tax-efficiency and soft savings are the ethics of ownership – for example, you will find less wheels are kerbed.'

On the company's future growth, Sutton said a move to bigger premises was a priority and that growth was likely to be organic. He added: 'Remaining a specialist is very important to us.

'We don't offer any other products, although we have a small complementary contract hire and fleet management division, but ECO is becoming a mainstream product. If there was an acquisition out there that fitted our business then we wouldn't be against going down that route.'

Voss added: 'Our strength is that we don't dabble in lots of other things. We have a product that we know and understand and it's proving a very good story for us.'

How the scheme works

  • Provecta says its Employee Car Ownership (ECO) scheme is comprehensive yet simple in its set-up
  • Employees are given a monthly allowance in their salary and have access to a variety of new, or nearly new, cars. For a monthly fee, with no deposit required, the employees' vehicles also receive full servicing, road tax and insurance
  • The employee is protected by built-in insurances against loss of the vehicle and changes in personal circumstances. The final value of the vehicle is guaranteed, allowing the employee the choice of keeping or selling the car, or renewing their contract with Provecta for a completely new car
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