Fleet News

Guest opinion: the company car is alive and kicking

TONY Leigh, chairman of the Association of Car Fleet Operators, looks at some of the problems and pitfalls facing fleet decision-makers as the new year dawns.

'Just a few years ago some commentators and benefit consultants were proclaiming the death of the company car as a result of changes in benefit-in-kind taxation and a proclaimed headlong rush into personal leasing schemes.

However, as fleet sales figures continue to show, the traditional company car remains the most efficient and cost-effective way of providing 'wheels' to employees. And, the legislative impact of a crackdown on at-work driving accidents is likely to put the trend towards PCPs into a reverse gear.

Many companies probably felt that by getting rid of company cars, they eliminated any responsibility for the driver's actions when taking to the road on company business. However, as we know, irrespective of who owns the vehicle the employer has a duty of care to uphold.

As a result, companies are realising that they can better control drivers and cars by not letting employees do their own thing. I suspect that consequently a number of companies are having a change of heart as they begin to realise their responsibilities under existing and due-to-be-enacted health and safety legislation.

This is just one aspect of at-work driving risk management, but, as the legislative noose tightens around fleets – particularly with new corporate killing laws set to reach the statute book in the near future – the management of occupational road safety will play a greater part in the fleet chief's workload.

The environment will continue to impact upon fleets in no small way. Even though there has been a loss of PowerShift grants due to the pot having run out of money, I hope grants to aid fleets to 'go green' will be restored in the spring. But even if that situation is resolved, it does seem that liquefied petroleum gas cars are heading for a tough time following December's pre-Budget Report. Hybrid vehicles are appearing and Euro IV emission compliant diesel cars are increasingly vying for a place as an environmentally- friendly car from a CO2 viewpoint.

Companies, when compiling environmental policies impacting on not only themselves but also their suppliers, should not forget to include their vehicle fleets. Too often, I hear of companies preaching environmental responsibility and then see that their vehicle fleet includes cars and vans belching out torrents of black smoke.

It remains to be seen what impact the new Block Exemption rules will have on the fleet market. Consolidation of franchises seems a possibility with more multi-franchise sites being opened and the liberalisation of servicing outlets might help to reduce service, maintenance and repair costs. If the new laws do not have the effect desired by the European legislators I suspect an inquiry and more rules will follow.

There is no doubt that benefit-in-kind taxation, congestion charging, road tolling, the used car market, new car prices, and will continue to be to the fore to more than fill the fleet manager's day. But that is not to ignore the increasing raft of European legislation attacking fleet chiefs from every corner – has anyone really read the next European Commission-inspired draft insurance directive?

There is no doubt that fleet managers – full-time or part-time and in charge of small, medium or large fleets – will find more and more on their work schedule.

Finally many fleet managers undoubtedly find themselves isolated within their day-to-day business environment but a crucial part of the job, despite the ever-rising work levels, is networking. Too often fleet managers are forced by their bosses to make decisions in isolation or only with half a story to hand.

Getting out of the confines of the office, mixing with like-minded fleet managers and discussing industry issues and industry problems frequently results in a different, and more informed, decision being taken as a result of more information being available.

There is no doubt that through its regional meetings, ACFO provides help, support and informed advice to overworked fleet managers. Company bosses must ensure that professional fleet managers look after their interests and involve them in management decisions that impact in areas across the corporate spectrum.

Consultation can make things easier if done at an early stage. Directors might even find that the fleet manager not only does know a little about running a car fleet but also knows the impact forthcoming and existing legislation will have across all areas of business both now and in the longer term.

They might then provide fleet chiefs with the backing to get things done!'

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