Fleet News

Exclusive brands take pride of place in fleets

PICTURE a Porsche 911 or a Boxster and what is the first thing that springs to mind?

The 0-60mph time, top speed, handling, the looks, a great soundtrack? Chances are it's all of these things.

But what about company car tax, CO2 emissions, residual values, leasing rates and, most importantly, health and safety?

Odd as it may seem to the army of middle-market Euro-box drivers, the growing power and wealth of user-choosers is putting power and performance into the company car parc.

And it isn't just Porsche, as other supercar manufacturers have recognised the massive spending power available in offices of growing companies up and down the country.

Historic brand names including Lotus and Maserati are heard in the same sentence as 'user-chooser' and 'benefit-in-kind'.

But meeting this demand is more of a science than just selling cars to performance-hungry punters. There is an art to the delicate balance of supply and demand that ensures the exclusive brand that is at the heart of what makes a supercar special is protected, while best serving a growing army of buyers.

Porsche is one of the first points of call for many user-choosers or company heads with a business cheque in their pocket, ready to let their car speak volumes about their achievements in the corporate world.

The firm recognises that while a large proportion of its 7,919 annual sales (30% up year-on-year) are paid for by company money, a unique approach to each sale is necessary.

Geoff Turral, general manager of marketing at Porsche, said: 'No matter where the money comes from, customers want to buy the car as though it's a retail purchase.

'Porsche engages on a one-to-one basis. Our cars are want rather than need.' Running a supercar is like flying first class. You join an exclusive club and want it to remain that way. So an army of new arrivals from economy class would immediately damage the experience.

In the same way, despite the low volumes and the aspirational customer base, there are still concerns about protecting the brand.

Drivers don't mind waiting – order times can vary depending on the model they choose from between three months and a year. Turral said: 'We sell roughly a third each of 911, Boxster and Cayenne. The trick is keeping the market sustainable, which includes residual values.

'It's easy to liquidate a car like the 911 so we have to watch what is happening in the market.' The secret is to ensure that demand always exceeds supply, so that the company doesn't fall foul of discounting, distress marketing or the risk of flooding a very small market.

With many customers running their own business, value for money is still a consideration, so high residual values, often up to 60% after three years, are vital.

Turral added: 'Customers have a focus on value. They're saying they don't want it to be the cheapest, but it should be cost effective to own, even if bought with business money.'

It is especially important when many of the business sales are from people who run their own firms, or it will be under a personal funding scheme, without benefit-in-kind tax liability.

Ensuring there are no mistakes when ordering vehicles is also a vital area for development. Porsche is now trialling a web-based system that allows drivers to see a computerised view of a standard car and the effect of any alterations they make, such as adding leather.

At Lotus, the willingness to focus on the business customer is, if anything, even greater.

The firm has launched a new vehicle leasing division aimed at encouraging sales among business customers.

Lotus Vehicle Leasing is being run on behalf of Lotus by broker Direct Vehicle Leasing.

It will highlight the potential value to user-choosers of opting for something sporting such as the Elise. For example, the Elise 111S produces just 163grammes per kilometre of CO2, achieves more than 40mpg and is in VED band B, despite hitting 60mph in 5.1 seconds and achieving a top speed of 132mph.

Once again, the firm cites good residual values as a key factor in making supercars affordable, with the Elise fetching 80% of its new value after one year and 60% after three years, a key factor in keeping running costs down.

General manager Ansar Ali said: 'Fleet sales are quite a small number, but our cars have strong wholelife costs, including very good residual values. Residual values are important to the brand.

'And drivers are not just using them as weekend or summer cars. The mileages on vehicles being returned show they are being used as everyday vehicles.'

Phil Greenwood, UK sales manager at Lotus said: 'We are a big name but a very small company and people don't know what we have to offer. Working with Direct Vehicle Leasing will help address that issue. As time progresses, we will get a foot in the door.'

To back up the expansion plan, there is also a website which includes leasing rates and a quotation system.

The company is also embarking on a training programme for its 24 UK dealers, which had sales of about 1,000 cars last year.

Maserati and Ferrari are two of the most exotic brands in the market, but even they must nod in the direction of the odd business cheque.

Perhaps one of its most likely candidates is the £70,000 Quattroporte.

Paul Smyth, general manager of financial services and dealer operations for Maranello, the UK Maserati importer, again highlights the vital importance of good residual values for a supercar brand. Once again, with 'want not need' drivers prone to boredom, most will change their cars every eight to 14 months, making it an expensive habit if used car values aren't up to scratch.

But all the manufacturers insist they must let their cars find the right price in the used car market place, where possible avoiding support with buy-back schemes or guaranteed residual values.

Therefore funding options where the driver takes the residual value risk themselves is a preferred option because that will ensure the value of the car is reflected in a 'true' market.

Smyth added: 'The Quattroporte will attract drivers who might have driven a Mercedes-Benz or a Jaguar. The majority of purchases are private, but there may be an element of opt-out schemes.'


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