The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has excluded fleets from its new set of benchmark standards, dividing opinion within the fleet industry on whether including fleets would have been of any practical use.
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) said it was ‘ridiculous that business drivers had no access to a formal complaints procedure’, while fleet operators’ association ACFO claims the code is not necessary anyway and has not been in discussion with the SMMT about the omission.
The Code of Conduct has been written up by the SMMT as a reaction to the call by the Department for Trade and Industry, Office of Fair Trading and National Consumer Council (NCC) to sort out varying standards in garages, which critics had claimed were often overcharging customers, producing shoddy work and bad practice.
A BVRLA spokesman said the organisation was disappointed that ACFO had failed to engage in talks, and also claimed that the code of conduct was a missed opportunity.
ACFO defended its stance. A spokesman said: ‘If the code works to push up standards in the servicing sector, then this will have a knock-on effect in that fleets will also get better service.
‘Because this is a consumer code, it is our understanding that it does not apply to fleets in any event. It will not have any material impact on the average fleet because businesses are not protected by the NCC. However, it could prove useful for some ECO and PCP drivers, who are probably classed as ‘consumers’.
‘Our main regret is that we were not included in the original consultation process, although that could be confirmation that the Code was never intended to cover fleet activities in any event.’
However, the BVRLA believes that the code should apply to business drivers as many are treated like private consumers when it comes to service and repair.
BVRLA spokesman Robin Mackonochie said: ‘If you are developing a code of practice how can you exclude such a large section of customers? Business drivers have no rights – and no access to a formal complaints procedure in practical terms.’
Mackonochie pointed to a lack of consistency by the SMMT which in its warranty code to refers consumers as ‘owner or end user’ – including business drivers - yet the new servicing code says consumers are private buyers only.
The SMMT’s view is that the code will push up standards, and will therefore be a benefit to fleets, even though they are not explicitly included.