IMAGINE for a second that you are a company car driver.
You are happily driving along, minding your own business, looking smart and sharp in your BMW 5-series, when out of nowhere someone runs into you.
The car is a mess and has to be trawled off for repair. In the meantime, you are presented with a replacement – a Vauxhall Corsa.
Even Vauxhall will admit that the Corsa bears little comparison to the Bavarian prestige vehicle that until earlier represented you, your work and your employer.
Many insurance companies shrug their shoulders, choosing only to provide mobility – not ensuring drivers keep the type of mobility to which they are accustomed.
But in recent years several organisations have taken it upon themselves to get on the side of the disenchanted victims of accidents.
One such firm is Accident Exchange, brainchild of Steve Evans. A former police officer, Evans was involved in an accident one morning and was shocked at how difficult it was to get a replacement vehicle from his insurance company.
He contested the firm’s policy by buying a car from a friend and forming a company with the car as its asset. He rented the car to himself and invoiced the insurance company.
Initially, they refused to pay, but Steve kept up the pressure and threatened legal action. Eventually, he got his way, and from that acorn grew the oak tree that is Accident Exchange.
Evans says: ‘The law in Britain is quite peculiar. Any company will pay to repair your car but 20 years ago there was no possibility of getting you mobile while your car was being repaired.
‘I bought this Volkswagen, rented it to myself and pursued the claim directly with the insurance company.
‘In the law of tort you have the right to be put back into the position you were at before. If I’m driving and someone drives into the back of me, so through an act of negligence I suffer a loss, then the law of tort applies.’
Insurance companies’ reluctance to splash out any more than they need to is understandable. There are four million accidents a year in the UK. Insurance companies take in £12 billion a year but pay out the same, thereby balancing on a very fine line between fulfilling the needs of consumers and satisfying shareholders.
But Evans says that makes no difference to the customer, and often in the fleet world a simple courtesy car isn’t good enough.
‘There’s a major difference between a Fiesta and an XC90 if you’re a company driver,’ he says. ‘The smaller cars just aren’t sufficient. We, like a couple of other organisations, provide a like-for-like service.
‘The average rental period after an accident is 21 days, not just a day or two.
‘In the fleet market you often find people have an estate because they need one, or at a managerial level they need a prestige car for image and entertaining.’
Accident Exchange has a fleet of 3,500 mostly prestige vehicles. Evans says the firm can react to a call within 30 minutes and have the client mobile again the same day.
Most manufacturers, models and derivatives are represented and Accident Exchange tries to match the car being repaired as closely as possible, with the exception of colour.
Even drivers of more exotic cars are catered for. The Accident Exchange fleet includes six Bentley Continentals, a Ferrari F430 and two Ferrari 360s.
The insurance industry has grown accustomed to Accident Exchange and its contemporaries – the two work closely together.
‘The charges we levy to the insurance company are agreed on a standard tariff with them,’ Evans explains.
‘If you have a BMW 320, the rate is already set out so there’s no arguing about the value of the tariff we charge.’
Now Accident Exchange is settling into new 220,000 square-foot premises in Coleshill, near Birmingham.
Today, 1.3 million people are signed up to its services, although they might not know it. Some 740 dealers participate in the scheme and the company turns over £100 million. In 2005, it made £17 million profit and is forecast to make more than £25million in 2006.
The firm has been in business for five years and was listed on the London Stock Exchange in October. Evans expects to see the firm continue to grow as it works to acquire competitors.
‘The market is massive,’ he says. ‘At the moment, we cover 400,000 accidents but there are four million every year.’
Case study: Inchcape Fleet Solutions
ALL Inchcape Fleet Solutions’ company car drivers can take advantage of Accident Exchange’s services should they have a non-fault accident.
Inchcape Fleet Solutions’ operations director Andy Brown said: ‘We always try to arrange for company car and van drivers who are innocent victims in a crash to drive a similar vehicle while their own model is off-the-road being repaired.
‘However, that is not always possible through normal daily rental channels, particularly when prestige models such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are involved.
‘Accident Exchange has provided to be an invaluable customer relationship tool. Until we developed our business partnership with them, we had never found the right solution to providing replacement vehicles to drivers involved in non-fault accidents.
Now the company has become an integral part of our comprehensive range of fleet management services and solutions.’