The fleet industry flocked to CCiA at Millbrook to drive the latest cars and attend workshops
Hundreds of different cars to drive, thousands of visitors, test tracks, interactive exhibitions, masterclasses and networking, all together at the most advanced fleet event in the world.
Company Car in Action 2007 gave fleets the unique opportunity to test-drive and compare a vast range of business vehicles around one of Europe’s vehicle testing facilities.
And as well as comparing cars in testing conditions such as an Alpine hill route and high speed bowl, there was the chance to find out more about what’s new, important and innovative in the industry through workshops and interactive exhibitions: essential business information to help make your fleet cheaper, cleaner and safer.
BMW used Company Car in Action to show off its range of new Efficient-Dynamics cars, as well as the gorgeous new 3 Series Convertible.
Its cars were booked solidly for the duration of the show as fleet managers tested the 1 and 5 Series to see if the bold claims of superb fuel efficiency and low emissions were true.
All engines in both ranges (apart from the M5) now benefit from the technology which uses new fuel injection, turbocharging and “hybrid” technology such as regenerative charging, which scavenges electrical power from the brakes and engine on over-run, reducing the need for the engine to produce power for auxiliary controls, to the benefit of fuel economy.
With a 120d now achieving more than 50mpg in real-world driving, BMW believes it has the best combination of economy and performance on the market.
But it wasn’t all frugality on the BMW stand. The firm also had its recently-launched 3 Series Convertible – the largest car on the market with a folding metal roof.
BMW 335i Convertible
David Carter, fleet manager, Abro
“It goes like a rocket, sounds gorgeous and is just a beautiful car in all respects. There’s even decent space for passengers in the back of it. If money was no problem, this would be my car of choice – although for the moment I think I’ll have to stick to my diesel!”
The end of next month will see Vauxhall re-enter the SUV market with its all-new Antara model following a six-year gap since the Frontera went out of production.
On display for the first time in the UK, the Antara enters a sector which has seen demand increase by nearly 14% in fleet for the year-to-date.
Vauxhall will be targeting user-choosers with the model and expects the 2.0-litre diesel model to take the lion’s share of sales.
Paul Adler, GM UK fleet brand manager, said: “This is a growing sector and we should see incremental sales because this is an area we haven’t been in, and adding cars on to choice lists is easier for us because of the sheer number of customers we have.
“Early feedback on the Antara has been good with praise for the quality of the interior.”
At CCiA, Vauxhall also unleashed its raucous VXR models, including the new Corsa and Astra hot hatches and the recently-upgraded Vectra model with more power.
Vauxhall Corsa VXR
Neil Badcock, managing director, Jetset
“For a little car the Corsa VXR feels very solid. I enjoyed driving it – it has a nice driving position and good interior quality.”
A number of specialist UK fleets are reviewing the new Mitsubishi Outlander, Andy Wertheim, manager, national fleet, revealed at Company Car in Action.
The new SUV is attracting the attention of police, government bodies, agencies and utility companies who need four-wheel drive capability but also on-road ability.
But such has been the popularity of the Outlander since its launch that supply is limited, Mr Wertheim revealed.
“We’ll sell every one we get in this year, and alongside the interest from working fleets, we’ve also been selling a lot through contract hire and leasing, which is good news as it means user-choosers are going for the car,” he added.
Mitsubishi was also getting numerous requests for test drives at the event for the heavily-revised Shogun.
“The Shogun has a loyal customer base,” Mr Wertheim said. “And with the new model being a considerably better car to drive and more refined we are expecting strong sales.”
Mitsubishi Shogun 3.2 DI-DC Elegance auto
Alan Burns, financial director, Secor Consulting
“Acoustically, it’s very good, the dash is much better quality and there’s a huge amount of space in here. On the bowl at speed it was very stable, but the Alpine route required a lot of steering lock. Overall I was very impressed.”
Fiat has high fleet hopes for the new Bravo, which is now on sale.
The car represents new ground for Fiat as it tries to compete with the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra.
And the company has re-jigged its corporate sales team as it prepares to make itself heard in the fleet market.
“Bravo is a serious fleet player,” insisted Fiat’s national fleet sales manager, James McMenamin.
“We’re having a big training push for our retailers and we’ve strengthened our support team. “We’re going from four corporate sales managers to five and we’re aiming for longer-term business now.
“Grande Punto has started to break into the fleet market and we’re looking to build on that further with the Bravo, which finally gives us a lower-medium sector competitor.”
Unusually for fleet, Fiat is pushing petrol power as well as the diesel option.
The 1.4-litre petrol engine emits just 158g/km of CO2.
Fiat Panda 100HP
John Mackenzie, recruitment manager, Regional Hearing Services
“It’s fantastic, really great fun although not the kind of thing you might want to use every day. But for going about town and the country roads it’s way better than I expected. The Panda would be ideal for someone that does a lot of city driving.”
Peugeot’s expanding 207 range saw another new addition make its debut in the form of the 207 SW which was on static display.
Joining the hatchback, coupe-cabriolet and GTi THP 175 hot hatchback, the 207 SW offers an estate bodyshell and an adaptable interior.
Steve Harris, director, fleet and leasing, at Peugeot, said: “The new 207 SW is a useful addition to the ever-popular 207 range – for the second month running it is Europe’s best-selling car. We have already had considerable interest from fleets with this new model, as it brings a versatile dimension to an otherwise brilliant package – 207 is renowned for class-leading safety, stylish design, high levels of specification, generous proportions and good value.
“The SW introduces a flat-folding rear seat layout, raised roofline and panoramic glass roof that make it both a versatile performer and desirable too, complementing the 307 and 407 SW models.”
Peugeot 207 GTi THP 175
Peter Kent, Ipswich
“Despite the stiff suspension the 207 GT has a comfortable ride. I enjoyed the drive but going out with the pro driver was even better!”
The all-new C-Class was the central attraction on the Mercedes-Benz stand, with a wide array of models available for fleet managers to drive.
Colin Niklas, national corporate sales manager at Mercedes-Benz, said: “The timing of Company Car in Action fitted perfectly into our schedule of corporate and retailer launch activity for the new C-Class. The new car was a popular choice for test drives at the event and we are pleased with customer reaction so far.”
The new range goes on sale at the end of this month, with certain other models being added throughout the summer such as the C200 and 320 CDIs and the C180K and C230 petrol engines. The range carries a safety focus, with the Pre-Safe accident mitigation system fitted to reduce injuries in a crash.
Also on display were models from the E and B-Class and CLK ranges.
Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI
Richard Clark, operations director, Bourne Textile Services
“I drive an Audi A4 TDI and was impressed with the new C200 CDI. It has a smooth ride, good manual gearbox and the seating was good.”
With a wide array of new models to drive, Skoda offered fleet managers their first chance to drive some recent additions to the line-up.
Around 80% of the cars at CCiA were new, including the Fabia, Octavia and Roomster Scouts and the top-spec Octavia L&K model.
Andy Thomas, business relationship and development manager at Skoda, said: “This is an important show for us as it’s about getting bums on seats and dispelling people’s perceptions.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the new Scout models, especially from the blue light fleets and the Highways Agency.
“These models offer off-road ability but don’t get people’s backs up in the way larger 4x4s do.”
Skoda has also introduced a free of charge servicing offer for small fleet operators which covers all servicing costs, excluding consumables, for two years/40,000 miles.
Skoda Octavia vRS estate
Chris Quicke, purchasing manager, Robert Lee Bathroom and Kitchen Fittings
“We’re an all-Vauxhall fleet and I’m looking at estate cars so tried the Octavia. I was impressed – it handles very well.”
Chevrolet will head into unchartered territory when its new Captiva SUV hits the roads next month.
As well as being the brand’s first diesel-engined model, it will also be the firm’s first chance to take a slice of the user-chooser market thanks to growing demand for recreational off-roaders.
Paul Adler, GM UK fleet brand manager, said: “The Captiva offers a wide choice with the option of petrol and diesel engines, two and four-wheel drive and five and seven-seat versions.
“We expect the seven-seat diesel LT version to be the big seller, although we are seeing interest in the entry-level 2.4 LS petrol version thanks to its £16,995 price which means its wholelife cost proposition is very strong.”
While acknowledging that selling Chevrolet into the fleet market will not be easy, Mr Adler cites the expertise offered by the Vauxhall fleet operation as being crucial.
Chevrolet Captiva 2.0 VDCi
Royston Morgan, managing director, Hydrajaws
“This car is absolutely brilliant. It’s the first time I’ve driven the auto and I’m sold on it. The gearbox and engine are very smooth and the test track drive has confirmed what I thought.”
Aspiration was the name of the game at Audi where the manufacturer highlighted two of its most sought-after models.
Unfortunately for visitors there wasn’t the chance to drive the gorgeous R8 supercar or the RS4 supersaloon – although there were hot laps on offer from a professional driver in the latter. But some key fleet favourites were available to drive, including the TT, S3, Q7, A4 and A6 models. These models have helped Audi continue its rise up the fleet sales charts with a 36% increase in fleet sales for the year-to-date.
Nathan Dennis, fleet sales marketing manager at Audi UK, said: “We’re in the midst of an incredibly prolific launch phase that will continue into next year and beyind and this event allows us to present our newcomers and established favourites to our most valued clients.”
Next month will see the new A5 coupe go on sale.
Audi A6 2.7 TDI
John Rogers, head of finance, Oneida
“I’m here driving diesels and I’m not familiar with the A6 so I tried the 2.7 TDI. It’s a great car and is a very strong contender in the executive market. It’s got great road presence.”
Alfa Romeo is getting out on the road to convince fleets of the merits of its 159.
After years of relying on word of mouth for fleet sales, Alfa’s sales staff have finally been given approval to proactively market its cars.
“We’re travelling all over the place, doing many ride and drive events with end-user companies – we’re doing an average of 10 a week,” said Mandi McGregor, Alfa’s regional corporate sales manager. She said the carmaker was targeting large companies with fleets of more than 500 vehicles.
“Alfa Romeo hasn’t in the past done much marketing but now we have a budget for it,” she said. “A lot is being put into this. We now have a corporate department for Alfa – before it was shared with Fiat. We’re serious about this and we’re really pushing it.”
Alfa Romeo Spider
Martin Faulker, defence road transport policy director, Ministry of Defence
“It’s a nice car. It’s quite nicely skittish, very direct and very comfortable. I’m not sure from a fleet perspective whether it would be wholly practical but for a driving machine it is very pleasurable.”
Cadillac is hoping to take a leaf out of Lexus’ book as it tries to establish a fleet presence in the UK.
Terry Knight, of Pendragon, the UK distributors of Cadillac, said he felt the brand was capable of natural growth that would see it compete with more established marques.
“We are where Lexus was five or so years ago, and we’re hoping to emulate that business growth model,” Mr Wright said.
He said the size of Cadillac in the UK meant it could not do everything at once, which is why it has focused on contract hire and leasing companies.
“At the moment we don’t focus on the larger fleets,” he said.
“But we see a natural organic growth with the BLS Wagon, due in August. We expect an increased diesel offering by 2008/9 which will help that natural growth.”
Mr Wright said Cadillac did “fall down” because of its largely petrol-engined range, but said a new V6 diesel currently in development should help remedy that.
“We’ve got to take little steps all the way,” he said.
Cadillac CTS 2.8 V6
Francis McDonnell, chairman, Pike Engineering
“I was pleasantly surprised – I thought it was going to be a horrible balloon of a car.It’s for one of our directors who drives Mercedes-Benz at the moment and it could be a very pleasant change. I have driven Cadillacs in the States over many years and found them soft and floppy but this is relatively responsive with a nice engine and reasonable handling. I’m quite impressed.”
There were five new models on the Chrysler Group stand for fleet managers to test drive, all on sale soon after the event.
The Jeep Compass, Wrangler and Patriot, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger illustrate the huge number of launches in 2007 for the group.
Both the Compass and Patriot offer more than 40mpg combined, and are the first Jeeps to ever do so. The Patriot is an entry-level 4x4 for the brand and the Compass an SUV of Ford Focus size.
The Sebring and Avenger are new saloons to the market, with petrol and diesel engines, aimed squarely at Mondeo Man.
Also racking up the test miles was the popular Chrysler 300C in both saloon and Touring forms.
Chrysler 300C CRD Touring
Richard Hardaker, office manager, Coda
“The 300C is large and comfortable, but it is very heavy and a little slow, especially up some of the steeper hills on the Alpine route. But it’s the perfect relaxed, cruising car, and the air-conditioning system is fantastic.
It’s a niche product with a lot of character, and if a driver really wants one, they’ll have one.”
Saab is ramping up promotion of its facelifted 9-3 ahead of the first deliveries to fleets in September.
The new car has had 2,157 changes, according to Saab, and the new engines – especially the new two-stage turbo 1.9-litre TTiD with 180bhp and near-50mpg fuel consumption – will revitalise the firm’s company car offering, brand manager Paul Adler claimed.
“Saab has never been an ‘in your face brand’, but the combination of our three-day test drive programme for business users and the low emissions, and therefore low tax bill of the new engine, will attract user-choosers,” he said.
The firm had its entire range of current cars at Company Car in Action: 9-3 saloon and Sportwagon, 9-3 Convertible and 9-5 saloon and estate.
Mr Adler said the Anniversary special editions which are currently on sale – celebrating Saab’s 60th birthday – had been popular with user-choosers thanks to the free touch-screen sat-nav, Bluetooth and embossed leather seats, which kept P11d tax bills low.
Saab 9-3 Convertible 1.8t
Martyn Spencer, managing director, Lifeprotection.com
“I think the 1.8t engine is more than adequate in this car. The revised interior is much improved, and it is interesting to see how compliant the suspension is on the different surfaces of the test track.”
The new Volkswagen Golf estate made its UK debut at Company Car in Action.
The car will be available for delivery from August, priced from £14,347, and is offered with three trim levels, S, SE and Sportline, and three engines, a 1.6-litre petrol unit with 100bhp and two TDI diesels in 105 and 140bhp outputs.
Head of fleet Vincent Kinner said: “With greater versatility afforded by rear seats folding flat into the floor mixed with unique design details and high levels of standard equipment it strikes a balance between style and practicality.”
Predicted volumes are for around 2,800 in a full year with fleet taking 65% of that total.
Diesel will account for 88% with the likely best seller the 1.9-litre S (32% of volume).
Volkswagen offered a wide range of its cars at the event available to drive, including the Golf GTI Edition 30, Eos coupe-convertible, Passat, Touareg and Phaeton.
Volkswagen Eos 3.2 V6 Sport DSG
John Rowland, company secretary, Robert Dyas
“It sounds beautiful, is well-balanced and there’s very little wind noise with the roof down. I’m trying to standardise our choice list and we permit convertibles like this. I’m thinking of putting this on the list – our drivers will love this.”
Hot hatches and hybrids were the main focus for Honda, with the Civic Type R and Hybrid IMA models available to drive.
The Civic range is the main focus for the manufacturer this year with a full range of three and five-door models now available. And now that Honda has secured additional supply of the Hybrid model from the factory in Japan it can start talking to fleets about the model.
Harvey Hughes, manager – corporate operations at Honda UK, said: “The Hybrid is important to fleets as it offers lower benefit-in-kind tax bills, but it also links into company policy to match firms’ environmental credentials.”
Honda will also be adding to the Accord range with an entry-level diesel SE version priced at £18,600 and a top-spec Sport GT model.
Martin Ruddick, production director, Input Joinery
“I drive an old shape CR-V so was interested to try the new diesel version. It’s very car-like to drive so I will be looking at this model in the future.”
Mazda is trying to improve its dealer network’s understanding of the fleet market.
“We have a new fleet dealer development manager to talk to the retail-based network and make them more fleet aware,” said the firm’s national corporate sales manager Terry Swanton.
“That’s been happening over the last month. The intention is to run the fleet specialist dealer network more effectively. We already have that, but we want to develop them further to facilitate local business prospects.
“We want far more dealers out there actively canvassing for business sales.”
Mazda is also focusing on contract hire and leasing companies following the arrival of fleet director James Hopkins at the beginning of the year.
Mr Swanton said: “The relationship is fine but we want to better understand the effect on the market and particularly residual values.”
Graham Peach, managing director, Briggs Burners
“It’s very good, Very fast and the handling is good. You have to keep the revs up on the corners but I was quite impressed. It was better than I expected; the speed and pick up and the general ride were much better than I thought.”
A restructuring of its corporate sales department marks a drive for increased fleet business.
National business sales manager Perry Clarke said: “There was no consistency before. We weren’t working together effectively enough in the department. Before we were jacks of all trades but now we have one dedicated guy who looks after contract hire and leasing. We have put extra support teams in and it’s going really well.
“We have got three guys totally dedicated to our 17 business sales centres, which are dealers with a business sales emphasis.
“They work with them and go and see end users. We’re 23% up on business sales this year so far.”
SEAT is also moving into Motability and driving schools.
SEAT Altea XL
Michael Hunt, owner, MER
“I’ve been looking for a diesel automatic and this very much fits the bill. I have tried all the BMWs and the larger makes that have larger engines but this is an interesting car. I thought the performance of the engine was very good and the brakes were superb. The chassis is good and the handling excellent.”
Plenty on offer to entertain fleet’s adrenaline junkies
As well as giving fleet managers the chance to test drive cars for themselves, Company Car in Action offered an adrenaline rush in the shape of drives round a handling circuit with professional racing drivers, including SEAT’s touring car star Jason Plato in a Leon and Audi Driving Experience instructors in a 420bhp RS4.
Other manufacturers offering pro drives included Saab, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Cadillac and Audi. And if visitors got tired of Tarmac, they could take to the woods and the off-road course, courtesy of Nissan and Isuzu, who were showing the abilities of their 4x4s to get through the rough stuff.
Experts in fleet management, finance and human resources revealed how fleets could slash costs and improve performance in a series of CCIA Masterclasses.
The sessions, held in association with Lloyds TSB autolease were designed to offer a valuable business-focused addition to the day for fleet decision-makers.
Chairman: David Dippie, managing director, Ashbrooke Fleet Management
He explained how to improve relationships with drivers, suppliers and management, adding: “Training is vital if you are to challenge management and demonstrate value.
“The role of the fleet manager – or their equivalent – is more important and potentially more challenging than ever before.”
He said research showed the company car was still important and could see even more demand in future.
Salary sacrifice schemes are increasingly including company cars, especially relatively low value models, which can be offered to employees for a tax bill of under £20 a month.
He added: “Policy and communication are critical to the successful operation of any car scheme.”
How do you decide which cars go on your fleet, how important is choice to your employees and what would encourage your employees to help reduce your company’s costs?
She revealed how two cars costing £25,000 each were not the same. In wholelife cost terms, the difference could be as much as £6,000 over a fleet cycle. She said: “Are the assumptions you make about the current cost of your fleet correct?
“If you are not including tax in your wholelife cost calculations, then you don’t have the whole picture.”
Chairman: Phil Redman, fleet manager, IBM
He covered fleet management, supplier training, formal training in fleet management and offered in-depth advice on the smoking ban that comes into force next week.
He called for fleet operators to create an inclusive approach to fleet management. “We should consider involving all stakeholders in the supplier specification, including HR, finance, line management and drivers.”
Mr Kendrick identified a series of hidden savings in fleet finance, focusing on capital allowances, national insurance contributions and procurement.
Another vital area was providing free fuel for private mileage, as the majority of drivers pay more in tax than they receive in benefits.
Chairman: Robin Mackonochie, head of communications, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association
Mr Hull showed how the proposed changes to capital allowances could cost companies thousands of pounds.
The changes could mean companies can only claim for depreciation on a vehicle at 10% a year on a reducing balance basis if it produces over 165g/km. For a £20,000 car, a company able to offset £11,750 of its cost against tax over four years would in future only be able to claim £6,878. He said: “Now more than ever, fleets need a properly-thought- through policy.”
NEXT WEEK: We focus on all the fleet suppliers exhibiting at Company Car in Action