It is unlikely that fleets will benefit from any additional manufacturer incentives when retail new car sales decline after the scrappage scheme ends at the end of March.
The Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders (SMMT) had said new car sales to fleets will be crucial post-scrappage.
The BVRLA also said it expected its members to be wooed by carmakers desperate to shift stock as private buyers moved away from the new car market, saying carmakers will be relying on fleet buyers to pick up some of the slack.
However, carmakers say they will maintain the proportional split of sales post-scrappage that they enjoyed over the past year.
For example, in 2009 Audi’s sales split was 42% retail and 58% fleet; Vauxhall’s was 41% retail and 59% fleet; and Volkswagen’s was 45% retail and 55% fleet.
All three expect these to stay the same during 2010.
A Vauxhall spokesman said its focus post-scrappage would remain in the retail sector with its Swappage scheme, while Volkswagen, which entered 2010 with a “strong” order book, will continue in the same vein with Golf continuing to be resilient in both the retail and fleet sectors.
This means it is unlikely fleets will see any significant improvement to incentives already offered by carmakers.
However, what has become clear is that more manufacturers are returning to the short-term rental market, which may account for the SMMT’s optimism and the rise in fleet registrations, which were up 24.4% last month compared to January 2009.
When both fleet and business registrations are taken into account, fleet sales accounted for 55.2% of the new car market.
“We’re obviously delighted to now see the first significant rise for a while,” said the SMMT’s Paul Everitt.
“But it’s important this trend continues to soften the landing post-scrappage.”
But as Robert Kingdom, head of marketing and business development at Masterlease, explains, the return to short-term rental is fraught with danger.
“It looks like a very uncertain market and my fear is that manufacturers will revert to tactical, short-cycle markets to meet inflated sales targets, with the resultant negative impact on the used car market later this year or early into 2011,” he said.
“We have already seen a handful of manufacturers announcing plans to re-enter or increase sales in the daily rental segment, for example.
"Businesses simply cannot plan effectively against continued volatility in the used car market. There has to be a longer-term strategy above and beyond the rollover lottery of scrappage.”
Iain Carmichael, head of Audi fleet sales, said while it participates in some short-term daily rental business activity, this was to a maximum volume of 3% of annual sales.
“We do not expect this to change,” he added.
“Longer term, our focus remains on our core market of large corporate user choosers.”
David Raistrick, UK manufacturing leader at Deloitte, believes fleet registrations could account for 60% of total new car sales this year.
“This could help boost total annual numbers to the upper end of the forecasted registration figure of 1.8-1.9 million,” he added.