Fleets are having to push renewal dates into 2016 as certain manufacturers have miscalculated the level of demand in the UK new car market and are now unable to fulfil orders.
A fleet manager of a prominent Fleet200 company, who wished to remain anonymous, has had to push 400 orders (a quarter of new orders) into next year due to problems with lead times.
He told Fleet News: “I used to release new vehicle orders quarterly, but I now have to do it in six-month batches as it takes some time for the driver to research what vehicle they want and return with an order. If you stick to three months your fleet will be overdue.
“Even with that approach we will still have up to 400 orders going into 2016.”
The lead time problem has meant this particular fleet has been forced into “unofficial extensions” with its leasing company. Cars that are being run with maintenance included become a problem as cars that run into year five “generally start to have more things go wrong”, he said.
This means fleets are fixing cars just to hand them back.
One example given was of a car which cost £7,000 in maintenance due to it being extended into year five on what should have been a four-year cycle because of a replacement order not being ready.
The fleet manager said: “That is an extreme example, but those are the sorts of issues that really sting.”
Particular problem brands highlighted by the fleet were Audi and Volkswagen.
“The average company car driver does not understand how long it takes, but we are now looking at up to six months for core fleet model Audis,” he said.
“If you are ordering in the first half of the year, you’ll probably be OK, but if the order comes in the second half, you might find yourself with a problem,” he continued.
“If the UK operation has run out of allocation for the year you will be plainly told you have to wait. Audi said that if company car drivers want an Audi, they will be prepared to wait for it.”
As a result, some Audi orders at the fleet have now switched to BMW.
James Douglas, Audi UK head of fleet sales, told Fleet News Audi does not differentiate between fleet and retail customers from a stock perspective, and customer orders are managed “entirely” by the dealer network.
Douglas said that in some cases where a customer has ordered a model which matches something in stock, lead times can be as little as four weeks plus delivery to the selling dealership.
He said: “The majority of orders are delivered this way, without the requirement for a new factory order.”
Audi currently sends a weekly stock and lead time update to fleet customers, but is working on an online real-time system that will allow managers to track progress from the point of order, through production and transportation to the UK and then to their Audi dealership.
A Volkswagen spokesman admitted demand in the UK market is continuing to be stronger than its ability to supply many core models from stock.
Lead times on Golf, Polo and Touareg are all “in excess” of 12 weeks. However, Volkswagen said lead times on the new Passat are under nine weeks.
The spokesman said: “It’s never possible to match supply and demand ideally across a range of car product, particularly one that is as wide as the Volkswagen portfolio.
“While increased further orders from the factory over last year’s record, demand continues to be stronger than our ability to supply many models from stock.”
Volkswagen said it is able to cut lead times for fleets by sourcing from current stock “for those whom a shorter lead time is preferred over their ideal specification”.
Vauxhall and Ford confirmed they have an average lead time of 12-14 weeks.