85% of motorists ‘more seriously’ considering electric vehicles

Written on March 23, 2017

In a survey by Venson Automotive Solutions, 85% of respondents said they are now ‘more seriously’ considering an electric vehicle – for personal use or as a company car – as a result of investment from Government, oil companies and the motor industry.

Among the 100 motorists surveyed, the most cited deterrents to EV ownership were: lack of charge points across the UK (69%), limited range of mileage (61%) and the cost of charging (42%). Among the less commonly cited were cost of insurance – rated low at 19% – while battery safety was the least of motorists’ concerns.

Women (31%) were more hesitant than men (15%) to purchase or lease an EV, citing the inability to ‘try before you buy’.

The Government has announced plans to address EV charge point provision in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, while oil giants Shell and Total have declared charging points will be a standard feature at their filling stations.

Alison Bell, marketing director of Venson Automotive Solutions, said: “It’s really encouraging to see that public attitudes to electric vehicles are significantly shifting, as the industry invests in the necessary infrastructure. Clearly, Total and Shell’s move to install more charging points is critical in giving motorists the confidence when it comes to choosing EV or hybrid.”

Although industry and Governmental commitments are having a positive effect, 41% in the survey stated their own lack of knowledge about the personal cost and convenience benefits of EVs had impacted their decision-making.

As a result, Venson is encouraging fleet managers to provide the information needed to make electric company car ownership more attractive to motorists. The survey highlights, in particular, a requirement to advertise ownership benefits of EVs more frequently than the positive environmental impact.

Nissan tests autonomous vehicles on London roads

Written on March 20, 2017

Nissan recently tested its latest autonomous drive technology on public roads in east London, the first of such tests conducted by the company in Europe. They follow on from public similar road tests in the United States and Japan.

During the tests, participants located in the passenger and rear seats previewed features designed to make autonomous drive technology viable and easy-to-use on both highways and urban/city roads. These range from laser scanners and millimetre wave radars, to in-built cameras, high-speed computer systems and an advanced Human Machine Interface (or HMI).

Takao Asami, senior vice-president of research and advanced engineering at Nissan, said: “This test of Nissan’s forthcoming autonomous drive technology in the demanding conditions of London streets underlines our commitment to delivering Nissan Intelligent Mobility to our customers.”

Last year, in Japan, Nissan launched the first of its models to be fitted with ProPilot autonomous drive technology – the Serena. Ultimately its autonomous driving feature won the Japan Car of the Year Innovation Award of 2016-17.

The tests in London come after recent announcements that Nissan’s updated Qashwai and new Leaf models will both be ProPilot equipped.

Plans are for the technology to be introduced to Chinese and US markets. The multi-lane autonomous driving technology, which enables automated lane changes on motorways, is planned for introduction in 2018. Meanwhile, autonomous driving on urban roads and intersections is planned for launch later in 2020.

Crackdown on driving & mobile phone use in effect

Written on March 17, 2017

From March 1st this year drivers are opened to harsher penalties as police launch a campaign to discourage mobile phone use behind the wheel.

Motorists found using a phone while driving will now receive six points on their license and a fine of £200, increasing from three points and £100 respectively. Those caught using their mobile phone twice or gaining twelve points on their license will face a court hearing, disqualification from driving and fines of up to £1,000.

New drivers (within two years of passing their test) will see their license revoked, while bus and lorry drivers can expect immediate suspension if caught.

The enforcement crackdown comes as the Government launches its new Think! campaign aimed at informing drivers of the new penalties as well as the potential dangers of using mobile phones while driving.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It may seem innocent, but holding and using your phone at the wheel risks serious injury and even death to yourself and other road users.

“Doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone while driving and will also mean repeat offenders could find themselves banned from our roads if they are caught twice.

“Everyone has a part to play in encouraging their family and friends not to use their phones while driving – it is as inexcusable as drink-driving.”

The campaign, which encourages drivers to put their phone away and out of reach, will be featured in print, radio and social media as well as in an impactful cinema ad developed in coordination with The AA Charity Trust. Car rental companies and driving schools are also expected to distribute stickers and other in-car merchandise to remind motorists of the simple ‘put it out of reach’ message.

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, roads policing lead of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “These new penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence and will strengthen the deterrent against using a mobile phone at the wheel. We need people to understand that this is not a minor offence that they can get away with.

“This issue has to begin with personal responsibility by drivers. We know that people are more likely to report other drivers using a phone than to view themselves as guilty of it. That has to change.

“Tougher penalties are a step in the right direction, but police forces and partners are working this week to make it socially unacceptable to use a mobile phone at the wheel. It’s about more than what you might have to pay as a penalty – you could hurt or kill an innocent person on the roads by checking a text or taking a call.”

Few changes for fleets in Spring Budget 2017

Written on March 13, 2017

Following the Autumn Statement’s rescheduling of Parliament’s two largest fiscal announcements in the year, Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivered his first and final Spring Budget this month. From 2018, the ‘Spring Statement’ will respond to forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility while the Autumn Budget will announce tax plans well in advance of the financial year. As a result, 2017’s Spring Budget has been perceived as a “transitional” announcement, with very few dramatic changes set forth for fleet managers or the economy in general.

The only major surprise for the fleet industry was the announcement of potential changes to the diesel vehicles tax regime before the end of the year. The expectation is that taxes will increase following the Budget’s statement of the Government’s commitment “to improving air quality.” According to the statement, the Government will engage with relevant stakeholders ahead of the Autumn Budget before confirming any changes.

Many tax measures covered in the Chancellor’s speech had been announced previously, including changes relating to Vehicle Excise Duty, company car benefit-in-kind taxation, vehicle benefit charges and more.

Fuel duty will remain frozen until at least 2018, meaning the freeze has been held at 57.95p per litre since March 2011’s Budget – the seventh consecutive year without increase.

The Chancellor announced a freeze upon Vehicle Excise Duty for both the HGB Road User Levy and professional hauliers. However, previously announced rates for VED on newly registered cars will continue to take effect from April 1st. Cars registered from that date will see their VED based upon CO2 emissions, with £0 set for zero emissions cars and up to £2,000 for vehicles emitting above 255g/km. For five years from the second year after registration all cars with 1g/km emissions or above will be taxed at a uniform £140 per year. However, cars costing over £40,000 – including zero emissions vehicles – will be subject to a £310 supplementary payment. After five years, the rate will revert to the standard of £0 or £140 depending on vehicle type.

Insurance Premium Tax will increase from 10% to 12% starting from June 1st this year, with additional impact upon roadside assistance and vehicle insurance policies.

The Government published a policy paper in December last year – ‘Income Tax: Limitation on Salary Sacrifice’ – which outlined changes to car salary sacrifice schemes and car or cash allowances. The changes are to come into effect on April 6th this year, however the specifics of the new arrangements have not been made clear. Following stakeholder consultations in the last few months, it is expected that the final details will be pronounced in the Finance Bill due for publication on March 20th.

Among perhaps the most radical of announcements, the Chancellor pledged a surge of investment into electric vehicle and road network infrastructure. £270m has been earmarked for investment into so-called “disruptive technologies” such as EV batteries and electric or driverless vehicles, but also including robotics and biotech. In this, the Government signals its commitment to its mission of converting consumers and fleets to ultra-low emission vehicles.

An additional £220m of funding is to be split between the North and the Midlands in order to address “pinch points” and choked roadways in these regions. Also announced was a £690m competition for local authorities to compete in tackling urban congestion.

Furthermore, the Chancellor announced the Government’s intention to review benefits-in-kind and employee expenses rules by sending out a public call for evidence and information from UK stakeholders at some point in the near future. The precise impact these plans may have on employers and employees – in terms of travel expenses, business mileage reimbursement and more – will not be seen until consultation documents are published.

Driving For Work road safety summit held

Written on February 27, 2017

A ‘Driving for Work’ Summit was held this month to identify means of improving occupational road safety.

The event was hosted at the London HQ of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) by the team behind the Driving for Better Business (DfBB) campaign. Involved were fleet chiefs, industry associations and insurance company representatives including members from the Department for Transport, Highways England, the ACFO, BVRLA and the FTA.

To identify ways of encouraging better road safety, fleet management and procurement, fleet chiefs from employers such as Essex County Council, Michelin and Network Rail exchanged views with safety-focused organisations including HDI Global, IAM RoadSmart, the Transport Safety Commission and more.

RoadSafe has worked closely with Highways England to deliver the Driving for Better Business campaign.

Adrian Walsh, executive director of RoadSafe, said: “Around a third of road traffic collisions involve a person at work, so there is clearly more that can be done by public and private sector fleets working together and in tandem with employers’ organisations, government and its agencies and road safety experts to support and promote good practice.”

The Summit’s engagement of key governmental, public and private sector stakeholders lays groundwork for a major work-related road safety campaign scheduled for launch in the springtime.

The forthcoming campaign builds upon recommendations made in the Transport Safety Commission’s March 2015 report (UK Transport Safety: Who Is Responsible?) and the government’s road safety statement of December 2015 (Working Together To Build A Safer Road System) which calculated the cost of road collisions to individuals, society and the economy to exceed £16.3 billion per year.

“Much information and advice is available and this Summit focused on how that knowledge can be made more readily available,” added Walsh.

“Our new programme is intended to accelerate the uptake of road safety initiatives by major fleets and SMEs operating company cars, ‘grey fleet’ and light vans to reduce the number of collisions involving drivers on business journeys.”

Some initiatives expected to be seen in the reinvigorated campaign include:

  • Encouragement of fleets to use the online Fleet Safety Benchmarking project
  • Motivation of major fleets with work-related road safety programmes to spread their knowledge through their supply chain to smaller organisations
  • Recommending fleets adopt vehicles equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
  • Promoting fleet adoption of crash avoidance technology e.g. Autonomous Emergency Braking, electronic stability control
  • Introduction of new vehicle buying standards and updated safety feature guidance
  • Increasing awareness of the European New Car Assessment Programme’s star ratings based on vehicle safety

Record year sees true fleet registrations outpace competition

Written on February 24, 2017

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show 2016 was a record year for true fleet growth. Leasing/contract hire registrations were up 6.6%, while fleet other registrations were up 4.3%. Combined, the numbers indicate a rise of 6.7% compared to a total UK car registrations growth of 2.25%. This establishes true fleet as the largest overall driver of registrations growth in 2016.

The rise in registrations is largely attributed to manufacturers investing resources to improve corporate sector penetration. Land Rover saw true fleet sales up by 58.5%, the largest increase by any brand. They were followed closely by Kia (51.3%), Jaguar (50.7%), Mini (25.7%), Renault (21.1%) and Volvo (20.4%).

Volkswagen, the company which traditionally sells the most units into true fleet, saw registrations fall by almost 10% following the emissions scandal in late 2015. They have been left behind by BMW (up 17% to 86,202 units) and Mercedez-Benz (up 18% to 81,902). Volkswagen’s rental sector registrations also fell 30% in 2016. However, some losses were offset via its own employee scheme increasing by 58%.

Volkswagen was one of only five manufacturers to see true fleet sales falling. According to the SMMT figures, other major brands were hit by a falloff in the leasing sector. Citroën suffered the largest drop in true fleet sales at 16%, while sister company Peugeot fell 12%. Nissan was also down 6%, and Vauxhall fell by 5.8%.

Audi, on the other hand, increased its rental penetration by 10% while achieving a 6% rise in true fleet sales. Seat and Škoda also saw true fleet rises of roughly 3.5%, despite differing approaches. Seat reduced its rental penetration by 17%, while Skoda invested more into the channel at a 9% rise.

Over the year, Vauxhall increased its rental business by around 5%, making up for a true fleet sales drop by pushing an 87.6% increase in rental car supply. Almost 29% of rental registrations in Q3 can be attributed to its 16,843 units. Vauxhall accounted for 22% of total rental registrations in the market, up two points since 2015.

Both Jaguar and Land Rover likewise registered increases in their rental businesses, a result of their strategy to raise and renew brand awareness by pushing their latest models to market. Land Rover registered a rise of 21.5%. Meanwhile Jaguar saw a substantial 78% rise in private registrations, suggesting their strategy is working well.

Nissan reacted to a dip in private and true fleet registrations by increasing its number of rental units by 170% in the second half of 2016. This ultimately saw rental registrations increase by 37%.

The majority of growth was seen in the SUV/crossover, luxury premium and mini segments.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT, said the 2016 had proven “more resilient than we expected”, thanks to high levels of consumer and business confidence combined with affordable finance options.

However, Hawes advised: “we’ve not seen the full effect of Brexit yet.” He is lobbying the Government to prevent tariffs in any future European Union deal which, he says, could add approximately £1,500 to the price of a car.

“The Government has been clear – it wants to maintain the competitiveness of the UK motor industry. We want to maintain as many benefits of being in the single economy as we can.”

Although the market remains stable – thanks in part to three-to-four year finance deals negating the impact of rising exchange rates – SMMT is forecasting a 5% to 6% reduction in registrations during 2017.

Conversely, a swell of registrations is predicted in March, in anticipation of upcoming Vehicle Excise Duty changes in April.

£15m investment in EV charging network planned by Chargemaster

Written on February 22, 2017

Chargemaster has announced £15m of investment in new EV charging sites and advanced technology in the UK following their successful acquisition of Elektromotive and subsidiary, Charge Your Car.

Areas likely to see investment include contactless credit card systems, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), and wireless charging units to support the upcoming ‘inductive charging’ car and taxi models. These will be in addition to existing Chargemaster mechanisms, from Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) cards to apps on smartphone.

David Martell, chief executive of Chargemaster, said: “The acquisition of Elektromotive and Charge Your Car is a major milestone in the company’s expansion plan.

“We currently partner with eight car manufacturers and we are aware that the number of new electric vehicle models going on sale will significantly increase.

“It is widely expected that within the next 10 years, around 50% of new cars sold will be electrically-powered.”

After the acquisition, the company now employs 190 staff including over 70 experts in field installation and maintenance engineering. Furthermore, customers of Chargemaster’s Polar network will find they have access to more than 5,000 charging points across the UK.

The number of Chargemaster destination chargers is also expected to increase by 2,000 units in the next year as a result of the company’s numerous hotel and restaurant chain partnerships.

“Chargemaster is investing heavily to ensure that the UK is fully equipped to deal with this new generation of motoring, and that it has the most robust, reliable and available charging network in the world,” concluded Martell.

Chargemaster’s initiative to introduce over 250 Ultracharge units in 2017 has already begun, with several rapid charge units currently accessible in Q-Park locations across London.

Car club expansion in Inverness echoes nationwide rise

Written on February 20, 2017

The announcement of two new car club schemes launching in Inverness, backed by the Highland Council and partner Hitrans, is prompting speculation about the rise of the car club in the UK.

The launch will entail the creation of 16 car club parking bays around Inverness, allowing club members to collect self-service vehicles for hire by the hour. The new Inverness services will be operated by Enterprise Car Club and Europcar. More are planned for implementation in Fort William, Wick and Thurso.

As part of a car club scheme, motorists pay only for time spent using the car – tax, insurance, parking, services and repair costs are all covered in the overall rental rate.

Chair of the Highland Council’s Community Services Committee, Cllr. Henderson, said: “Highland Council is committed to creating sustainable transport in the region and car clubs are a good way of reducing vehicle numbers on our roads and therefore emissions. We will watch with interest the uptake of this trial scheme as it progresses.”

Carplus is a not-for-profit organisation helping to fund, support and develop car club schemes across Scotland. According to Susan Jeynes, Scotland Car Club programme manager at Carplus, “car club vehicles play a key role in reducing emissions, with carbon emissions 49% lower than from the average vehicle. They also provide a valuable alternative to car ownership – providing access to a vehicle when you need one without the hassle of ownership.”

The launch in Inverness comes as car club schemes appear to be surging in popularity across the UK.

Research from University College London shows car usage in the capital peaked in 1990 at 50% of all trips taken. Since then, the figure has fallen to 37% and is predicted to fall further as car ownership seems to become less attractive.

Findings by the RAC Foundation showed that the average car in the UK spends 80% of its time parked at home, 16% parked at work, and only 4% being driven. Meanwhile, the London transport authority suggests that costs, stress, car parking and congestion are among the reasons for a marked decline in car ownership.

Carplus’ Susan Jeynes suggests “car clubs … provide people who don’t want to buy a car with a sustainable alternative.”

The UK Government itself has set high targets for driving car club scheme membership. The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), in co-operation with Carplus and Transport For London, are backing a Car Club Coalition initiative to increase total car club membership to over one million by mid-2020. According to research, 50% of Londoners currently live within five minutes of a car club vehicle, further reducing reliance on personal car ownership.

Car-sharing company Zipcar, with its 1,500 vehicles available to rent in the UK, states that motorists can save up to £264 per month in a car club as opposed to owning. Nicholas Cole, president of Zipcar International, has indicated the company’s high ambitions. He says “our goal is a future where car-sharing outnumbers car ownership.”

For those in rural areas – where car club memberships offer less coverage and are less practical – traditional car ownership rates should remain strong, if largely out of necessity. For many drivers, however, owning a car will potentially be presented as one option out of several. Alternatively, car ownership will make up only a small fraction of a person’s daily transport solution in the near future.

Political instability leads to rise in vehicle leasing

Written on February 17, 2017

Vehicle rental and personal leasing is enjoying a surge across wide sections of society. This may be due, it has been revealed, to UK residents’ reluctance to commit to big purchases in the current political climate. This has led to a natural preference for monthly payment options for vehicles, houses and other services.

The findings are based on a survey of the nation’s motorists by Leasing Options, working with the British Leasing and Rental Association (BVRLA). Two-fifths (40%) of respondents stated that the “unstable political climate” is a deterrent to buying a new car or house. Furthermore, over half of those surveyed declared monthly payment arrangements for between four and seven services or products.

A preference for leasing vehicles over buying was justified in one of two common ways. They were either: the ability to frequently experience a new car (40%), or only being able to afford monthly options (36%). Asked why they generally prefer to pay monthly for their services or product subscriptions, 52% of respondents answered “to spread out the cost” and a remarkable 50% said “because it makes life easier.”

This has led to the conclusion that, in the uncertainty following the “Brexit” referendum, many new motorists are attracted to the prospect of fixing vehicle costs. Others are enticed primarily by being able to access up-to-date, safe and low-emission car models more frequently and at less cost than a direct purchase.

Findings in BVRLA’s 2015 Car Rental survey showed that rural areas see the highest rates of car ownership – up to 90%. Meanwhile renters in London, major cities and their suburbs were lowest at 52%.

The discovery points toward behavioural similarities in British and American consumers. Experian Automotive’s 2016 State of Automotive Financing report revealed that United States citizens are leasing more vehicles than ever in attempt to control costs.

Launch of FleetCheck’s automated fleet policy writer

Written on February 15, 2017

Policy Manager, a new software which automates fleet policy writing, is to be launched by FleetCheck during this year’s CV Show 2017. The program has been designed to assist companies of all sizes – SMEs in particular – through the creation of compliant and operationally effective legal frameworks for fleets.

Access to Policy Manager will be supplied as a free-to-use portal for existing users of FleetCheck’s fleet management software.

Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck, said: “This product has been in development for some time because we wanted to ensure that we made it as watertight and easy-to-use as possible. We believe that it is an industry first and meets a genuine need among a large number of fleets.”

The portal will provide fleet companies with an archive of fully editable templates for documents such as driving policies and driver handbooks. These documents can be easily circulated among relevant parties via the program, after being personalised and edited to include fleet-specific information.

The software keeps track of and organises previous versions, as well as noting when drivers accept their paperwork. To ensure policies remain up-to-date and easily accessed, Policy Manager also generates alerts when a document is due for review.

“In today’s culture of heightened legal awareness, many companies are concerned about their degree of compliance and what would happen if they were faced with an investigation following a road accident,” explained Golding.

“Policy Manager is designed to allay these fears by giving companies straightforward tools, processes and guidance that will create a complete fleet health and safety infrastructure.”

Perhaps for this reason, all of Policy Maker’s templates were co-produced with specialised lawyers from the fields of occupational road safety and health & safety compliance. The program also maintains clear records to allow for full auditing of its processes. Additionally, access is provided to expert advice covering more complex functions in the software.

“We are especially pleased to be launching Policy Manager at CV Show 2017,” added Golding.

“There is always a high level of interest among visitors in ensuring fleet compliance and efficiency.”