Safer driving in the dark
By Caroline Holmes, IAM
DRIVING in the dark is a very different experience to driving in the day. Speed is more difficult to judge, distances of other vehicles can be hard to calculate when faced with a wall of headlights, and you are likely to be more tired than usual.
But there are advantages, particularly for business car drivers as the roads are quieter so you can make progress more swiftly. Here are a few points to help make your drive as safe and enjoyable as possible.
Turn on your headlights before sunset and keep them on for an hour after sunrise so that it’s easier for other drivers to see you in twilight. Equally important is making sure all your exterior lights are clean and working properly.
You should also make sure all your windows are clean, inside and out. Dirty windows will increase glare from other vehicles and are more prone to steaming up. Clean, properly positioned mirrors will reduce dazzle as well as blind spots.
Turn off the interior lights and dim the dashboard as well, if you can. This will cut down on interior reflections.
Read the road ahead and look out for clues that might not be available to you usually. While visibility is reduced, glimmers of light at the top of hills and at bends could be the headlights of other vehicles, giving you prior warning.
And, as always, be able to stop your vehicle within the distance you can see to be clear – at night this will probably only be as far as your headlights reach, unless there are street lights.
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Join William Hague in the pool car club
By Ralph Morton, editor
William Hague – minister without governmental car.
The Foreign Secretary has been cut adrift from his own ministerial car thanks to budget cuts by the Government Car Service fleet: the fleet of cars has been reduced from 78 vehicles to just 13 in an effort to cut costs for the benefit of us taxpayers.
So, from now on, William Hague will have to use public transport; or a pool car.
Now we all know what public transport is – but a pool car?
If you’re a business car manager of an SME’s small fleet of cars, a pool car can be used to provide ‘on demand’ transport for those staff who don’t have company cars.
They are very useful and provide welcome mobility. Essentially a pool car is an unallocated company car.
Having a pool car also means you don’t need to ask a staffer to use their own car on business – and check that they have the appropriatebusiness car insurance, the car is properly roadworthy, and so on.
Save money while you drive
By Caroline Holmes, IAM
SAVING money while you drive – it’s something all business car and business van drivers should think about, whether the saving is for your SME business or your own pocket.
The main principle of advanced driving – looking ahead to avoid having to stop so often – is also the key to green driving.
Keep your vehicle moving as long as you can, even in traffic queues. Driving at a constant speed is far more fuel efficient than accelerating and braking. It is also safer because stopping increases the risk of being hit from behind.
It will take most cars at least a couple of miles to warm up and run efficiently. Could you walk or cycle and get to your destination while enjoying some exercise? Or is public transport an option?
If not, think about linking short trips together to avoid starting several journeys with a cold engine. Reverse into parking bays: if you do all the manoeuvring with a hot engine you can drive straight off when you come back. This warms the engine up quickly.
Checking your vehicle regularly makes driving more efficient. In particular check the pressure of your tyres weekly, when they’re cold. Wrongly inflated tyres have a big impact on fuel economy and they are also more vulnerable to damage. Check if your car has an eco-setting for its tyres.
Lose weight Put your car on a diet. Remove unnecessary weight, including roof racks, car clutter and heavy items in the boot. The heavier you are, the more fuel you’ll burn. Removing clutter from the car also reduces the risk of something rolling forward and sticking under a pedal.
Mazda takes aim at SME fleets
WITH new cars backed up by new low emission SKYACTIV technology, Mazda is positioning itself to be a significant business car brand choice for small businesses and SME fleets. Business Car Manager industry correspondent, John Griffiths, files this special report.
MAZDA was once memorably described as a “pilchard” by former Mazda Motors Europe chief James Muir in seeking to illustrate the modest-sized car maker’s vulnerable place in the automotive ocean’s food chain.
Now, with a flood of new technology and effectively completely renewed model ranges due to start rolling in from next year, Mazda is becoming increasingly bent on turning predator; its eyes fixed on what it hopes are the soft underbellies of larger rivals circling above.
And if all goes as planned, one of the earliest impacts will be felt in the UK business car market.
UK managing director Jeremy Thomson and fleet chief Steve Jelliss are launching a new strategic push to bite off a substantially larger chunk of fleet business than Mazda has either sought or achieved hitherto.
The main targets are the plethora of small and medium-sized companies operating fleets of 20 vehicles or more and Thomson and Jelliss currently are overseeing the recruitment of an additional core of fleet specialists to undertake the project. “It’s an area with good growth potential and in which we are keen on dealers investing,” Thomson explains.
The logic behind the push is persuasive. The UK retail car market remains flat, and with the Eurozone and other global economic ills far from resolution, many industry observers do not expect significant retail car market recovery any time soon. With only 34 per cent of its total UK sales non-retail, Thomson and Jelliss have good reason to seek to tap deeper into the so-far more resilient fleet and business car sector.
The challenge of maintaining Mazda residual values
Do you have to pay a 3% company car tax supplement on a hybrid diesel?
WE’VE had the petrol-electric hybrid car for a while – think Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid – but with Peugeot’s new 3008, we now have a hybrid diesel. And we can expect more cars like this in the future. So if it’s a diesel, should you pay the 3% company car tax supplement? Jeff Whitcombe, a tax specialist at BCF Wessex, thinks not. Here’s why.
FOR a while I have thought that the 3% supplement applied when calculating the appropriate percentage of a diesel powered company car should not be applied to a diesel hybrid. However, having read some articles that suggest otherwise, I contacted HMRC’s Employer Helpline for guidance.
According to HMRC the 3% supplement must be applied to all diesel cars, subject to the overall cap of 35%. Is HMRC’s interpretation correct? Read on and see what you think.
The appropriate percentage for a car with CO2 emissions is derived per Section 139 Income Tax (Earnings & Pensions) Act (“ITEPA”) 2003, but this is subject to the provisions of:
Section 141 ITEPA – diesel cars; and
any regulations set down by the Treasury under Section 170 (4) ITEPA – power to reduce the appropriate percentage.
Per Section 141 ITEPA diesel cars are subject to the 3% supplement, but, here’s the interesting bit, this section only applies to a car which is propelled solely by diesel (my emphasis), as clearly stated at Section 141 (5) ITEPA.
What we’ve changed on the new Honda Civic
HONDA’S Mitsuru Kariya led the team on the development of the new Honda Civic. In this special report, he highlights the key points of the new Honda Civic.Mitsuru Kariya, large project leader at Honda, explains the thinking behind the new Honda Civic.
THE current Civic was known for its unique exterior styling and interior practicality within the hatchback class in Europe, but we were keen to further understand the needs and desires of our customers. The current Civic became the benchmark focus for their research to create a car that was even better.
With the current increase of fuel prices across Europe and the environmental targets set to achieve low emissions, especially for company car tax, we concluded from our customer survey that the current Civic customer not only considered modern styling and performance to be important but also advanced technologies to create a Civic that was even more cost efficient to run and eco-friendly.
The development period for the new Civic spanned more than four years. Nearly all of the components are new to the Civic or have been further developed with areas of focus on the suspension set-up to improve the ride and handling, the interior materials to improve the overall interior quality, the new design styling and aerodynamics for a refreshed image and improved efficiency, and the engines for improved performance and reduced CO₂ emissions. The car had to be safe and easy to handle, affordable and so on as well as premium in terms of having a good balance of affordable performance.
Overall the new Civic builds on the core strengths of its predecessor and takes them to an appreciably higher level. It also is one of the sector’s best in performance against low CO₂ emissions – the diesel model produces just 110g/km with 150PS and 350Nm of torque. This means business car drivers can appreciate the Civic without paying excessive benefit-in-kind company car tax.
What’s new – main changes at a glance
New functional cockpit layout (two control interface zones)
Full-colour i-MID TFT screen incorporating an Eco driving support function, audio display and user support
Premium sound system with superior 20cm 90W subwoofers and 25mm AL dome tweeters (optional)
New touch point surface materials used throughout for an improved quality feel
New designed steering wheel with easy operating controls finished in extra-smooth leather
Blue interior door lining illumination (depending on grade)
Managing business car lead times effectively
MANAGING business car lead times is going to become more complex as car makers flex production capacity depending on economic demand – as editor Ralph Morton explains in this special report.I WAS browsing through a quarterly update from PwC Autofacts just to keep abreast of what was happening to the auto world on a global scale when I stumbled across this passage headed ‘reduced build schedules’.
The alarm bells started ringing. Lead times again.
PwC went on: “Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has caused vehicle manufacturers to reduce build schedules and mandate plant downtime in Q4 2011 to decrease the risk of entering a possible downturn with high stock levels. One European automaker has detailed that the company entered the 2008 downturn with approximately 75 days’ inventory, but presently has 66 days’ supply and will continue to actively monitor the market.”
However, whether you are a sole trader, a director of your own micro business, or a business car manager of a larger SME fleet of company cars, it’s worth taking note – don’t expect to jump into a new car the moment you order it.
This is especially the case if you are coming towards the end of your contract hire agreement. It’s worth a bit of planning, whether with your business sales manager at your local dealer if the car is on a dealer finance lease or you purchase your cars, or with the business car adviser at your leasing provider.
Different lead times for different brands
Understanding lead times is important. Depending on the brand and the model can make a big difference to supply. Even on some standard models where demand is high or production capacity limited lead times can stretch to six months.
That means you could be into extending the contract hire lease over the agreed time – which might involve additional premiums. Or possibly hiring a vehicle for the interim period. For firms that buy their business cars, it might mean a lower second hand value thanks to the extended period the car is required to run.
Fleet sector sees contract hire uplift
WHAT trends are happening in the world of larger fleets? And what can SME businesses learn from them? Brian Rogerson looks at Peter Cooke’s analysis of the most recent FleetEye report on corporate fleet activity.THE following is a report on Peter Cooke’s recent analysis, writes Brian Rogerson, and while it tends to reflect the ambitions of larger corporate, there is plenty here that is of interest for smaller-sized SME businesses.
The recent Fleeteye Quarterly Survey of UK fleet operators indicated overall a net growth in fleet size. A positive message: respondents are anticipating a growth in demand for company cars (35%) which is more than twice the number of organisations expecting a decline in demand (15%). The same ratios apply to LCV demand, by the way.
Perhaps more important than the anticipated change in demand is the data relating to “fleet size changes in past six months” where a net growth in fleet size has been recorded.
Interestingly, the expected changes outrun the historic growth figures by a significant factor; the critical issue is, however, just how many units will be involved in future fleet growth? The pattern, at least as shown in responses, is currently stronger than it has been since mid-2009 for both cars and LCVs.
What about car choice?
Some 60% of fleets limit choice of car manufacturer with 11% limiting choice to a single manufacturer and less than 30% offering free choice.
Looking back at historic trends, this suggests fleet operators are offering less choice than in the past. Given the personal tax implications there may be some complex human resource issues raised at times.
When it comes to choosing a car, the two most important criteria are CO2 emission limits and fitness for purpose. Both of these criteria have jumped significantly since the previous quarterly survey.
The business benefits of winter tyres
YOU wouldn’t send your child out in the rain without a coat on or a rugby player onto a muddy field without studded boots, so why would you send your drivers out in winter conditions wearing tyres that are designed for a warm summer’s day?
For many small businesses the bottom line is cost but, with the next big freeze expected as early as October this year, how much might the business downtime and potential accidents cost you?
With a majority of business vehicles easily getting through two sets of tyres in their lifetime, there is little reason for one of those sets not to be a dedicated cold weather set to use over the winter tyre period from October to March. If you plan in advance and get your order in before the big rush, there’s little reason that the tyres should cost you much more than the normal summer models you might purchase.
It’s a common misconception that winter tyres are all about snow. But this is just 15% of the benefit according to Continental, Europe’s leading supplier of winter tyres, who claim their winter tyres will reduce stopping distance from 30mph by up to 8 metres on a snowy road.
The biggest proportion of the benefit of winter tyres (45%) actually comes simply from the frequent British wet weather where the superior compound and tread patterns can take 4.8m off stopping distances in the rain.
The final advantage, representing 40% of the return on investment for winter tyres, simply comes in dry weather on a cold day – with stopping distances reduced by around 11m on icy roads from 20mph. Every time ambient temperatures falls below 7°C, you’re simply safer on a winter tyre.
The winter of 2009-10 was the coldest in over a decade with the heaviest snowfall in eighteen years. Mid-way through the season, on-line grocery retailer Ocado decided to makes the switch – becoming the only UK company to fit winter tyres to its entire delivery fleet.
Co-founder Tim Steiner said: “We wanted to be proactive, rather than waiting for the roads to be gritted or the sun to come out! By fitting winter tyres to our delivery vans, we hope to be able to go places and do things others cannot.”
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Are company cars becoming more popular with businesses?
DOES the company car have a place in your SME business? There’s a growing trend suggesting it should have. Editor Ralph Morton files this special report on the increasing appeal of company cars.SHOULD you provide any of your staff – directors included – with a company car? Good question. Why? What’s the need?
According to some research I came across from B2 Group, only 40% of those SMEs they surveyed provided company cars (SME Voice business to business tracking study).
Low maintenance costs, fuel economy and minimising company car tax through low CO2 emissions were the driving factors behind the company car choices those SMEs made.
But I wonder if sentiment has changed since then, especially now Britain has emerged from the recession which was still hanging over those respondents at the time to make a company car more favoured?
Leasing companies and fleet buyers have led the car market in 2011 while retail sales have wilted, many businesses having extended their older cars to the point where the balance between running costs over new business car expenditure has now tipped in favour towards the latter.
Having battened down the hatches, squeezed costs to keep cash flow going during the recession, many of UK’s small and medium sized enterprises have embarked on a replacement programme as part of a strategy to increase or simply maintain sales, albeit in a still difficult market. Partners such as Fleet Alliance – whose commentary you can read below – have consistently seen an upward trend in the number of cars they’ve put on contract hire agreements since January 2011.
There’s more evidence, though, that the company car is a key part of the business landscape.