THE idea of companies moving away from well-established benefits to more integrated transport solutions looks further away than anticipated.
New research from leasing and fleet management firm Arval suggests that the UK is happily wedded to the company car.
Any move to replace the company car with a mobility solution found little favour in Arval’s 2019 Mobility Observatory research, which covers 3,930 fleets with a wide ranging set of questions about fleet and mobility trends.
A question asking if drivers would fully or in part give up their vehicle for a range of alternatives:
7% said they would probably opt instead for car sharing;
9% for ride sharing
8% for a mobility budget
11% for a private lease vehicle; and
7% for mid-term rental.
Size of enterprise affects attitudes to mobility
The Arval study found that a greater acceptance factor of mobility solutions depended on the size of enterprise: 3% of businesses with fewer than 10 employees would opt for car sharing while this grew to 14% with 1,000 or more employees.
Nevertheless, it appears mobility solutions of some form are on their way: car sharing is already being used or considered for use with the next three years by 31% of respondents; ride sharing by 45%; mobility budgets by 21%; private lease by 23%; and medium term rental by 22%.
Why drivers love their company cars
The research also considered reasons why drivers would be unlikely to want to give up their company cars. These were:
ease of motoring (mentioned by 16% of respondents);
not having to finance their own vehicle (14%);
no risk of ownership (10%); and
delivery of a new car every 3-4 years (8%).
Shaun Sadlier, head of Arval Mobility Observatory in the UK, said:
“There is a lot of discussion in corporate circles about mobility solutions at the moment and our research shows that interest is high. As a provider, we believe that there is considerable potential for these products.
“What is clear above all, though, is that the company car looks set to remain the core transport method for the foreseeable future. While decision makers and employees in organisations are interested in mobility solutions, it appears that the vast majority see them as supplementing or being a partial alternative to the traditional fleet.
“The reasons for this are simple, we believe. Some of them are revealed in our research by showing how much employees value having a company car and the benefits it brings. The other is that, when a typical multi-stop journey is undertaken, a car is literally the only practical option.”
The findings from Arval certainly chime with a report from leasing and mobility company Alphabet.
Its recent survey found that 73% of British workers considered their vehicle essential for getting to work.
The main reasons were convenience and lack of alternative means of transport, especially in more rural areas.
Simon Carr, chief commercial officer for Alphabet, commented:
“Our research shows that stories around the demise of the car as the primary mode of travel for British people have been greatly exaggerated. The reality is that the car is more important than ever for all generations of families, commuters and employees. Clearly the way our vehicles are powered and how they fit into our lives is changing, but while the UK’s relationship with the car is evolving it remains more important than ever in connecting people, communities and businesses.”
Latest HMRC BIK figures support importance of company car
HMRC issued its latest benefit in kind figures last week. After health insurance, the company car remains the key benefit, worth £4.57m in taxable value, with drivers paying an average tax liability of £1650.
The level of company car take up has remained relatively stable, too. In 2012/13 there were 940,000 company car drivers; in 2016/17 it was the same figure. In between there have been fluctuations but the company car parc has remained stable around this level.
Nevertheless, HMRC projects a drop in 2017/18 to 890,000 company car drivers but puts this down almost entirely to changes in the collection of its statistics thanks to the introduction of voluntary payrolling. It said:
“Initial HMRC analysis suggests that this accounts for a significant proportion of the decline in reported numbers.“
Despite this, there were some sectors of the fleet media press which conveniently ignored this caveat and started talking about company car decline.
But HMRC is quite clear that its methodology is suspect: “The introduction of voluntary payrolling since April 2016 means that an increasing number of employers are opting not to return P11Ds at the end of the tax year. Since P11D returns are the basis of these statistical tables this has implications for the completeness of HMRC’s statistics.”
HMRC goes on to say it will consider how best to adapt its statistics to address the growing proportion of payrolled benefits in kind.
Martin Brown, managing director of leasing and fleet management company, the Fleet Alliance Group, has been highly critical of suggestions that the company car is heading for life support status. He said:
“When you see headlines about the dramatic decline in numbers, just give yourself a reality check. Am I really seeing it? Does it support a different agenda? Or is it a narrative that suits a fairly simple 2+2 = 5 form of reasoning?
“For our part, we see no decline in our fleet numbers. In fact, we’re seeing the opposite. The number of cars Fleet Alliance now manages is 37,000 – that’s a fleet now worth £1bn. We believe the company car remains a critical benefit if kind, and will remain so, even while businesses consider mobility options as part of their fleet management considerations.”
The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA) does pinpoint the degree of uncertainty surrounding the company car as having a critical de-stablising effect on the sector.
It says that persistent tax rises, uncertainty over future taxation rates and confusion around the tax implications of WLTP were all factors hindering the uptake of company cars.
BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said:
“We hear the government committing to its zero emission road transport ambitions, but we fail to see them aligning their fiscal policy to help support it. By getting the company car tax system right, the government can achieve some quick wins.”
There can be little doubt that the BVRLA has that one spot on: fleets are delaying driver decisions on new cars until there is a clearer indication of the tax implications on choice of car.
Once indecision and uncertainty take hold, then credibility and belief start to crumble.
Nevertheless, company cars remain central to enterprise policies, even while more flexible mobility pathways are being explored.
Arval’s Sadlier added:
“A mixed provision model is one that we have been saying for some time is the most likely to develop in the majority of businesses, where a range of mobility solutions are used alongside company cars with employees using the most appropriate form of transport for each journey.
“Our belief is that, over the next few years, as more fleet managers become mobility managers, one of the most interesting developments will be the process that businesses undergo in learning how to use mobility options in the most effective manner.”