How good is your relationship with your contract hire company?

temp coverThe relationship between contract hire companies and their customers varies enormously. In fact someone should write a book about this topic one day. At the one extreme you have fleet managers who say “we’ve been doing business with them for years, they give us the service we need and we never give the relationship a minute’s thought”. At the other extreme you have the fleet managers who say ” they charge us a fortune, hefty unexpected  invoices arrive for all sorts of things we hadn’t budgeted for and we are wary of them”.

Most client/supplier relationships lay somewhere between these two extremes of course, but if you are a fleet manager and you recognise some elements of your own situation in the second situation described above – “we are wary of them” – this article is for you.

The core proposition of every contract hire company is that they will deliver a vehicle, let you run it for some years, renew the road tax annually, pay for tyres and service, maintenance and repair (“SMR”) costs and collect the vehicle at the end of the contract.

Delivering this ever-so-simple product (one supplier used to advertise “We look after everything – all you have to do is put in fuel and drive it”) is anything but simple for the contract hire company. You may see very little activity from them – it may seem that they just they deliver you cars, send in a monthly invoice and pay the bills. However, rather like a swan, whilst it all looks serene up top they are padding away furiously just below the surface.

They have to manage a cat’s cradle of relationships with manufacturers, dealers, roadside assistance companies, banks, data providers, technology companies, remarketing companies, daily hire companies, accident management companies, fuel card companies, the DVLA and others, to ensure that you get the service you need.

Where tension exists between leasing companies and their clients, as often as not it’s because the leasing company hasn’t explained adequately why it does some of the things it does.

It can be annoying when they ask you for financial information about your company. “Why do they need that? They can always repossess the cars if we don’t pay.” Well yes, they can, but they don’t want to and their pricing certainly doesn’t allow for that sort of cost.

It can be frustrating when one of your employees leaves, you ask how much it would cost to terminate their car lease and you’re told it will be thousands of pounds.

And – perhaps top of all fleet managers’ lists of gripes – it can be perplexing when a bill arrives for vehicle damage you didn’t know about and the driver insists the damage wasn’t really that bad at all.

Let’s look at the detail behind those last two items – early termination charges and end-of-life damage charges – because they probably generate more heat between leasing companies and their clients than anything else.

First, early termination.

There is one key difference between leasing companies and daily hire companies. When you order a hire car for a few days or weeks you probably aren’t that bothered what make or model of car turns up. So long as the car is in the right hire group – small, mid-size, estate, 4×4 etc – you’ll probably be happy.

However when you order the company car you’ll  be driving for the next three or four years you will be very fussy indeed about which car arrives, and so is every other company car driver. So the leasing company will have gone out and ordered that car specifically for you and by and large they will be unable to redeploy it once you hand it back. They’ll have to sell it, which causes a problem because the price they receive will depend on the age and mileage of the car when you hand it back, and the state of the used car market at that date.

You might decide that you want to know at the outset how much it would cost you to early terminate the car. Alternatively, you might prefer that they just sell the car and charge you the amount necessary to clear their books. Almost all leasing companies will allow you this choice, and will build it into your agreement. Incidentally, that’s something you really must do if you want to avoid shocks later: build the early termination method into your lease agreement.

If you want complete certainty as to the amount you will have to pay to terminate your lease early, your leasing company will probably offer you one of four methods: percentage of future rentals, a fixed number of rentals, the rule of 78 or the annuity method.

Percentage of future rentals [or the fixed number of future] are self-explanatory. “If you terminate in the first 12 months we will charge you X% of all future rentals [or 12 rentals], if you terminate in the second 12 months we will charge you Y% of all future rentals [or 6 rentals], etc.

We have covered the rule of 78 and annuity methods in these articles in the past so won’t go into detail here now. Suffice to say that these are ways to determine the balance outstanding on a financing agreement at any point in the life of the contract. If you know how a repayment mortgage works you’ll be familiar with this approach: each month’s payment is allocated mainly to pay off interest in the early part of the contract and mainly pay off capital later on. (If you would like us to explain this in more detail in next month’s article, please let us know).

The alternative approach is the actual cost method, whereby the lessor will charge you the balance outstanding in their books less the net price they receive on selling the car.

Any of these approaches might be more or less expensive than the other, for a particular car on a particular day. You just need to choose which method you prefer and this should help avoid any shocks. If you don’t like uncertainty, go for the actual cost method.

The other tricky area in relationships between customers and suppliers is end-of-life damage charges. Most UK contract hire companies belong to the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association and they have to comply with the BVRLA’s excellent Fair Wear and Tear Guide which defines the line between fair wear and unfair damage. If you haven’t seen the Fair Wear and Tear Guide, ask your leasing company for copies and make sure your drivers are familiar with the contents.

The best way to ensure your leasing company doesn’t charge for damage is to make sure the car is in an acceptable condition at the end of the lease. This means ensuring that your drivers keep their cars in reasonable condition, report damage as soon as it occurs and get it repaired. Make sure the work is done professionally, otherwise the leasing company may still charge for the damage.

Most leasing companies don’t send damaged end-of-contract cars for repair. They sell them at auction to dealers who can get cars repaired for roughly the same price as the leasing company would pay. The leasing company will charge you for the reduction in the value of the car but in truth this figure is very hard to calculate. The actual price a car fetches at auction on a particular day can be affected by all sorts of things, not just its condition, so they will do their best to calculate the diminution in value of the car. This calculation is part art and part science.

If you think a charge is particularly high, challenge it. Every leasing company will be prefer to explain something rather than leaving you dissatisfied.

Most leasing agreements say that the supplier won’t charge you for unfair wear or tear if the value is less than a fixed amount, often £100 or £150.

And if you really don’t want to eliminate the issue of damage charges, have every vehicle professionally inspected shortly before the end of the lease so that any necessary remedial work can be done before the lease ends.

Professor Colin Tourick

Grant Thornton Professor, University of Buckingham Business School

Colin Tourick’s article on mobility management

Fleet management – what’s next?

As a fleet manager you have some clear priorities. You need to: keep your staff mobile so they can do their jobs effectively; ensure that the cars and vans they choose are appropriate for the jobs they need to do; keep costs to a minimum; handle a lot of admin (parking fines, driver licence checking, etc); manage relationships with suppliers (which might include a leasing company, broker, dealers, manufacturers, insurance broker, etc); keep abreast of a wide range of regulatory issues (health and safety, tax, lease accounting, etc); keep drivers happy and strike the right balance between the needs of all your stakeholders including your company’s employees, shareholders, management, HR director and FD.

You probably outsource some of this work to expert third parties but being a fleet manager is still hard work.

The purpose of this article is to highlight a change that is beginning to happen and which could make your stakeholders happy. Though I’m not sure it’s going to make your life any easier.

Historically, a fleet manager would either buy or lease company vehicles and would probably outsource the maintenance and administration to a leasing or a fleet management company. A whole industry – the fleet industry – has grown up to help fleet managers in their role. Manufacturers, dealers, quick fit companies, roadside assistance companies and other suppliers are attuned to your needs and will do all they can to make your life easier.

If you lease your cars it is quite likely that your leasing company gives you access to online tools to help you do your job more effectively: obtaining quotes, downloading P11D information, keeping tabs on who is driving which vehicle, seeing which cars will need defleeting soon, and so on. These tools and services have been refined over decades and in general are very good.

However they were designed to answer one basic question that every fleet manager asked; “What’s the best way to fund and manage our company vehicles?”

Now there’s a new question that fleet managers are asking; “What’s the best way to meet our company’s mobility needs?”

Mobility – it’s a word that keeps on popping up in fleet circles nowadays and if you haven’t considered it now may be a good time to start.

Your employees need to use their company or private (grey fleet) cars for business journeys but you need them to think before they jump behind the wheel every time they go from A to B. Is this journey actually necessary? Is videoconferencing a viable option? Would it be realistic to go by public transport? Could they share a car or use a pool car? Or if they don’t have a company car and are thinking of renting a car, could they use another employee’s company car instead?  Would a car club car be a viable option?

It would be great if they could think through these options and then make the conscious decision to use their company car or personal car if – and only if – that was indeed the best option.

What do we mean by the ‘best’ option?

The best option is probably the one that offers the best trade-off between cost, emissions, journey time and hassle value. And the calculation of this trade-off will probably differ wildly between different businesses.

There’s no point an employee saving £5 off the cost of a journey if the decision-making process is so complex that they end up spending more than this in time-cost whilst making the decision.

And there’d no point saving a few g/km of CO2 by using a lower-emission car if the overall journey is going to take an extra hour (and risk leaving the driver stranded at a train station for another hour if they miss their connection). Though of course it may well be that a rail journey will be a more effective option than a car journey even if it does take much longer, because the employee can work on the train but cannot do so when driving a car.

For some companies (especially those in heavy industries where emissions are the subject of great scrutiny), CO2- or NOx-reduction might be very highly weighted in this trade-off calculation, whereas in other industries cost-reduction might be more important.

So there are all of these trade-offs that need to be considered in designing a system – a mobility system – to optimise cost, emissions, time etc.

Unfortunately there is at present no system out there that can help fleet managers automate this decision process and then organise the journeys. It would be great if a driver could go onto their company’s intranet, key in the details of the journey they want to take and be told the optimum way to travel. It would be even better if the system then gave the driver the option to click a button that would automatically book the railway ticket, reserve the pool car, book the car share or do whatever else was then necessary to make the journey happen, whilst simultaneously registering the cost-savings and CO2-reduction that had just been achieved. And whilst taking into account the company’s travel rules, which would include decisions on how to deal with the trade-offs referred to above.

Whilst there is no such comprehensive system available today, partial systems do exist and a lot of companies are working on comprehensive solutions.

A truly comprehensive solution would need to hold a list of employees (including their home and office addresses), details of the business and personal cars that are currently available to be driven on business journeys (including cost per mile and CO2), the current location of those cars (derived from telematics units), live links to external suppliers (eg daily hire company, car club, rail company etc) and links to live traffic and transport timetables (such as on Google Maps).

If you like the idea of such a system, have a chat with your leasing, car rental or fleet software company and ask how they can help you move forward in this new era of mobility management.

Professor Colin Tourick

Grant Thornton Professor of Automotive Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Asset Finance International webinar series

Asset Finance International, the website for leasing experts around the world, has launched an ‘online conference’ for its 28,000 registered members, which Colin Tourick is chairing.

Experts on equipment finance, motor finance and fleet leasing from all major leasing regions across the world, are being asked to prepare and deliver presentations covering:

  1. An overview of their market in 2011
  2. Some positive developments in 2011
  3. Some negative developments in 2011
  4. Some reasons for lessors in their region/sector to be optimistic in 2012.
  5. The main challenges they will face in 2012

The first presentation has been recorded with Rafael Castillo-Triana of The Alta Group and you can download it here.

The series is sponsored by White Clarke Group.

 

 

What a year!

2011 proved quite eventful for us.

The highlights were that we:

  • Had 3 new books published
  • Worked on the development of a new pan-Asian leasing company
  • Worked on interesting projects in France and the Netherlands
  • Helped to run 4 Buckingham Forums
  • Worked on 9 small advisory projects, mainly for investors looking to buy into the UK fleet market
  • Helped 3 major groups go out to tender for their global fleet requirements
  • Developed our new price optimisation software
  • Ran training and coaching sessions in 7 of the largest organisations in the UK
  • Gave 11 public talks, mainly on fleet- and pricing- related topics
  • Had a monthly column published in Fleet Week on the Mathematics of Leasing
  • Had 12 other articles published
  • Had 20,000 visitors to our website
  • Sold nearly 3,000 books
  • Colin was appointed  non-exec director of Carbon Heroes

Our plans for 2012 include:

  • Building on the success of the Buckingham Forums
  • Running fleet conferences in Australia and the Far East
  • Implementing pricing software and solutions in a number of finance and leasing companies
  • Publication of two new leasing books

Happy New Year!