The way we were
28 August 2018
Author: Sean Keywood
As BusinessCar celebrates its 300th issue, Sean Keywood looks back at how it all began.
300 - it's a respectable batting total for a cricket team, a perfect game in ten-pin bowling, and a vaguely historical action film in which Gerard Butler shouts a lot in his pants. But it's also a significant milestone for a magazine, and it's one BusinessCar has now reached, since our most recent print issue was our 300th. To celebrate, we've decided to go back to our very first issue, published on 13 September 2006, and pick out some of the highlights - finding out how things were looking for the fleet industry back then, and how they might have changed since.
Qashqai - we called it
One area where BusinessCar definitely hit the ground running was in one of the first issue's major news stories. Headlined 'Nissan's new fleet hope', we reported that the then-new Nissan Qashqai - which we felt the need to explain is pronounced 'cash-kai' - would be a key component in Nissan's offering to fleets. We explained that while it offered SUV-style looks, it was in fact a rival for family hatchbacks like the Ford Focus.
Of course, the Qashqai went on to not only be a huge hit for Nissan, but to effectively start the trend for crossover SUVs that has since swamped the marketplace. Now barely a week goes by without a new SUV being launched, and they are a ubiquitous sight in company car parks. The Qashqai started it all - and we made sure our first readers were in the know.
MPVs all the rage
Just how much the Qashqai and its rivals shifted the market can be seen elsewhere in our first issue, when we reported the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)'s new car sales figures for August 2016. At that time, the biggest growth in the new car market was in MPVs, with a 29% growth in mini-MPV sales putting them almost level with superminis. There were also two MPVs in the top ten bestsellers list - the Vauxhall Zafira and VW Touran. These days, MPVs are very much a niche concern, having been usurped by SUVs, which rival them for practicality while thrashing them in the style stakes.
There were also still strong sales in August 2006 for that most traditional of company cars, the mainstream large family saloon, with the VW Passat, Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra all inside the top ten. Again, that would be a surprise these days, when drivers have largely switched to SUVs, and also to premium rivals such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Aware of how fleets could be affected by the wider economy, we reported that the Bank of England was expected to raise the base rate of interest from 4.75 to 5% later in 2006. There were fears that a booming housing market could subsequently drive it higher still, which business leaders felt would be unacceptable.
On this front, we had no more idea than anyone else of the fiscal events that were around the corner. Around a year after our first issue was published, the global economy began to crash and, even after the recession ended, a far lower interest rate became the norm. So much so, headlines were made recently when the bank voted to raise the rate, not to 5%, but to just 0.75% - the highest level since 2009. And some felt even that was premature.
From Brown to bin Laden
Our first issue also featured a Power List of the 50 people with the most influence on the fleet industry. We explained that this meant not just those employed in the industry itself, but those who could influence the conditions in which it operated. So topping the list was then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion was then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in at number 42 for having the potential to disrupt oil prices and business confidence.
Number two on the list was then-Lex managing director Jon Walden, one place ahead of Autolease managing director Nigel Stead - three years before the two operations merged into Lex Autolease, with Stead taking the top job.
On the road
Then as now, BusinessCar made sure it reviewed all the key new cars. In our launch issue, these were headed by the Jeep Wrangler off-roader, the Kia Carens MPV and the Lexus LS460 luxury saloon. We praised the latter for then-advanced technology such as sensors to detect approaching accidents - common on even cheap superminis today. On the downside, there was only one engine option - a 375hp, 4.6-litre petrol V8. Hardly a prudent fleet choice even then, we dread to think what the costs would be these days with increased CO2-based tax rates and fuel around 40p a litre more expensive.