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Mark Sinclair's blog: 7 October 2010 - Upsize down

Date: 07 October 2010

Mark Sinclair is boss of leasing firm Alphabet

It's always interesting to watch as a trend approaches an inflection point.

Take car schemes. Despite much talk about CO2 caps and Whole Life Costs, you only have to look around to see that a great many fleets are still organised into traditional hierarchies based on price or model segment (i.e. car size).

But these days I increasingly find myself talking to businesses about implementing very different policies - ones tuned to deliver results in a slower growth, higher cost, carbon tax-influenced economy.

Some of the schemes we're currently delivering are entirely structured around benchmark cars selected for their CO2 emissions and Whole Life Costs. But it doesn't stop there. We are also taking integrated fuel and mileage management information to new levels, enabling our customers to take control of all the costs that are ultimately driven by the total carbon emissions from their vehicles.

The inflection point we seem to be arriving at is where this 'holistic cost' approach begins to supplant traditional policy models in an increasing number of organisations.

The holistic approach treats all cars (including reward cars) as assets rather than a cost or overhead. Cars provide your business with mobility, loyalty and motivation and project its image. At the same time, it takes a lot of CO2 to keep them moving. So the less CO2 you buy (at around £450 per tonne at today's fuel prices) for a given amount of work, the more productive your fleet is.

Going forward, more businesses will re-engineer their fleet policies from the ground up to deliver increasing productivity.

Paradoxically, the thing that set me thinking about all this was a news story about, of all things, the average width of cars. Irrespective of the miracles of fuel efficiency going on under their bonnets, cars are decidedly upwardly-mobile when it comes to their girth.

The new Mondeo, for example, is shouldering its way on to choice lists at a whole 12 inches wider than its distant ancestor, the Cortina Mark 1. Yes inches, not centimetres. Back in the Cortina's day, you would've had to be a city mayor or the chairman of something pretty impressive to get a car as big as the new Ford. Now, it's the everyman of choice lists.

While my green side can't help but feel that it is somewhat wasteful to keep diverting a slice of cars' increased efficiency into simply making them bigger (the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate, but that's for another day), the great thing about this trend is that it resolves a conflict at the root of the holistic cost approach.

Getting drivers to buy into new fleet structures is never easy. And for the next few years, driver management in many companies will be about discouraging unproductive and inefficient decisions - whether over car choice or which journeys to make.

But if the cars on offer look more impressive as well as being more efficient . well there's every chance that everyone will be able to have their cake and eat it too.

Businesses will be able to downsize their costs and emissions while drivers will still get to upsize their cars regularly. The average new car is already 50mm wider than the average model was in 2005. Today's VW Polo is two inches wider than the original Golf. The latest Focus is almost as wide as the early Mondeo, and so on.

Size shouldn't matter this much although, of course, it does. But if a motto of 'never mind the fuel economy, feel the width' helps get drivers on the road to steadily falling emissions, perhaps we shouldn't complain.

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