Mark Sinclair's blog: 19 April 2011 - And it's auf wiedersehen
19 April 2011
Mark Sinclair is boss of leasing firm Alphabet
Three years, two months and 62 blogs ago, I made my first appearance here among BusinessCar's illustrious roll of regular bloggers.
I could hardly have picked a more fascinating time to be a commentator on the fleet scene. The wheels were already coming off a massive credit boom and it wasn't long before the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Financial Meltdown.
Credit dried up. Demand for large, expensive ex-fleet cars disappeared and Gordon Brown famously saved 'the world' (he meant to say 'the banks' of course) before he disappeared too.
Other notable disappearances included the majority of over-160gk/m fleet car sales (thanks to the corporation tax reform in 2009) and what now looks like reasonably cheap fuel.
From some angles, the fleet industry still looks superficially like its old, pre-credit crunch self. But look below the surface and it's clear that key areas of the landscape have altered significantly.
Prior to the financial collapse, low-cost credit, stable fuel prices and cars' steadily improving efficiency did a lot of the work of keeping fleet costs in check. But in today's stagflationary economy, every penny has to count: hence the far greater focus on issues like mileage and incentivising drivers to choose much lower CO2 cars.
I still detect a commonly-held assumption that 'things will get back to normal' eventually but then I look at sectors like engineering construction. There, companies are introducing mileage limits and launching five-year plans to cut fuel consumption dramatically. Do they see something that other fleets don't?
Perhaps the biggest changes are taking place on the supply side, especially among leasing and fleet management companies.
Some of the biggest players in the UK market have had to take a step back while their parent banks repair the damage their balance sheets suffered two years ago. While some other lease companies are trying to adapt to the new era of scarcer, more expensive money.
But for companies like Alphabet, with access to independent funding and a business model tailored to cope with fast-changing conditions, the new landscape is one of opportunity for ourselves and our customers.
Although hardly anyone predicted the scale and severity of the financial implosion, we were positioned for the downturn when it came. We're fortunate to have many wonderful customers, who stuck by us in the immediate aftermath. Since then Alphabet has recorded its fastest-ever growth in orders and profits.
BusinessCar's blogs are not here for the bloggers to blow our own companies' trumpets, of course. But since this is my last appearance on these pages, I hope that Mr Barker will indulge me.
I'm leaving my blogger's chair and the UK for a new role in Europe, where I will be co-ordinating Alphabet's international business development plans - i.e. developing those big opportunities to shape the fleet landscape that I mentioned earlier. It's an exciting move but I will miss being a BC blogger.
It's been a pleasure and privilege to write here. My thanks to Paul, his predecessor Tristan and to all those who read these pages. This slot will be taken over by Richard Schooling, the new CEO of Alphabet GB, with his own unique take of the UK fleet scene.
It only remains for me to say goodbye. Or, as I suppose I'd better get used to saying, auf wiedersehen. (Or perhaps, since it's a 13-country brief, au revoir, or adios, or afscheid or a presto.)
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