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Company Cars after Clarkson

Despite the furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s departure from “Top Gear”, Britain’s addiction to the company car market is still buoyant. An Oxford Economics report states that the vehicle rental and leasing industry contributes £24.9 billion to the UK economy annually. If you then look at data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the number of new cars registered in 2014 was at a ten year high and corporate customers buy the majority of them (1,296,936 cars and vans versus 1,179,499 private vehicles). There will be an element of catch up because companies delayed replacing their own vehicles during the recession.

The death of the company car has long been forecast but like cricket’s County Championship the patient has proved surprisingly resilient. Thanks to Harold Wilson’s pay controls in the 1960s/70s company car provision exploded becoming the key element in benefits packages to attract and retain key employees.

Much has changed in the interim particularly in the perquisite car provision sector. The attraction of the company car has waned in this sector whilst the “job need” fleet has been and continues to be the growth area. Interestingly Lex Autolease report that 62% of company car drivers say that the offer of a comparable vehicle is an important factor when considering different employment. Lex also state that two thirds of their survey respondents believe that the company car is an important employee benefit and one fifth expect to upgrade car policies in the next two years.

One paradigm shift has been the focus on fleet environmental impact. Lex say that 79% of respondents consider that environmental impact is an important consideration which has grown in the last two years. Cleaner and more fuel efficient engines have led to an 11% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This trend is set to continue as hybrid, electric and greater fuel efficiency in engines enables cost savings and environmental benefits.

I used to enjoy sitting in hotel lounges quietly working and listening to sales representatives comparing their cars, “go fast” stripes, speed wheels, GL versus XL etc. all gave hours of endless fun as one rep tried to outdo the other. Surprisingly they never compared pension schemes which they probably should have done in hindsight.

What about Clarkson then? Well he was already on a final warning so thumping the producer after a 20 minute tirade was only going to go one way. He did make serious attempts to apologise but he was already too far down the track. Had this been a one off incident in 20 years exemplary service then the apologies might have led to mitigation and a final warning. Some business leaders have said that the penalty was excessive but I wonder what their response would have been if Mr. Clarkson had punched their son? I doubt that they would have been so forgiving and would have been calling for his head on a platter à la John the Baptist.

John Williams is an HR Consultant and employment tribunal expert.

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