Feature – Are 4×4Â’s suitable company cars?

If you read nothing else, read this …
•4x4s are image-led. If that image is tarnished, will this affect your company?
•4x4s aren’t necessarily bigger, thirstier or dirtier than other cars.
•If buyers turn their backs on 4x4s, could this damage residuals?
•There are concerns about 4×4’s pedestrian friendliness and on-road driving characteristics.
•4x4s are sold predominantly as perk vehicles.

Article in full
Hampstead mums taking their all-wheel drive cars on the school run recently saw their weekday morning chore turn into a national news story as protesters descended waving banners and fake parking tickets.

The protesters targeted these cars as being too big, too dirty and too wasteful. These events together with unflattering 4×4 sobriquets such as ‘Chelsea tractors’ and politicians such as London Mayor Ken Livingstone seeking their banishment from cities are all giving these cars a bad press. So will this lead to their banishment from company car parks too?

Stewart Whyte, a director at the Association of Car Fleet Operators, says a lot of fleets already bar all-wheel-drives, but isn’t convinced that they’ll completely vanish. “4x4s have a place in fleets, to say otherwise is barking mad,” he says, singling out organisations like English Nature and agricultural businesses. He believes this applies to some vehicles in employee car ownership plans (Ecops).

Interestingly, company car provider GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services found that many of the Ecop cars it managed were 4x4s and high-performance models tended to be thirstier and dirtier than stock company cars. Rivals Godfrey Davis Contract Hire, however, claim that most of its Ecop customers haven’t gone down this route.

Having two extra wheels to drive uses more energy. But to muddy the waters, some 4x4s (like Audi Quattros and Subarus) are road cars using the technology to improve handling. Some duel-purpose 4×4 cars are smaller than normal saloons and estates, while others are cleaner and use less fuel. So that’s all right then. Well, not quite.

Tony Johnston, sales and marketing director at Velo, says: “Organisations with environmental policies should be mindful of this debate. How might this impact on corporate image? Would a pharmaceutical sales rep’s employers [for example] want them turning up at a GP’s surgery in a huge 4×4?” If these cars are banned from cities or attract other charges, drivers might choose to ditch them, leaving employers with unwanted, potentially hard-to-sell vehicles. “We’re actively discussing these issues with our existing customers,” adds Johnston.

Bob Blackman of vehicle consultants Emmerson Hill Associates, believes most staff should be steered away from 4x4s. “They might not depreciate too much but they cost more in the first place and are more expensive to run.”

Peter Lohmeyer, services director of newspaper publishers the Telegraph Group, explains most of his fleet is made up of “very ordinary” non-4×4 Peugeots and Citroens. He has encouraged cash-for-car packages, generally wouldn’t favour 4x4s, and believes that practical realities mean most staff make practical choices. “A lot of them are looking at the long term and won’t go mad.”

So far there isn’t a company 4×4 crisis per se, although recent events are unlikely to encourage the spread of these cars in fleets, despite Land Rover increasing corporate sales by 15% last year. But with Fiat launching a 4×4 version of its Panda supermini, and Lexus planning a petrol/electric hybrid version of its big RX300 off roader, the debate is far from over.