More than skin deep; just how important is company car image?Carlos Montero
Company cars have long been considered an important perk for attracting and maintaining the best talent. When it comes to choice lists, it’s not just running costs that are considered a priority; to drivers (user choosers) and a company itself, image is still an all important factor.
The way cars are marketed and placed in the media creates impressions and opinions with the public, aligning the vehicle with specific messages. The Toyota Prius is a good example of this, synonymous with many as the hybrid vehicle.
These messages are not just about the vehicle itself but also about those driving it. Some vehicles have benefited from strong marketing and media placement, and both drivers and companies may consider paying additional costs to be aligned with key messages.
For a company, image and messaging is largely based on the industry in which the company operates. Some are naturally more susceptible to image than others. For example, whole life running costs of premium and volume brand models may be comparable, but for a charity organisation for example, having a fleet of premium brand vehicles would send completely the wrong message. On the flip side, having a senior manager in low spec, volume brand model can also have connotations attached to it.
Company cars, although a work tool, are still used for employee retention, incentive, reward or benefit, therefore the grade and brand of car can be more connected with the driver in question than the industry. Managers and senior team members have come to expect higher grade, premium cars and if these are not provided, there is a genuine risk of complaints. In extreme circumstances, it has been heard to be a driving factor for employees to look elsewhere. As much as a perk can be a pull factor, offering the ‘wrong’ perk options can become a push factor. Brand, personal image and choice are still, it would seem, important factors for some.
Typically, we see SMEs offer a far greater choice on vehicle lists as these are less restricted, however they must still be financially viable. Bigger organisations and corporations typically have a stronger grading structure when it comes to choice lists, as to avoid upsetting the ranks, therefore choice can sometimes be more restricted. Manufacturer volume deals or solus deals can also limit choice.
Regardless of badge or brand, Whole Life Cost is still the bedrock of all decisions, but once qualified, the rest largely rests of the size of company, grade of driver and industry. All have an impact on the vehicles chosen and used on a daily basis.
There will always be one brand that is more desirable than another, and this can change over time. In some circumstances, having a premium brand can do more harm than good and send the wrong messages to customers but, in the same way, cheaper is not always best; it can almost promote an image that your business is not as successful as it really is. It’s a difficult balance to strike, especially with more products battling for attention in the market place.
With increasing pressure to be cleaner and greener and a far faster pace of life – one which is more interconnected than ever before – there are more reasons, in more wide ranging circumstances, on a far more regular basis where we need to make the right impression.