15th January 2019
Which car models will be popular with fleets in 2019?
Compiling fleet policy company car shortlists is currently a significant challenge for fleet managers, with so many overlapping factors at play. According to various sections of the media, the internal combustion engine1 will be banished within just over a decade, and with car manufacturers facing strict CO2 emissions targets2 set by the EU for 2021, which many are tipped to fail, the obvious move seems to be to migrate as many fleet cars over to PHEV and EV as possible.
While NOx levels may be falling as a result of this strategy, the UK’s vehicular CO2 levels have risen3 yet again, essentially because petrol cars emit higher levels than diesel models, making the near future uncertain once more. Additionally, many popular hybrid cars such as the Kia Optima Sportswagon, Mercedes C-Class C350h and Volkswagen Golf GTE range have been or continue to be suspended due to what the OEMs’ websites often allude to being unprecedented demand, but is more likely linked to the introduction of WLTP4, 4b.
Alongside these environmental and direct vehicular decisions, added financial challenges and trends are now part of the equation facing fleet managers, with HMRC’s recent optional remuneration arrangement (OpRA) taxation rule changes5 essentially representing another factor pushing traditional company car uptake down and cash allowances up. Unlike approved mileage allowance payment (AMAP), OpRA means car ownership schemes are now liable to tax and National Insurance (NI), which has reportedly seen employees in some major companies’ fleets shift to contract hire6 (leasing), where benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax is the most relevant variable to consider.
At the end of the day, though, some makes and models are unarguably more attractive to fleet managers and also company car drivers themselves in some cases – and 2019 is set to see some excellent fleet-friendly cars introduced to the market alongside some very worthwhile existing monikers.
With three powertrains to choose from, spanning conventional self-charging hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric, the Ioniq is a formidable contender for any fleet shortlist. While its styling is somewhat futuristic, it’s certainly not divisive for such a green car. Fuel consumption starts at 78.5mpg for the hybrid, which also has a cited range of up to 700 miles, but even with real life unsurprisingly diluting these figures, it remains an impressive car, and 84g/km CO2 emissions certainly appeals to both accountants and employees considering BIK bands. The plug-in Ioniq PHEV emits 26g/km CO2, takes around 2 hours 15 minutes to charge and its ranges are marketed as 39 miles on electricity and 660 in total, meaning it’s not eligible for the revised Plug-in Car Grant but still a green car. The 28kWh Ioniq EV pledges recharging time comparable to a smartphone, at 30 minutes to achieve 80% charge, along with a battery range of up to 174 miles on paper. Based on the variants’ P11D figures, BIK for the Ioniq ranges from 13% to 19% in year one, the EV the winner overall, attracting just 2% in year three.
Available as a svelte hatchback or chiselled saloon, the latest incarnation of this Japanese manufacturer’s mid-size model evolves its styling nicely, while the cabin promises an even more premium feel along with an engaging driving position. The primary highlight of the Mazda3 from the perspective of fleet managers and company car drivers is the under the bonnet, though, the SKYACTIV-X powerplant7 the first in the world to bring Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition technology to a petrol unit, meaning in layman’s terms that the advantages of petrol and diesel engines are cleverly combined in one to avail responsive performance and remarkable efficiency in unison. The new Mazda3 won’t be appearing on UK roads until spring/summer 2019 onwards but it’s certainly one for fleet managers to consider shortlisting for car lease renewals due from that point onwards.
New BMW 3 Series
One of the most perennially desired cars of all time, particularly in the corporate car parc, BMW releasing a new 3 Series is always big news. Unsurprisingly, it promises to be even more agile, engaging, spacious and crammed with technology than ever – but this is a marque that consistently delivers. The new 3 Series for 2019 boasts fairly subtly revised aesthetics on the outside while the ‘compact’ executive saloon’s standard equipment levels have been boosted, the entry-level SE trim model coming with a reversing camera, electric folding wing mirrors, enhanced acoustic glazing, extended LED headlights with cornering light and eyebrow indicators, plus BMW Live Cockpit plus, leaving company car drivers wanting for very little. In this segment, BMW’s engines have always shone and although the number of powerplants will be unsurprisingly limited initially, 64.2mpg combined and 115g/km CO2 from the 190bhp 320d are hugely impressive. Green-minded fleets with the circumstances to adopt alternatively-fuelled vehicles will be tempted by the forthcoming 330e plug-in hybrid variant for July 2019, which offers up to a 37-mile range on electricity, a 30% hike in acceleration and a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions, down to 39g/km. The 330e’s standard power output of 252bhp can even be increased by 41bhp at the touch of a button. Consistently topping business contract hire charts every year, the new BMW 3 Series is sure to prove a fleet hit.
At the start of the current tax year, the diesel surcharge rose by a percentage point to 4% for cars not meeting the Real Driving Emissions Step 2 (RDE2) standard8, interchangeably known as Euro 6d, while such vehicles also got pushed into the VED road tax band above. RDE1 has been effective since September, but RDE2 ironically won’t start being adopted until January 2020 and the standard will only become mandatory a year after that. However, a handful of cars are now available with RDE2-compliant diesel engines that escape the 4% diesel surcharge tax, and one of the most popular and ubiquitous fleet models will be the new Mercedes A-Class, which is already building a strong presence on UK roads thanks to its sophisticated looks, remarkable interior, premium badge and manageable dimensions. The A-Class receives Mercedes’ incredibly clean OM654q diesel engine9 in the form of the 150bhp/320Nm A 200 d Sport and 190bhp/400Nm A 220d AMG Line, the former emitting just 110g/km CO2 mated to the marque’s 8G-DCT automatic transmission. Average NOx emissions of just 30mg/km have been recorded after thousands of miles of testing10, significantly below RDE1’s ceiling of 168mg and even RDE2’s threshold of 120mg/km NOx, appealing to fleets conscious of their contribution to harmful air pollution11. While the tax savings for 40% tax-payers aren’t huge, they most definitely make the new A-Class hatchback a formidable company car choice, and put it in line for escaping London’s £12.50 ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) charge from April. The new A-Class will be launched in saloon body-style in April.
The Volkswagen Golf has long ranked near the top of fleet hatchback and general tables, but the Czech manufacturer that can’t seem to put a foot wrong these days is set to disrupt the sector with its debut offering, the Scala12. With a wheelbase 3cm longer than its VW counterpart, the Scala offers abundant interior space for occupants along with a 467-litre boot, dwarfing the Golf’s 380 litres. The Scala’s styling is sharp, mean, moody and looks positively premium, with echoes of Audi about it. Options including sweeping indicators, full LED head and taillights, the blackened and extended rear window and even an electrically-retractable tow bar, helping set the Scala apart externally, while VAG’s impressive Virtual Cockpit technology is available inside. Adaptive cruise control, all manner of ‘assist’ and other ADAS systems, along with Emergency Call via eSIM all help make the Scala an assuredly safe car, satisfying fleet managers’ duty of care responsibilities. Although petrol is the focus, with SKODA’s TSI unit offered in three different power outputs, a super-efficient 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine will also be available from launch, fitted with selective catalytic reduction (SCR), AdBlue and a particulate filter, helping it meet Euro 6d-TEMP standards. Later in 2019, bold fleets will also be able to place their trust in compressed natural gas (CNG) by opting for the 1.0 G-TEC engine.
Cars for the Board
Away from more mainstream models like the above, a whole host of executive and prestige cars are set to be the stars of 2019 and many of them are ideal for directors and indeed entrepreneurs wishing to become EV advocates. First up, the twin-motored, five-seat Audi e-tron electric SUV13 has a WLTP range of just under 250 miles, features a beautiful, technology-rich cabin, and its recharging times span from around thirty minutes (up to 80%) using a rapid charger, to 8.5 hours as the longest duration14.
Jaguar’s I-PACE can already be seen out there on the road, but another exciting electric SUV that will arrive later in 2019 is the Mercedes EQC15, which has the same 300kWh total output as its Ingolstadt rival but boasts more torque at 765Nm compared to 664Nm – but while it’s brisker, recharging times aren’t. Forty minutes16 to get back to 80% charge using a DC fast charger is impressive, but single-phase 7.4kW charging is reported as being around eleven hours17.
Building on the huge draw of the iconic Model S, Tesla, a key pioneer in the electric car world, is set to commence deliveries of the more compact and hugely important Model 3 in right-hand drive UK specification in the second half of the year18. Priced around £50,000 in long-range guise before any government grant subsidies, its range is typically cited as achieving over 300 miles at the top end depending on conditions, while typical Tesla acceleration of between 3.5 and 5.6 seconds will be the norm, as will a large tablet-esque display19 like in its bigger brother.
The year ahead is poised to be one of the most exciting yet when it comes to models now and soon to be available, as OEMs increasingly eke out more efficiency from internal combustion engines and simultaneously introduce a variety of hybrid and electric models, presenting fleet managers and company car drivers with plenty to consider.
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