What’s more, revealed the study, while fleet managers were particularly influential in the early stage of decision making for drivers of mainstream, volume manufacturer brands, at the business end of proceedings it was line managers and senior management who were most heavily involved, eclipsing the fleet department.
Company car driver decision-making was also influenced heavily by online sources, social media, work colleagues and especially family considerations.
The report, ‘Fleet: Driver Study’ by Sewells Research & Insight, sister organisation to trade publication Fleet News, also revealed how company car drivers derived less enjoyment from the experience of choosing a new company car, the longer the process continued.
The findings, it was suggested, should concern HR departments that invested in company cars as a key tool of staff recruitment and retention.
The four-stage process in company car selection uncovered by the study saw drivers progress from pre-consideration to active consideration, then action, before making their final choice.
The study found that 42% of drivers looked forward to the ‘active consideration’ stage when they researched their options, and a similar percentage enjoyed that step.
But by the time they were forced to ‘take action’, either visiting a dealer or booking a test drive, only 34% of drivers enjoyed the process. Few said they felt special, despite wielding significant budgets, with drivers of job-need cars deriving significantly less pleasure from the selection process than older, more senior perk car drivers.
One key insight in the study was the difficulty for manufacturers and dealers to influence drivers while they were in the pre-new car prompt and research phases. Yet by the time drivers reached the ‘action stage’ – visiting franchised dealers/taking test drives – many had already made up their minds on their next company car, before the traditional touch points of visiting dealerships and test driving models.
More than one in three (35%) of company car drivers said they had made up their minds before visiting a franchised dealer, and 40% say they had already made up their minds before a test drive. By the time drivers consulted manufacturers’ websites, their most common source of information, they had already settled on their future car and were simply fine tuning their choices, it was claimed.
However, despite the influence of fleet managers, line managers, senior management, other work colleagues, online sources, social media and family considerations, drivers were still demonstrating their own empowerment with their choices and their willingness to contribute towards the cost of their car in order to secure an upgrade to a higher performance or better specified model.
The study found that more than 50% of drivers took up the option to contribute towards their car in return for an upgrade. That percentage was even higher for corporate drivers working for businesses that employed more than 250 staff than for drivers working for SMEs.
There was, however, one bright glimmer of hope for manufacturers and dealers. When drivers got down to their final choice of vehicle, comparing standard specification and options, as 60% admitted to changing their minds at the last minute.
The study’s results were supported by focus groups of company car drivers of more than 50 cars, 1,000 online interviews amongst user choosers in the market for a new company car and more than 200 company car driver interviews questioning them on their experiences of manufacturer websites.