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Tax forces green thinking.

Set deep in the Bedfordshire countryside on 26-28 September, the first Driving the Future event aimed to increase awareness of the environmental impact of fleet and fill the void left by the canned London Motorshow.

The main attraction for finance directors and fleet managers was the opportunity to drive alternative and traditionally-fuelled vehicles on the hill circuit and speedways at the Milbrook testing facility. Diesels, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cars and hybrids (petrol and battery powered) rubbed bumpers with their petrol counterparts. Many of the world’s top manufacturers were present.

Launching the conference, Peter Knights, communications manager of Lex Vehicle Leasing, the event sponsors, said: “This event represents a call for action. We need to do more to promote environmental awareness in the fleet industry. We are responsible for educating fleet managers about the new taxes while keeping the plight of the essential company call driver in mind. The main problem is that we all agree with the new BIK (benefit in kind) taxes in principle, but we also feel that high mileage drivers should not be penalised.”

Driving the Future also marked the launch of the Lex 2001 Report on Company Motoring, which highlights fleet managers’ and drivers’ attitudes to forthcoming changes in the fleet industry and taxation system.

Worryingly, only 64% of fleet managers operating fleets of fewer than 25 vehicles know that the tax rules for company cars are set to change in April 2002. Company car drivers are more in-tune with changes, with 77% of those surveyed aware of the new tax system. In general, the managers of large fleets are most tax savvy, with 90% awareness of BIK. Companies operating large fleets are also better communicators, with 75% of them having communicated tax changes to drivers.

But, despite findings that 35% of high-mileage drivers feel they will pay “a lot more” in tax, fleet managers seem reluctant to make changes to fleet policy. Lex found that 76% of the 381 managers surveyed do not intend to alter their company car policy, while only 5% intend to change to smaller cars or alternative fuels.

“Although awareness of the forthcoming changes to company car taxation is high, detailed knowledge is low,” says John Walden, managing director of Lex. “Fleet managers and drivers seem unaware of the impact these changes will have.”

For many, it seems, the tax will bite unexpectedly hard in April next year, so it’s almost guaranteed that reactionary changes to fleet policy will come thick and fast in the summer.

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