By Alisdair Suttie 27 June 2012
Wednesday 27 June 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
While tanks and massive, strange-looking trucks have as much to do with everyday cars as your local garage does with the NASA space programme, British firm Ricardo has thrown up a fascinating point that could make the crossover from military to company fleets.
What Ricardo has cleverly, and almost too obviously, offered up is to refurbish the British Army’s Pinzgauer off-road lightweight trucks. A bit larger than a Land Rover, or Snatch 2 in Army parlance, the Pinzgauer also has another name when in khaki service and the Army refers to it as a Vector.
The Vector is a lightly armoured vehicle that is used for carrying troops or as a command vehicle. It has been in service with the British Army since 2007 as the Vector, which means some of these vehicles have seen considerable active service.
In the current atmosphere of austerity, Ricardo’s plan to refurbish these multi-purpose, go-anywhere trucks is a great idea. It means the Pinzgauers will remain in service for longer, anywhere up to 15 years more according to Ricardo, and it also allows the trucks to be upgraded.
Among the upgrades on offer from Ricardo for the Pinzgauer, it can have its turbodiesel engine’s performance enhanced by up to 10% and the payload capacity doubled to 1500kg.
On top of these changes, Ricardo can also offer upgrades to give the vehicle more cabin space and comfort, better suspension and uprated electrical systems. Better protection against ballistics and bomb blasts can also be fitted to the Pinzgauer, which says a lot about the conditions and countries where these vehicles are expected to operate.
By any measure, those are improvements worth having and turn the existing Pinzgauer into a far more effective machine that will fulfil its role in the military far better and for much longer.
Ricardo’s global market director for defence, Peter Moore, says: “The Pinzgauer has been an extremely effective vehicle with UK forces and many other military users around the world.
“However, existing operational fleets are approaching the end of their expected life and are considered uncompetitive with new platforms in terms of performance and crew protection.
“Using Ricardo’s in-depth engineering knowledge and resource, we believe the Pinzgauer can be effectively life-extended to provide a valuable and cost-effective military capability.”
Milking the mileage
Now, as well as the obvious Union Jack flag-waving this news from Ricardo clearly heralds, and the more subtle message that British engineering can help our economy and armed forces out of trouble through lateral thinking, there is another point raised here. That point concerns company cars.
During these tough economic times, many of us will be expected to hang on to our company-supplied car for longer, maybe stretching from three years to four before we change. For others, it’s a matter of raising the mileage reached before we change, going from 60,000 miles to 80,000 miles.
Yet, even at these extended periods, the average company car is still very much in its prime, ready to carry on for double the mileage without so much as a spanner laid on it. Why then, if cars are so capable and durable, don’t we simply upgrade them a little to keep pace with modern life? With all of the electronics built in to the modern car, surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to give it a nervous system tune-up to improve power, economy and emissions?
We already know all of this is possible through aftermarket companies offering upgrade chips for cars’ ECU electronic brains. We also know car manufacturers regularly install updates to our cars’ electronics as part of the servicing regime. So why not simply offer a company car Version 2.0 instead of having to take on a new car?
Of course, there are plenty of company drivers who see a new vehicle as a status symbol, while others rack up considerable mileages that demand a new car is desirable for reliability and affordable servicing costs. In the main part, however, most of us would be just as well served by refreshing our existing company car as it would be by replacing it.
When most of us are simply offered a choice of a newer version of our current company car, the impetus for change is not so great. If, instead, you were offered the chance to give your car a mid-life health upgrade while enjoying the tax benefit of running a slightly older car, would you take it?
Given how reliable most modern cars are and the general standardisation of equipment and safety gear, even a five- or six-year old car comes with air con, ESP, air bags and lots of luxuries. There’s very little offered on new cars that isn’t already fitted to your current company set of wheels.
The only big steps forward in equipment have been the development of collision warning systems and emergency braking. These would be very difficult and costly to retro-engineer into any car, but it costs nothing for the driver to pay more attention and stay alert.
Helping to keep you more alert in a car that is not brand new and not fitted with such safety systems would be the thought you are saving money.
If you wanted to take this idea further, you could opt for a car that is 15-years old or more that will have its taxable benefit calculated on its market value rather than its list price. This opens up a whole world of interesting, highly capable cars that means you could run a much more involving machine than a run of the mill hatchback.
We won’t go into the full spectrum of ‘what if I had this much to spend… ’ daydreaming, but consider a 1997 Porsche 911 would qualify as a 15-year old car. You can see there is a whole world of solidly built, more appealing cars out there for those not wedded to the idea of a brand new car every three years.
Of course, not every fleet manager is going to be open to the idea of running a car park full of 15-year old Porsche 911s, but imagine the joy of turning up to work in the morning to be greeted by that sight?
Hmm, maybe we should adopt military levels of secrecy and keep that plan to ourselves as we don’t want every business rival buying up all those tempting cars.
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